Yet again, Browns fans are thinking towards next season in early December, and naturally … talk of the NFL Draft has begun to replace the talk of our coming opponents. The Browns will have another very high draft pick, and debate is already raging as to which direction they should go in with that selection.
I'll save my opinions on that for the weeks and months to come. Instead, I'd like to use this space to assess what this franchise already has. Who are the core players on this team, and how will that core affect who we acquire this off-season in free agency as well as the NFL Draft?
In prepping for this piece, the first thing I did was jot down, broken out by position, the names and contract status of each of the 73 men presently on the active roster, practice squad, IR and PUP lists. Of those 73 men, I established a group of 30 that potentially have a meaningful future with this team after this season ends.
With my list now down to 30 players, it was time to try and establish the core of this team. My prerequisites were simple. I was looking for players who I felt would still be here, not only next year, but also for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Additionally, I was looking for guys who I feel will be starting on either side of the ball. In my opinion, it takes a very unique "special teams only" talent to be considered a "core player".
I was left with thirteen players. Ten of whom are under contract through at least 2007. The other three are guys I feel will be extended out to at least that point this off-season. Six offensive players ... and seven on the defensive side. Let's take a look …
- QB Luke McCown
23 years of age, signed through 2008
This may be a reach for a fourth round pick with just one game under his belt, but I saw a lot of things I liked from Luke in his debut. All signs point to Luke being our backup signal caller next season, and being handed the reigns in 2006.
- RB Lee Suggs
- FB Terrelle Smith
- TE Kellen Winslow Jr.
- OL Jeff Faine
- OL Ryan Tucker
- DL Ebenezer Ekuban
- LB Andra Davis
- LB Chaun Thompson
- CB Anthony Henry
- CB Daylon McCutcheon
- S Sean Jones
- S Chris Crocker
24 years of age, signed through 2007
Despite missing chunks of time due to injury this season, I think it's clear
that Lee is a more talented back than Willie Green, and he will be counted on to
carry the load for this team on the ground for the next three seasons.
26 years of age, signed through 2007
The Terminator has quickly become one of my favorite guys, and ranks as one
of the league's top fullbacks in my view. A lot of people forget he is just 26,
and inked a four year deal with us this past off-season. Smith has even shown
an ability to run and catch the football when called upon, a bonus from this
21 years of age, signed through 2009
Winslow's injury proved to be foreshadowing for this disappointing season,
but we were able to see glimpses of this kids' immense talent before he went
down. KWII, Lee Suggs, and Jeff Faine are the cornerstones from which this
offense will be built around.
23 years of age, signed through 2009
It's so tough to judge Faine to this point, based on the fact that he has
been playing in the middle of the worst pair of offensive guards in the NFL.
All things considered, I think Faine will emerge into one of the best seven or
eight centers in the league once he has capable help surrounding him.
29 years of age, signed through 2005
Tucker is only under contract for one more season, but look for the team to
try and extend him out this off-season. Tucker is one of the better right
tackles in the league, though you would never know it given the overall woes of
the unit he plays with. The million dollar question is though … will Tucker
want to stay here after next season?
28 years of age, signed through 2007
The fact that Ekuban is the only defensive lineman on this list is a stinging
indictment of high draft selections Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren, and also a
reminder that Kenard Lang and Orpheus Roye, who are going to be 30 and 31
respectively next season, are slated to make significant money the next two
years. Ekuban has had a decent season, is in the prime of his career, and is
under contract for the next three years.
26 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end
Andra's contract runs out after this year, but resigning him will be one of
the easiest decisions our soon to be new General Manager makes.
24 years of age, signed through 2007
Chaun has made some strides this season, and has shown real promise in the
rare cases Campo has let him loose after the quarterback. We all know this kid
has the physical talents to play in this league, but most fans still need
convincing that he has the instincts to one day be a Pro Bowl type player.
28 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end
I personally believe that Anthony Henry is one of the more unheralded
cornerbacks in the NFL, and that the team should do whatever it takes to see he
is resigned this off-season. To a man, nearly all the defensive players I've
talked to on this team feel Anthony is the unit's most talented player … and I
tend to agree with them. If this team can ever sustain a consistent pass rush,
and Jones & Crocker become the pair of safeties we think they can, Henry will
see multiple Pro Bowls before his career ends.
28 years of age, signed through 2008
Cutch struggles to stay healthy, and maybe doesn't have the size or speed of
most corners, but I'm glad the team extended him out through 2008. Every
winning football team needs three solid cover men, and I am more than content
with Henry and Cutch as two of them.
22 years of age, signed through 2008
Though stripped of his rookie season due to a knee injury, Sean Jones belongs
on this list due to pedigree and opportunity alone. I'm anxious to see this kid
play next season, and the return of him and Winslow, in addition to our new
draft and free agent class should make training camp very intriguing in 2005.
24 years of age, signed through 2007
Crocker's play has been up and down this season, but I think he has shown enough to be considered the front runner to be this team's starting free safety for the immediate future, and also to put a merciful end to the Griffith/Little era. The safety positions (along with offensive guard) have been huge liabilities for this football team since their return to the league in 1999, and hopefully the Crocker/Jones tandem can put an end to that.
PART OF THE CORE?
I identified the following seventeen players as having the potential to still be part of the core of this franchise as we move forward into 2005. Some may not make it due to age, contract status, financial issues, ability, or players ahead of them on the depth chart.
- QB Jeff Garcia, 32 years of age, signed through 2007 (team buyout available after 2005)
- RB Willie Green, 25 years of age, signed through 2006
- WR Antonio Bryant, 23 years of age, signed through 2005
- WR Andre Davis, 25 years of age, signed through 2005
- WR Dennis Northcutt, 27 years of age, signed through 2006
- TE Aaron Shea, 28 years of age, signed through 2005
- TE Steve Heiden, 28 years of age, free agent at seasons end
- OL Ross Verba, 31 years of age, free agent at seasons end
- K Phil Dawson, 29 years of age, signed through 2005
- DL Kenard Lang, 30 years of age, signed through 2006 (base salary increase significantly next year)
- DL Orpheus Roye, 31 years of age, signed through 2005
- DL Courtney Brown, 26 years of age, signed through 2006 (salary is 5.5 million in '05, 7.5 million in '06)
- DL Gerard Warren, 26years of age, signed through 2006
- LB Kevin Bentley, 25 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end
- LB Ben Taylor, 26 years of age, restricted free agent at seasons end
- CB Leigh Bodden, 24 years of age, signed through 2005
- CB Michael Lehan, 25 years of age, signed through 2007