The people giddiest about the Browns cannonball into the free agency pool should also be the most nervous - offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon and quarterback Charlie Frye.
Maybe nervous isn't exactly the right word. After all, Carthon played in the Super Bowl when he was with the Giants and Frye has stared down nervous situations as a quarterback before. But the fact is the improvement the Browns have made since free agency started is going to leave Carthon and Frye no excuse for not producing in 2006.
No team in the AFC North has been as active in free agency as the Browns have. What's more, the Browns have added not just quantity this year, but quality. LeCharles Bentley is one of the best centers in the NFL, if not the best. Joe Jurevicius not only has a great attitude, but he can catch the football and he plays well in the clutch.
Kevin Shaffer, 27, is not among the elite left tackles like Walter Jones in Seattle and Orlando pace in St. Louis, but if General Manager Phil Savage's assessment is correct Shaffer was the best left tackle among free agents this year. The Browns thought enough of him to give him a seven-year contract worth $36 million.
Carthon and Frye cannot be judged on 2005. The offensive line was improved, but still not very good. Kellen Winslow Jr.'s season ended on a motorcycle before the first minicamp and Braylon Edwards, following the pattern of Browns' first-round jinxes, missed six games with injuries. He missed the last four with a torn ACL and is racing the clock to be ready for the season opener.
Winslow and Frye were spotted at a Cavaliers' game earlier this week. It's a good sign they're hanging around together, building the off-the-field camaraderie that is important to winning. Better yet, Winslow looked cut and ready to play. He is determined to be the player the Browns have yet to see.
Including Winslow and Edwards, the Browns should have five and possibly six starters not in the starting offense for the season opener last year. That is assuming Frye beats out Trent Dilfer in quarterback school, minicamp and training camp.
The Browns were last in the league in points scored, the worst team in the league in red zone offense and 28th in third-down efficiency in 2005. Carthon, in his first season of calling plays, was criticized for the lack of scoring. He did not react well to the criticism, blaming the media and indirectly blaming Savage for not giving him enough to work with.
Carthon has enough to work with now, and if he founders assistant head coach/offensive line coach Jeff Davidson will be there to pick him up.
Likewise, Frye will have a year in the Browns' system and his arm will be well-rested. When tracked down at the Auto Show in the IX Center earlier this month he told reporters he hadn't thrown a pass since the final game of 2005.
The quarterback situation is a delicate one for Romeo Crennel. Dilfer showed history does repeat itself when he threw 11 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions in 11 starts in 2005. His ratio of touchdown passes to interceptions has been one-to-one for seven years. But if Frye is going to benefit from a better supporting cast, then Dilfer should get that opportunity, to show what he can do with better players, too.
Crennel has said since the day after the Browns finished 6-10 that the competition for starting quarterback would be wide open. He also said it could be settled before preseason games begin, depending on how Frye and Dilfer perform up to that point.
Savage has tried to temper the swell of enthusiasm by saying "You don't win games in March."
Even so, what the Browns have done in March means they better produce results September through December, otherwise jobs will be lost. Carthon is on the hot seat most of all.