A definitive pattern has been set with the signings of free agent players this off-season by the Cleveland Browns. Fans and the media were expecting bold moves to revive a team suffering a void of depth and dependable talent at numerous positions. The Browns front office, however, has not exactly set the football world afire with the moves they have made.
Signing C.J. Mosley, David Bowens, Robert Royal and Hank Poteat will not set off a rush to order season tickets in Cleveland, but each player fills a role for the team. The re-signing of safety Mike Adams and wide receiver Syndric Steptoe provides continuity and depth at two positions which are precariously thin on the depth chart for the Browns.
Concerns about depth and inconsistency riddled this organization in 2008. On film, the decision-makers in Cleveland clearly saw a deficiency of depth, but also saw that the quality and dependability of players in specific roles were below average - at best.
The signing of Mosely provides protection in the event veteran Robaire Smith does not sufficiently recover from Achilles tendon surgery or tails-off in what will be his ninth-season in the league. While Mosely will not be counted on to be premier player at the DE position, what the veteran will provide is a workmanlike approach to the game and give 100% on every given play.
While this signing appears rather non-descript on the surface, there is a message within Mosely's signing.
A season ago, defensive linemen in Cleveland would give the impression of taking plays off. In some cases, they would seem to fade out of existence.
Mosely won't be the most talented player on the field. He may not even be better than those he will compete with for playing time. What is absolutely certain is that Mosely will show up and play his role. The extent of that role will be known soon enough.
Another example. Signing a veteran player like linebacker David Bowens will not ensure the Cleveland Browns are suddenly going to be the run-stopping, pass-rushing dominant type team fans would love to see. Bowens has the ability to provide a solid effort against the run and has displayed the ability to rush the quarterback from the ILB and OLB spots as a member of the New York Jets. Obviously, he worked there under the guidance of new Browns head coach Eric Mangini.
Bowens is not the type of player who will embarrass your organization. He has been around the game long enough to understand what it takes to play at this level. From special teams to filling in as a starter in New York, Bowens is simply a football player - and one who embraces the opportunity to fill a vital role for the 2009 Browns.
When the Browns dealt Kellen Winslow to Tampa Bay early in the free agent player signing period, the odds were the Browns would be in the market for a new tight-end. With veteran Steve Heiden recovering from knee surgery, Darnell Dinkins becoming a free agent and first-year player Martin Rucker being relatively inexperienced, the Browns had to make a move - which they did in acquiring TE Robert Royal.
Royal will never be confused with the talented Winslow, but this organization is neither asking or expecting the veteran to fill Winslow's shoes.
Royal, again, is the type of player who gives maximum effort. He is an asset in the running game due to his above-average blocking ability.
It is in the passing game where questions regarding Royal's game reside. Over his career, Royal has displayed the tendency to drop passes on occasion. In a Cleveland offense which dictates the TE is a blocker first, Royal will have room to disprove this perception.
Depth in the defensive backfield in Cleveland is rather precarious. Cornerback Travis Daniels has left as a free agent, and Daven Holly is talking to other clubs. Veteran Terry Cousin was released. Thinning the ranks further, starting strong safety Sean Jones departed via free agency to Philadelphia.
Players such as Mike Adams and Hank Poteat have arrived to fill roles. Neither player is looked upon as a long-term starter and likely never will be. As with every other signing in this free agent player signing period, the goal and ambition has been to fill in the blanks to provide immediate relief and stability to this team roster.
Not one move made by the Cleveland Browns this off-season to date is one which comes with great fanfare, if any at all.
Each player added to this roster, however, sends a clear message as to what this organization thinks. They are building this team from the depth-rungs up, which will lead into a draft period when the greatest impact on the roster can and should be made.
Like most following this team, I certainly would like to see this organization secure additional talent during the free agency process. I'd like to see this organization make a high-caliber player type signing. Looking at the roster, I believe there is an issue at the number-three CB spot, as well as strong safety and wide receiver - all areas which the team was passed on by potential signees. The linebacker positions improve with the addition of Bowens and perhaps another former Jet, Eric Barton - but the team will seek to address this area further.
There has yet to be a practice session or a game played under the Mangini watch, and I know it's not the common view - but I feel the additions made thus far and the subtractions from the 2008 Cleveland Browns organization have already made this a better team.
And all eyes are on Eric Mangini to truly display what he showed when accepting the head coach position of the Cleveland Browns - that he knows and understands the history of the Cleveland Browns and its fans.
Now, show all of us, Eric.