The NFL is back in business. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Browns got the memo. There has been a whirlwind of transactions over the past three days, but the Browns have been surprisingly absent from most conversations. Do free agents not want to come to Cleveland? Are the Browns just not interested in anyone who’s available? Have they simply dropped the ball? In all honesty, I don’t think it’s any of those. Allow me to explain.
Tom Heckert has made it quite clear that he is an avid believer in building a team through the draft process rather than splurging in free agency. It makes sense. Free agents rarely pan out well. The player is either fundamentally flawed in some respect that explains why the player is available in the first place, or now that they’ve been paid a sense of malaise sets in and the production suffers. Rookies have something to prove and, with the exception of high priced first rounders, are usually low risk/high reward opportunities. The Browns have been following that formula to a tee.
From this perspective, free agency should be used to complement the core you have built up internally via smart trades and the draft. The run of success by teams such as New England, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Green Bay, and San Diego are proof that this philosophy works. Yes, they’re core players are above average talents, but nearly all have been developed internally. Meanwhile teams like Oakland, Miami, Washington, and Dallas usually win the offseason and then fail miserably during the season. Me personally, I would rather the Browns fall into the first category of teams and I believe their recent moves are leading them towards that.
Right now the Browns core consists of, for better or worse, Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis, Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Evan Moore, Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, and possibly Monterio Hardesty and Greg Little on offense. On the Defensive side they have T.J. Ward, Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, Scott Fujita, Ahtyba Rubin, and well the defense is a bit sketchy at the moment. The point I’m trying to make is that with the exception of Fujita, all of the above players were acquired via trade or the draft. The fact that the Browns are not splurging on the likes of Nnamdi Asomugha or Santonio Holmes should not come as a shock.
The Browns are using free agency the way it should be. The Jets can spend big money on those last few pieces because they are a legit title contender. Same goes for a handful of other teams. The Browns see the big picture. Why kill cap space on high-priced players when they’re still a year or even two from contending? That’s why deals for the likes of Brandon Jackson, Usama Young,
and Ray Edwards (tentatively) (nevermind the Edwards part. It’s been reported he’s signing a five year deal with Atlanta) make so much sense. They address a glaring need, but none are being asked to be cornerstones of the franchise.
As we have heard repeatedly during the Mangini and now the Holmgren/Heckert era, this is a process and it has to be followed to fruition. It works, plain and simple. No matter what moves the Browns would have made this offseason they were never going to be a contender for the Super Bowl. The process is all about baby steps. The lockout also didn’t help things any. The lack of an offseason program coupled with a new, rookie head coach, a new offensive coordinator, new offensive system, new defensive coordinator, and new defensive scheme has put them behind the eight ball. There is also a disparity of talent on the roster, questions as to whether or not Colt McCoy can be the man, and multiple holes at multiple positions. Why go for broke and jeopardize the process given all of that?
Don’t get me wrong. I want the Browns to be good. I want them to compete for and win a Super Bowl. More importantly, I’m sick and tired of implementing a five yer rebuild program every two or three years. Let’s actually complete a rebuild program before we blow it up. We have nothing but time on our side. The Browns also have a plethora of draft picks next yea, including two first rounders. Why not roll the dice with what we have? If the Browns suck we score another high pick and a chance at a top talent. Talent is what wins in the NFL.
So as the preseason continues I don’t expect much more from the Browns. They may pick up a few more players at the right price. They might even go out on a limb and go after a Nate Clements or Michael Jenkins. If they don’t I won’t be surprised but I also won’t be disappointed. I see the big picture and where the Browns are headed with the process. So stay patient Browns fans. This is probably going to be another down year, but as long as there is improvement and a sense of movement in the right direction than it’ll all be worth it. Believe Cleveland… Believe.
In Holmgren and Heckert we trust…