The Browns and Free Agent Spending

Can the Browns really improve themselves enough to be contenders in 2013?

With free agency set to open this week, the question many Browns fan are wondering is what will they spend and who will they spend it on? Many of us are expecting the Browns to spend an unprecedented amount this year thanks to Jimmy Haslam, his new regime, and the insane amount of cap space they have at their disposal. With a number of contracts coming off the books, there is a real opportunity here to change the look and feel of this team.

The only real question is should they go crazy with the spending?

You can argue the point both ways. Under Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert the Browns avoided free agency like it was the plague. We all saw how well that worked out. The team never got any better despite the assertions that these weren’t the same old Browns.

We’ve also seen how catastrophically bad free agent spending can be. Just look at Daniel Snyder and the Washington Redskins over the past decade or more. They’ve spent more on free agent signings than anyone and have had nothing but lackluster returned to show for it. It goes to show that spending does not always equate to winning.

There are a lot of reasons for that. For starters, age isn’t always on your side when it comes to free agents. Often they’ve been in the league for several years so to expect a long run with free agent x is unreal. There’s also the fact that this is there first last shot an epic payday. The motivation to out perform the new contract is not nearly as high as it is in the years leading up to it. Then there’s the issues with durability and overall fit with the framework of the team already in place.

Are the Browns prepared to overpay for Paul Kruger?

In other words, there are a lot of variables in play here and many of them lean heavily in favor of disaster rather than success. Think about it. How many free agent signings can you think of that have ever really worked out? Drew Brees and the Saints, Jared Allen and the Vikings, and Peyton Manning and the Broncos are the best examples from recent history. Going back further you have Joe Montana and the Chiefs, Warren Moon and the Vikings and… well that’s all I can come up with.

I guess the point here is that the Browns need to spend on players that they feel have a legitimate upside in the years following free agency and not just spend because they can afford to. And since we’re being brutally honest here, is there anyone available this offseason worthy of a significant financial commitment? I say no.

There’s reason to doubt the prolonged impact someone like Paul Krueger or Clint Averil could have for the Browns considering their impact with their current teams was minimal to say the least. Look at their stats and neither of them is going to wow you to the point of saying we need them.

Free agency is a different animal than it is in other sports. You can’t drastically change a team in the NFL in the same way you can in the NBA or MLB. In that sense, free agency should he used to fill the last few remaining holes. The Browns have more than just a few remaining holes to fill. They need linebackers, another corner back, a QB to challenge Brandon Weeden, a kicker, possibly another wide receiver and tight end, and depth for both lines. The change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 makes things even more pressing as this signals a need for a change in personnel.

There aren’t enough free agents or talent within the free agent ranks to possibly fill all of those needs. Plus, we can all agree that the Browns are still nowhere close to competing for a championship. For that reason alone, why blow all available cap space on players that may not get them to that next level? The Browns are better off spending what they need to spend in order to hit the salary floor and work on continuing to build things up through the draft. This way they can retain a majority of their cap space to improve the team once they are close to competing for a Super Bowl.

But… as is the case with most things involving the Browns, they’ll find a way to screw this up. I fully expect them to blow all their cap space on three or four players that will underwhelm and under perform to the level of their new contracts. They’ll leave all of us to have the same exact conversation we’re having now and every year leading up to this year. How the hell can we fix the Browns?

So stay tuned, folks. This week is sure to be interesting.

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