The 2014 free agency period is only a few days young, but already it’s been an extremely busy one for the Cleveland Browns. The team has been shuffling around many parts, and so I decided to give out some report card grades for the moves that the squad has already made to this point.
Move #1: Released LB D’Qwell Jackson (Signed with the Colts for 4 years,
$22 million; $11 million guaranteed)
Signed LB Karlos Dansby (4 years, $24 million; $14 million
Personally, I’m a big fan of his trade off, and I believe that, despite being two years older than Jackson, the Browns upgraded at the position, and only had to pay $2 million more. He took a huge step forward last season in two key aspects of the game: pass rushing and coverage. Dansby has always been known as a guy who flies all over the field, and has been a consistent 90+ combined tackle guy over the past couple of years (In the past seven seasons he has recorded at least 90 combined tackles). Last season his numbers skyrocketed in both the deflected passes and sacks categories. In 2013, Dansby recorded 6.5 sacks (the most he’s accumulated since 2006), and 19 deflected passes (more than double his previous single season best). These increased stats just showed how well rounded that Dansby has become beyond your average cover the field linebacker. This will be extremely important under the Mike Pettine style defense, which relies heavily on these well rounded speed backers, such as Kiko Alonso who he had last season in Buffalo. Now granted, Dansby (who’s 32 years old), is a much older version of Alonso, but I believe he’ll immediately make an immediate impact on the field and in the locker room. Halfway through this season, Dansby will make fans completely forget about the name D’Qwell Jackson.
Overall Grade: A-
Move #2: Let SS TJ Ward Walk as an Unrestricted Free Agent (Signed with the
Broncos for 4 years, $23 million; $14 million guaranteed)
Signed SS Donte Whitner (4 years, $28 million; $11 million guaranteed)
A lot has been made of this trade off so far, but I’m not as low on this move as many of the people that I’ve seen so far. With that being said, I don’t necessarily think it’s a great combination decision, but it’s in no way a bad trade off whatsoever. Personally, I think that as of right now, TJ Ward is the best safety of the two, and has the highest ceiling of the two. At the same time though, Whitner is not exactly a huge downgrade at the position. According to Pro Football Focus, Ward was the second best safety available during this season’s free agency period, while Whitner came in as the third best. Both guys play very much the same, in that they are known for being safeties that aren’t afraid to come up and lay the smack down on an unsuspecting wide receiver or running back, and both have received fines from the league for it. Whitner is slightly older than Ward, and has been more inconsistent, but at his best, he can hang with almost any safety in the league. He’s also a hometown guy, and he’ll instantly become a fan favorite amongst local fans who remember watching him play at Glenville High School and Ohio State. One final reason why I like Whitner is because lately, he’s had a much better injury history. Ward has been slightly inconsistent with injuries, and due to his big hit nature, and he’s suffered several nagging ones over his career. I don’t necessarily enjoy the fact that Whitner got a bigger contract than Ward, which hints that the Browns could’ve possibly brought him back, but the team was able to acquire Whitner for less guaranteed, which could therefore lead to more on-field motivation.
Overall Grade: B
Move #3: Signed WR Andrew Hawkins (4 years, $13.6 million)
I don’t understand this move, I really don’t. Now I understand that wide receiver is a position of need for the Browns, but this move just smelled of some sort of desperation. Originally, the Browns had made Hawkins (who is a restricted free agent) an initial offer, but the Cincinnati Bengals were ready match the offer and bring him back. Therefore in a move that still puzzles me, the Browns restructured the contract so that Hawkins is set to make $10.1 million of his $13.6 million in the first two seasons of his contract, causing the Bengals to essentially pull away. That means if he’s a burnout, he’ll make most of his money early on, most likely before the team can realize its mistake and get rid of him. Now, I wouldn’t have a problem with this move if it made any sense at all. A little more than $3 million a year is a ton to invest in a guy that hasn’t recorded 1,000 overall in his 3 seasons in Cincinnati. He’s not coming off a good season whatsoever, as he only played in eight games and recorded 18 total receptions for less than 200 yards and zero touchdowns. This isn’t a guy who has proven that he has any worth in the NFL thus far, so the fact that the front office felt the need to really pursue him and give him over 3/4 of his salary in his first two seasons just makes absolutely no sense to me. Hopefully Ray Farmer and Co. know something that I don’t, but as of now this is easily the worst move that the team has made so far in free agency.
Overall Grade: D-