Mailbag: has Cleveland really improved during free agency?

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Most people love that we got Dansby instead of Jackson and Whitner instead of Ward. But some people say it’s a wash…who’s right here?
– Steve in Houston

First off Steve, I want to forewarn you that I personally am in the latter group…that said, I’m going to take a step back and try to be objective about this. Karlos Dansby has played 10 years, and in those 10 years has averaged 101 combined tackles and 3.8 sacks per year. D’Qwell Jackson has played 8 years, averaging 103 combined tackles and 1.4 sacks per year. Dansby also has an upper hand in forced fumbles and interceptions. So statistically, Dansby is a slightly better (if older) player than Jackson. Now here’s where some critical thinking comes in! Middle linebacker was not a position that needed an upgrade. The Browns went 4-12 last year…just slightly upgrading a position that was already a position of strength is not going to help.

The same goes for Whitner, by the way. Whitner is a great player. But Ward was well on his way to being a great player, and was also much younger than Whitner. Maybe the position was upgraded. Maybe. But what Farmer has done with both of these signings has been like putting fancy rims on a car that is broken down – it’s not going to help the car run.

Please convince me that Ben Tate is going to really help our running game.
– Bill in Columbus

You ask much of me. But let’s start at the beginning: Ben Tate is a very good running back. His career yards-per-carry average is a stellar 4.7, and he runs with a strength and purpose that most running backs would envy. Of all the free agent running backs out there, Ben Tate was the best in my opinion. All that said, 4/5ths of a successful running game is the offensive line. Remember that Trent Richardson, who was drafted with the #3 overall pick, didn’t even make a dent in the Browns’ running troubles. A running back can only do so much. If the Browns are truly committed to running the rock, they will pick up some good run-blocking guards and possibly a right tackle.

Does the free-agency activity so far tell us anything about the Browns’ plan for the draft?
– Scott in Linndale

It tells us a lot, Scott. The lack of free agency activity at certain positions (offensive line, defensive line, and so far, quarterback) seems to point toward the Browns drafting key players at those positions. Free agency is far from over, and the scope of the 2014 draft won’t be nailed down until the Browns are completely finished. But I expect (or maybe I should say hope and pray) that the Browns’ first pick will be a quarterback. Their second first-round pick could probably snag a really good receiver, and then they will move on to the O and D lines in the second and third rounds. Pure speculation at this point, but it’s a little bit clearer than it was a week ago.