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Smaug’s Cave found.

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Smaug’s Cave inside Lonely Mountain?  Or Berea, March 2013?

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Thank goodness for (Bengals owner) Mike Brown?

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Well this is awkward.  Pretty quiet out there.  Nobody wants to say it?  Ok, I will:

The Browns’ execution of this free agency period has been ‘disappointing.’

Unrelated to Smaug the dragon, this magazine can be found in Berea lobby.

Browns currently sit with the most or second most cap space of any team; just as they started the FA season.  Their cap space –left to Banner/Lombardi by Heckert– provided a rare opportunity to maneuver and acquire the TOP free agents.  At worst, one would think, short contracts could be used to exhaust this year’s cap room without handcuffing future years.

But here we are with $15MM remaining available to spend this on FAs this year, but all the best FAs are gone.  The opportunity, the advantage, has been squandered.

This is the GM equivalent taking three timeouts into the locker room at half time.

No cornerbacks signed.  One of the two big players signed plays the strongest position on the team and joins Rubin, Taylor, Hughes, Winn, Kitchen on the preeminent of defensive tackle corps in the league.  No free safety.  No guard.  An efficient tight end who played for Chud.  A speedy edge linebacker about whom Banner was quick to say:  Jabaal Sheard will play the new guy’s position.  Both key signings were made to address the needs of a ‘new defensive system’ put in place for reasons that can only be called arrogant; the change surely was not borne out of a sober evaluation of the talent on the current roster.

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22 FA CBs signed; 16 are over 6’0″.

Recap:

1. Signed a good OLB;
2. Signed a DT to add to the three excellent ones on the roster;
3. Signed a fast OLB who used to play for Horton and will not start;
4. Signed a cheap TE who used to play for Chud, and;
5. Did not sign a CB, though 22 were signed.

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End Honeymoon.

Now comes the uncomfortable part where hope keeps triumphing over experience.  The part where we sit on our hands in the face of compelling evidence that we may just have a new set of idiots in Berea.  We’ll couch the concerns with qualifiers.

‘I hope I’m wrong but, …’
‘Have to assume they know more than we do …’
‘No one wants to be wrong about this more than I …’
‘I hope they make me eat my words …’

It’s so tiring.  May I stipulate that all of the above apply to all of my Browns criticisms and move on?

Here’s another short cornerback to add to the mix.

Anywayses.. we’ve done this dance so many times.

Here’s hoping something happens before the draft that helps us understand the plan for the $15MM of payroll Banner has chosen to save.

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FA priority #1, top notch, big, physical, starting CB:  UNMET.

The big news yesterday was Brent Grimes visiting and leaving.  Fans are pretty excited.

Fans are pretty excited about a 30-year-old 5’10” CB coming off a blown Achilles.  This is somewhat understandable because the other CB we’ve been linked to is Captain Munnerlyn (5’8″).

Captain.

Munnerlyn.

Buster Skrine but with a cooler or less cool or equally cool name.  ‘Good nickel back.’  Munnerlyn and Grimes will fit right in with Joe Haden (5’10”) and Buster Skrine (5’9″).

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Hoping not to face Vincent Jackson sized WRs is not a strategy.

Am I the only one who has been watching this smurfed-out defensive backfield for the last twenty years?  Am I the only one who knew what Pete Carroll has proven:  it’s good to have taller CBs?

We talk so much about wanting an ‘intimidating character’ on defense.  But:  short guys aren’t intimidating.

Check it out:  Haden, 5-10; S. Brown, 5-10; E. Wright, 5-11; McDonald, 5-11; LEIGH BODDEN, 6-1*; Daven Holly 5-10; McCutcheon, 5-10; ANTHONY HENRY, 6-1**; Fuller 5-10; Ryan McNeil, 6-2***.

You have to go back to 94-95 and you find a pairing of two six footers:  Don Griffin and Antonio Langham.

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How much did we save?

Here’s a list of random 6’0″ and above CBs:

  • Derek Cox, Chargers:  4yrs/20MM/10.2 guaranteed // average: 5MM
  • Cary Williams, Eagles:  3/17/5.75g // 2013, 2.4MM; 2014, 6.4MM; 2015, 8.2MM.
  • Keenan Lewis, Saints:  5/26 // 2013, 2.2MM  (unknown full terms, hometown discount because Lewis is from New Orleans.)
  • Aqib Talib, Pats:  1 year/ 5MM.
  • Sean Smith, Chiefs:  3/16.5/7.5 guaranteed // 2013, 7.4; 2014, 7.95; 2015, 2.25.
  • Antoine Cason, Cardinals:  1/1.5.

The contract here that jumps out for me is Sean Smith’s.  It gets the cap hit out of the way up front.  Given the Browns cap space this year (and probably next), this way of structuring a CB would have been sensible.

Joe B: “AJ Green is six inches taller than our CBs? Didn’t see that coming Mike, did you?”

Banner/Lombardi, so I read, assigned their own value to free agents and adhered to it.  Are they smarter than the market?  If they are, then that self-satisfaction will require a smooth Balvenie-rocks to provide comfort when AJ Green (6’4″) is pulling down fade routes in our end zone next autumn.

But the net people, is this:  any one of those tall CBs above could be condo-shopping adjacent to the Map Room today and if they were, the Browns would still be ~95% of the mean player salary among NFL teams.

This was not smart or prudent shepherding of finite resources

This leaves us hoping a good CB will be available at #6 in the draft.

This was that epitome of Browns management style that transcends ownerships eras and GM regimes:  that unique mix of arrogance and stupidity.

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*Browns go 10-6.
**Good enough to start 41 games for the Cowboys after the Browns cut him.
***Made probowl for Chargers two years after Browns released him.

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18 Comments

  1. dg736 says:

    I’m disappointed in the lack of DB’s signed, and the more I think about it I see the focus on defensive signings as a possible trouble spot. I can envision the trade of some of our DL starters, who are a solid group and should not be changed, in order to acquire other talent such as TE or WR. We have no one else to trade and the excess of DL personnel makes me think a package deal of some sort is in the works. I hate to say it but it won’t surprise me if we undo the existing DL, make some dud trades and weaken our strongest piece of the team. I can’t imagine why the Browns didn’t address the DB situation unless some sort of deal is in the works. Hope I’m wrong, our DL is one of the best.

    • jimkanicki says:

      we _are_ currently unbalanced dollars-wise: off cap = 38.6mm; def cap = 60.7mm. that’s the lowest offensive cap number in the league… but considering rookie contracts for starters at QB, WR x2, RT, TE it’s not too too surprising.

      i’m all for exploring a sheard trade. he *might* bring a 2nd rounder to a 4-3 defense. he would seem to have more value in such a scheme vs trying to shoe-horn him into a Jack OLB position in a 3-4.

  2. maxfnmloans says:

    I think they’re going to take the ~ 6 million dollars they have left and turn Usama Young into Steve Austion (not WWE Steve Austin). Better than he was before. Better. Stronger. Faster.

  3. porkchop says:

    Jim, only thought I have about spending that you haven’t taken into account here is the draft. Last year Mo Claiborne got 4 mil per as the 6th pick. Add in another 1-2 mil for 4 or 5 other picks, and you are somewhere in the high 9’s for cap space. Assuming (praying) they do sign at least a Grimes type players for 1 or 2 million, they’d be down to 6-7 million in space left. I’m not a cap expert but I’d leave myself some wiggle room there. I don’t know what escalators are in contracts for guys like Haden, Thomas, T Rich, etc. but signing guys this year on multi year deals has ramifications for next year as well. It could be that they need to leave some room, or can only offer 1 year deals at this point because of draft picks and next years obligations. If they can only offer 1 year deals almost all of the FA out there now are probably still sniffing around for multi-year deals.

    • jimkanicki says:

      hi porkchop, thanks for dropping in!

      capology. as of now, this instant, browns are at 93m not including groves (say ~2m for him). that includes the dollars for trich, haden, thomas, etc. that leaves 123 – 95 = 28m. using a generous 12m for rookie signings (which is high given no 2nd rounder for us), we’re at 28 -12 = 16m. allow 6m to extend mack (max unger numbers) and 3.5 for ward (patrick chung), and we’re at 16 – 6 – 3.5 = ~7m of unused money BEFORE clearing space by cutting marecic and others. that’s a very generous number, one that could easily be higher.

      maybe they burn into that number with grimes or k. rhodes or dumervil(!), but it’s hard to understand how they let aqib talib or louis vazquez or dustin keller go by the boards. if we agree that one top signing is better than three bench signings, then this points to a significant miss by banner/lombardi and seemingly all in the name of sticking to their valuations in the face of the market’s valuations.

      • Another well written piece Mr. Kanicki, I on the fence between optimism and skepticism right now. Let me to play devil’s advocate a bit though. If the Browns manage to trade back out of 6 and into the middle of the 1st round to grab Rhodes and recoop a 2nd rounder things could be worse for the Browns. This could potentially allow them to add either a TE or FS, and then go OG or either TE or FS (depending what happens in the 2nd) in the 3rd where a decent to very good player at one of those 3 positions can still be found.

        As far as being upset about FA acquisitions, I am more unsettled that the Browns braintrust did not bring in a TE and 3rd receiver; the fact Usama Young in the starting lineup makes me cringe notwithstanding. If Banardi are interested in trying to develop Weeden (or anybody else for that matter) at quarterback, instead of throwing him to the wolves like last year with a combination of green and subpar targets, management should have wrangled a TE and WR with experience and some savy. As a parallel to this conversation, the offense historically has been behind the defense in terms of development and therefore should have garnered more attention in free agency than it has. This should especially be true considering that what our quarterback needs most while learning his job, in my estimation, is a couple of the aforementioned vets to rely on. Thanks for the good read. I particularly enjoyed learning how the cap breaks down for us.

        • jimkanicki says:

          like button! x. rhodes, additional 2nd rd pick, TE/FS… that’s straight out of the ‘best case scenario’ playbook.

          on the 3rd WR front, i haven’t seen it as a great need,,,, but i sure wouldve liked to have added louis murphy. he signed with the giant on a one year contract… no idea the dollars but doubt it’s huge. he ALWAYS over-achieved for the raiders. he seemed a no-frills, solid pickup.

          • We are one injury away from having to choose between Norwood, Cooper, and Benjamin as a starting receiver. Not good. Meanwhile, us fans are in FA limbo with Fred Davis and Brent Grimes seemingly on the back burner. Also, why the lack of interest in Kerry Rhodes considering he played well for Horton last year?

            • jimkanicki says:

              well.. the ravens are an injury away from tandon doss. the steelers will start two 5’10” WRs *if* they can sign sanders. i bet most team face issues like that. the bengals jump out as a team that does not.

              like i mentioned above, grabbing louis murphy cheap wouldve been ideal. i’d also be happy to throw a contract at domenik hixon.

              i think we’re on the same page here although i probably have less heartburn about the norwood-benjamin-cooper group.

              as for kerry rhodes: the silence is screaming that horton didn’t love his play.
              as for fred davis: he sure seems to want to stay in DC.
              as for brent grimes: man, that would be a not great signing considering the options that preceded him.

  4. trashycamaro says:

    It’s only fair – I feel like we get in to our fair share of disagreements, but I think you really hit on what has been bothering me. DBs have been cheap and plentiful and we have dire need at 3 DB positions (CB, S, NB) and nothing has been done to address this. Praying for Milliner to drop to 6 and whoever else to drop to us in the 3rd in lower is not a plan.

    I really think we need a TE, not just because we don’t have one, but I think that is the weapon that will give us the true measure of Weeds’ ability. I think you can find OGs without trying to hard and definitely feel fine with not over committing $$$ to one. But even signing some depth would be nice.

    Nice write up and well received.

    • jimkanicki says:

      oh trashy, please dont let our disagreements bother you. as it is on frowns, so it is here: my disagreeing is both a bestowal of respect toward you (ie, you can manage disagreement) and a token of love. that being said, compliments and agreement are welcome here too and thank you.

      i find the tight end position a source of disappointment too. one of the collateral problems with the FA inaction at CB is that it becomes hard to consider an eifert at #6.. we seem locked in for a CB.

      regarding milliner vs rhodes (my pref), here are some data that led me to rhodes:
      milliner 6’0″/201, 32″ arms, 8.8″hands, 36″vert, 4.37 40
      rhodes: 6’1″/210, 33.8″arms, 9″hands, 40.5″vert, 4.43. –> rhodes’ arms are the same length at margus hunt. (curiously, rhodes’ 40 is incorrectly listed as 4.54 on espn’s page. i wonder if that’s why he’s rated so low there.)

      this write-up got my attention too: “Rhodes thrives in physical press coverage, … but Rhodes will make his living locking up boundary receivers with a balanced and strong jam followed up by enough speed to stick in their hip pocket. Just don’t ask him to play in zone, because Rhodes shows tight movements when forced to pass receivers to a separate area. …” <–yes please to a press cover CB.

  5. jpftribe says:

    Banner report card so far:
    Lombardi – D-
    Chud -C+
    Turner – A
    Horton – A
    Kruger – B
    Bryant – C+
    Groves – B

    Let’s see how they address FS, OG, CB and QB

    Guy has a rep as a cheap negotiator. Doesn’t seem to be the case with Kruger or Bryant, but lack of other signings points this way.

  6. tmoore94 says:

    Other than not getting a cornerback, I think the Browns have done a solid job so far in free agency. Not sure who they didn’t sign that they should have, maybe Lavitre?

    Can certainly argue for different players … Ellerbe instead of Kruger, Avril instead of Bryant … but I think I’m OK with how things have gone so far.

    • jimkanicki says:

      other than that, how was the movie mrs. lincoln?

      other than not signing a starting CB or starting FS or starting TE, we did a good job adding an impact OLB and … adding to the stockpile of DTs? … getting an edge rusher and then stating that that’s where sheard will play?

      i would specifically avoid talking names. eg, lewis apparently wanted to go to new orleans. ellerbe’s price seems out of whack. munchak absolutely had levitre as his target. bidding wars and players who dont want to come are scenarios to avoid.

      but take OG. seems like vasquez was a good #2 to levitre. levitre got 6yrs/47m… hard to top that. but vasquez went for 4/23.5 from the [strapped] broncos… could that not have been topped?

      take talib. the browns were in on talks with him. how the eff do you let him sign for ONE YEAR, FIVE MILL with the pats?

      ..
      the main thing is: what are they saving it for?

      alex mack is not max unger so he should be south of 6m/yr. tj ward is little more than patrick chung, call it 3.5m/yr.

      and neither of those guys are up until 2014 anyway. check it out: who here needs to get extended?

      ..
      at this point, yes: go after dumervil. then trade surplus talent (sheard) for draft picks.

      but the fact of having 15m of spare cash laying around points to a flawed plan and/or a hubris-laden ‘valuation system.’

      it bodes ill.
      [see and apply my qualifiers above.]

      • tmoore94 says:

        Agree they should have gone after a guard. Not sure signing guys for 1-year contracts is the way to go, however. All it does it set up to be in the same situation next year, yes? And the fact that no one was willing to give Talib more than a one-year deal says as much about him as it does about the Browns.

        As for Mack, it only takes one other team to throw a silly contract at him and suddenly he’s more than a $6 million a year player (and isn’t his rookie deal up after this season?)

        The Browns are by no means a finished product, but I’m not sure it’s that bad. All the moves haven’t been made yet. And I don’t think that having some spare cash to carry forward is ever a bad thing. But that’s a philosophical thing, where there is no right or wrong answer.

        • jimkanicki says:

          enh.. one year contracts provide a bridge to the point where a better long-term solution is found. it’s a luxury for sure, but one we can afford.

          not sure mack will find a munchak-stature fan in a position to break the bank. max unger, from mack’s draft class, emerged this year as all-pro; hard to think mack would get more than his 6m/yr.

          spare cash is a good thing, of course, but only if it’s used. it’s not like the money saved this year will allow the browns to exceed the cap in the next four years;; there’s no benefit to saving it (except to haslam of course).

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