Key Additions: Donte Whitner ($7M per year),Karlos Dansby ($6M), Andrew Hawkins ($3.4M), Ben Tate ($3.1M), Jim Dray ($1.9M), Paul McQuistan ($1.5M), Nate Burleson ($1M)
Key Re-Signings: Alex Mack ($8.4M per year)
Key Losses: TJ Ward (Broncos), Shawn Lauvao (Redskins)
Major Cuts: D’Qwell Jackson ($5.2M cap savings), Jason Campbell ($3.3M), Davone Bess ($3M), Brandon Weeden (-2M)
Free Agency Thoughts:
For whatever reason the Browns did not engage center Alex Mack in serious contract discussions prior to free agency, which led to them using the transition tag to hold some control over his rights. Mack would eventually sign an offer sheet with the Jaguars that would make him the second highest paid center in the NFL. The Browns matched the offer, but it is hard to really understand their logic in the entire process. If they were prepared to pay him this high they would have been able to get a better deal had they negotiated before free agency. If they just wanted him for a year then the franchise tag would have only cost a touch more.
The team paid more for Donte Whitner than the Broncos paid for TJ Ward which at best was a lateral move for the team. Whitner received a very strong contract that will leave the Browns with a good chunk of dead money in 2016 if he does not work out. I have to think that the signing was about a culture change since Whitner is coming over from a successful franchise, because financially it would have made more sense to keep the incumbent.
The Browns also showed no worry in handing over $12 million guaranteed to Karlos Dansby. Dansby is coming off an incredible year in Arizona, but he is 33 years old and that is a large guarantee to a player that age. Linebackers can be effective for longer time frames but I am not sure how one year of that type of play justifies the investment.
Whether the Browns slow played their hand with Ben Tate or Tate simply misjudged the landscape they got him at a great bargain price in free agency. Tate has some upside the commitment here is low, so if he turns out to be nothing better than a backup style player there is nothing lost. At the least he will be a major improvement over Willis McGahee.
Signing Andrew Hawkins was an interesting move. They are betting that he is a keeper because they will pay him nearly $11 million over the first two years of the contract. They structured the deal in a way to frontload the cash so that the Bengals would not match the offer, but that was quite a bold move for a player who only had 200 yards last year and may only be a 500 yard per year player.
There were not too many surprises with the releases. D’Qwell Jackson was overpaid and the team was looking for a new face. Davone Bess clearly had issues off the field that need to be taken care of. He did file a grievance against the team to recover his salary, which was likely expected when he was released. Jason Campbell they perhaps should have tried to rework a deal with. Not that Campbell is a good player but the Browns QB situation is so poor that they probably should have kept either he or Brandon Weeden. Weeden was probably damaged goods and Campbell would have at least been cheap.
Overall Grade: C
When I look at the Browns I just see a lot of lateral movement at a touch of a higher cost. The whole Mack situation just seemed botched from the start as if they had a very limited plan and then realized how bad things would be if they lost him. Dansby, Hawkins, and Whitner all come in on the overvalued side. They have the cap space to burn so it is less of a concern than it would be with other teams. I think Whitner would be more acceptable if they did not already have a capable player in the secondary that was lower in cost. I do like some of the depth signings like Paul McQuistan and Nate Burleson while Ben Tate was clearly a bargain.