Free Agency: Rebuilding the Browns, Part III

(This article and more from Danny Massaro can be found on The CalfMuscle)

It seems like just yesterday that I sat down with Perry Fewell and offered him the head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns. It feels like yesterday because it was yesterday. After hiring Fewell (note to Zach Tappe: after hiring Fewell) and new QB Coach Jason Garrett, we all sat down and decided on Todd Monken to run the offense.

It hasn’t even been 24 hours and I can already tell that we four along with Dick Jauron (DC) and the rest of the staff are destined for 15 straight Super Bowls.

Next step in the (re?)builing process is suring up the roster via free agency.

Here is the situation (and obviously everything is estimated – thanks Google): We have about $40 of cap space to deal with. I plan on spending a good amount of it. The days of Frostee Rucker being the top signing have to be over or we are going to be (remain) in trouble.

I’m not a wild spender like Daniel Snyder, but I believe that it takes money to make money, or in this case contend. If you disagree, recognize that Houston, Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, New York (Giants), San Francisco, and Pittsburgh are all in the top third regarding money spent. The Packers, Patriots, and Broncos are all in the bottom half, but it helps that they have the three best quarterbacks in the last ten to fifteen years.

Also worth noting, we don’t have a second round draft pick due to using it on Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft and, let’s be honest, our second round pick will probably be between #33 overall and #36. That will “save” us a little less than a million dollars. That’s could allow about a million dollars more for the first year of a free agents contract. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but for a low end guy to add depth, it could be something.

PHILOSOPHY: The glaring needs are a #1 wide receiver, cornerback, offensive guard, defense end, outside linebacker, free safety (I’m realizing that 75% of positions on the field I am classifying as “need”) in that order.

When I look at NFL players individually, I relate their value to a dollar bill. For example, Larry Fitzgerald is a $100 bill, Percy Harvin is a $50 bill, Antonio Brown is a $20, and every third wideout and Average Joe is a $10 bill or a $5 bill. The Browns receiving core is a pocket full of wrinkled up $1 bills.

In free agency, I’d like to land a $50 and at least one $20 at some positions of need. Obviously, I’d like to do so without overpaying (more than one of them). On top of those three players, we need to fill in other spots and add depth with some fives and tens.

Luckily for you, I’m not going to elaborate on the fives and tens, just the potential big signings.

But first I have to deal with the current roster and free agents who spent last season in Cleveland.

LET THEM WALK: Of the Browns whose contracts expired at the end of 2012 season, the following will not be re-signed: Sheldon Browns (CB), Stanley Daniels (OL), Dan Gronkowski (TE), Reggie Hodges (P), Brandon Jackson (RB), Kaluka Maiava (OLB), Mohammad Massaquoi (WR)[1], Jaqua Parker (DE), Steve Alford (DT), Ben Watson (TE).

BRING THEM BACK: Players who will be re-signed: Chris Ogbannaya (RB), Craig Robertson (OLB), Alex Smith (TE), Bubba Ventrone (S), Christian Yount (LB),

JUST CUT THEM: Thank you for your services Tank Carder and Owen Marecic, but you will no longer be needed. Effective immediately. And Owen, you are awful. Thanks for nothing.

FRANCHISE TAG: Phil Dawson. Nobody on this team is better at what he does. Phil is the best outdoor kicker in the league, the best bad weather kicker, and arguable the best overall kicker. If any kicker on a bad team is worth $3.5 million, it’s Philly Big Kick.

THE JOSH CRIBBS DILEMMA: It seems as if fans are split – half want Cribbs back, half don’t. I understand the “Let Cribbs Walk” camp; his gamebreaking ability has tailed off a little bit and he has never really developed into a top-two receiver for any depth chart. Butregardless of the success or lack thereof that Cribbs has had statistically, he is still a vital part of the Cleveland Browns organization. Sure, he openly defies coaches and calls for a chance to have the ball in his hands – but who can blame him. He is a big play waiting to happen (in the return game, screen game, wild cat, on coverage team) and he loves Cleveland. I don’t mean to sound like a fan while I wear my GM pants right now, but Cribbs plays hard every week and he does it because he loves his city.

On top of all of that, Cribbs value shouldn’t be all that high. Cribbs is a player that all 32 teams would love to have (again, in the return game, wildcat, screen game, coverage team), but barely any if any would pay a significant dollar amount. He’s a glue guy for any team, in the locker room and on the field.

I say all of this because despite Travis Benjamin’s speed and potential in the return game, I’m not giving up on Cribbs yet. Plus, with Shurmur’s Pop Warner offense out the door, Fewell, Monken and Garrett can utilize Cribbs for his strength. Get him in the open field. Let him score TDs. Let him ignite his city.

Cribbs last extension was for 3 years and $18.5 million. He is not worth nearly that much now. If another team is willing to pay him an average of $6 million a year, we’ll have to let him go. But I believe Cribbs’ role is significant enough for about $4 million a year. I’ll offer Cribbs three years for about $12.5 million.

And with my million dollar smile, I’d bet my first Lombardi Trophy he signs.

EXTENSIONS: Joe Haden is a top-5 cornerback in football right now. As the league continues to be pass happy, cornerbacks (especially in a 4-3 that doesn’t get to the quarterback all that much) are more important than ever. I hope that Haden’s agent Drew Rosenhaus doesn’t pollute his mind so that he packs up and signs with another team. Joe Haden will sign a 5-year $64 million dollar (back-loaded) deal.

Joe Thomas is the best offensive lineman maybe in football, but Alex Mack the Browns cornerstone. Can’t let him walk. Mack is back for $26 million over 4 years.

THE $100 BILL: Before I let you know who the big signing is, remember last offseason when Mario Manningham, a Cleveland native, voiced his lack of interest on national radio to sign with Cleveland because A.) The cold weather, B.) The lack of a consistent QB, C.) Consistent losing.

With that said, it doesn’t look like any wannabe divas like Mario Manningham will be interested in trying make things write with the upstart Browns. I’m ruling out two players because their personalities are similar to the conceded Mario Manningham, only x100: Mike Wallace (WR) and Aqib Talib (CB).

Our hundred dollar target: Greg Jennings.

The Packers are going to have extensions due for Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and BJ Raji this offseason. While Jennings is probably better than Raji (and even with Matthews), Jennings is replaceable. You can see that this season, as Jennings is out with injury, Rodgers continues to thrive with Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, and Randall Cobb (best athlete in the NFL???).

Unless Old Spice pays half of Jennings new deal, there is almost no way he stays in Green Bay unless Ted Thompson cuts a lot of salary.

I like our chances with landing Jennings for a few reasons:

  1. He is a Kalamazoo, Michigan native. That’s only a few hours from Cleveland, and being an outspoken family man and homebody, it could have some pull. I hope. Also, being from Kalamazoo and playing his college ball at Western Michigan and NFL ball to-date in Green Bay, the cold weather should be welcomed.
  2. We have a lot of cap room. Jennings will probably be the hottest commodity out there, but I’m willing to throw a lot of money his way. I’m confident that the investment will pay dividends because Jennings reputation is spotless. He’s not the kind of player who would take advantage of a team after signing a big (front-loaded) deal. Then again, people didn’t think Dwight Howard or LeBron James would hold their team hostage because they were “good guys” too.
  3. Jennings learned from Donald Driver. He was brought up under a vet. Jennings isn’t exactly ripe in age and experience, but judging by the kind of person and competitor that he is believed to be, perhaps Jennings would relish the idea of leading a young receiving core with a quarterback who is ready to take a big leap.

As I read back over everything I just said, I sound like a wishful fan, right? Wrong. I was speaking as a guy who has hope for the league’s character guys. Jennings already has his ring, and once he’s cut he most likely will be a guy with a chip on his shoulder. If he inks in Cleveland, he’ll be targeted over 100 times each year, could win over a city, teach a core with a lot of potential, and make a lot of money. Jennings signs for 6 years and $84 million. The contract will pay $14 mil a year with a ton of incentives. $45 million minimum.

THE $50 BILL: We already have a lot of money invested in Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. Luckily, Mitchell Swartz is playing good football and will still make rookie money for four more years. That’s a deal if he develops into even a B+ offensive tackle.

Unfortunately, the guard play in the last few years has been awful ever since Eric Steinbach woke up one morning and walked with a hunch like he was 200 years old. Enter Andy Levitre.

You never know what to expect with what teams offer interior lineman. Sometimes you find a bargain, others you overpay (see Jeff Faine to Bucs). Others get paid because they are $100 bills (see Carl Nicks to Bucs).

Andy Levitre to some is a $50 bill, to others he is two $20s. To me, he is the answer to all of our 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 problems. I’m sure somebody will overpay, but because this is my blog and I’m the GM of this team, I’m also the GM of every other team. As a result, as the GM of the other 31 teams, I chose to pass on Levitre.

As GM of the Browns, I choose to sign Levitre for 3 years and $28 million

THE REST OF THE BLUEPRINT: I’ll wrap this up quick. First thing we need bad is a cornerback. We need one bad. Unfortunately, Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, nor Talib will be interested in playing in Cleveland. Hopefully the draft treats us well.

Defense end depth is something we need. We let Parker walk. A lot of people are calling for Billy Winn to get burn at defensive end, which is fine, but he is a defensive tackle first. Luckily for us, Coach Fewell gave his old buddy Osi Umenyiora a call and convinced him to look into Cleveland. Osi refused and waited for the big bucks. But, just like every year since 2009, nobody wanted to pay the declining Umenyiora. A two-year deal for $11 million works for us. I knew I liked what Coach Fewell can do.

Osi is a $20 bill some days. Other days he’s a $5.

The last person we land of any real significance is Stevie Brown. Brown is another of Fewell’s former players in New York. The free safety comes to Cleveland as we offer him between $2 million and $4 million a year for three season. We also let him know that the free safety spot is his for the taking.

In conclusion, we just turned Mohammad Massaquoi, Jaqua Parker, and Stanley Daniels into Greg Jennings, Osi Umenyiora, Andy Levitre, Stevie Brown, and Joe Haden and Alex Mack through at least 2017. And it only cost us an average of $37 million dollars per year.

In other words, I hope nobody else significant wants to sign here in the next two or three years at least and also I need a better salary cap guy.

Friday, we talk draft.

[1] One footnote: And with the release of Maiava and Massaquoi, the stench of thepre-Heckert Mangini era is gone. Alex Mack is the lone keeper in two offseasons from the Mangenius. I feel bad about Massaquoi because before my days as GM when I was a fan, I was a big fan of Mo. I still believe he can make something, but it’s not worth another contract for an injury prone slot guy.

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