"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, we reflect on the reaction that some Cleveland fans have had regarding the front office not bringing in a big-name free agent.
A lot has been made about the fact that the Cleveland Browns' front office has failed to make a splash in free agency. With the exception of Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, what has the team done? Take a look at these numbers, and soak in the amount of dollars for a second:
7 years, $84 million
5 years, $42.5 million
3 years, $27 million
3 years, $16.8 million
3 years, $16 million
Would you say that a team was a "big spender" if they handed out those type of deals? If you hadn't guessed already, those are deals that the Browns' front office made within the past seven months. They correspond to LT Joe Thomas, LB D'Qwell Jackson, DT Ahtyba Rubin, LB Chris Gocong, and CB Dimitri Patterson, respectively. The three players with the largest contracts in that list were "home-grown" by the Browns.
General manager Tom Heckert has made it pretty clear over his first couple of seasons that he likes to spend money to keep "home-grown" players as members of the Browns. The only way you get those "home-grown" players in the first place is through the draft. Why, then, was it a big surprise that the Browns did not chase after guys like Mario Williams or Pierre Garcon? It does put more pressure on Heckert and company to "hit" on at least two of their first three draft picks in April. If Heckert doesn't want to try to accelerate the re-building process of this team through free agency, then he can't afford for there to be too many flops in the draft. Considering he picked out at least four starters in last year's draft (Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, Greg Little and Jason Pinkston, with a meaningless +1 if you count Owen Marecic), I'm going to have faith in what he does.
The front office reinforced their wishes for the team to get younger when they released offensive linemen Eric Steinbach and Tony Pashos. Steinbach missed all of last season, and as much as I would have liked for him to return and be as dominant as ever, we did see some growth from Jason Pinkston last year, who should only get better in his second season. The right tackle situation has been in need of repair for awhile now, and I'm going to assume that Oniel Cousins won't be relied upon as a one-year solution. I'm half-expecting the Browns to draft a right tackle with their second first-round pick, or at the very least, draft a right tackle within the first three rounds. Why else would the team pass up on a player like Eric Winston, who signed a relatively cheap deal in Kansas City?
What do the Browns do at the running back position? If the Browns decide not to draft Trent Richardson, I would be fine with utilizing Brandon Jackson as the starting tailback. His injury from last year (turf toe) shouldn't set him back for 2012. In training camp last year, he was getting a lot of reps and honestly looked like the best fit in Pat Shurmur's offense. If the Browns had questions about Peyton Hillis' long-term durability and just wanted to distance themselves from last year's bizarre season with him, then I could see them trying out Jackson.
The Browns will be facing a few of their former teammates next season. They face Kansas City in Cleveland, a team that has Romeo Crennel, Brian Daboll, and Hillis. They face Denver on the road, a team that has safety Mike Adams. They face Dallas on the road, a team that has fullback Lawrence Vickers. The Browns will also get to see two quarterbacks they would have killed to have: Andrew Luck on the road with the Colts, and Robert Griffin III at home with the Redskins. If Peyton Manning signs with Denver, they could also see him.