Well, hell, that didn't exactly go according to plan, did it?
The first day of the 2016 NFL Free Agency signing period came and went yesterday for the Browns with about as much excitement as a dud-firework. A lot of build-up, a lot of anticipation, and then just nothing. New regime (again), new head coach (again), solid free agents to try and retain (again), but a las, here we are on Day 2 with nothing to show for the efforts.
But, what have we actually learned?
A lot of us went into yesterday with the hope that at least one of the Browns' free agents would be retained. Whether that was Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Tashaun Gipson, or Travis Benjamin; it didn't really matter. The hope, and to some extent, belief, was that at least one of those guys was staying home. Going into yesterday, if I were to rank of the 'big four' in order of who I wanted to stay the most, it'd be:
Should we have really had that hope, though? The idea that the shiny new, Harvard-educated Cleveland Browns front office was going to do an about-face and completely transform how business was handled in just a few months, was clearly ill-founded.
The reports yesterday of how the Browns front office handled their business was not just alarming, it was incredibly concerning. Well-respected NFL people all over the place were chiming in left and right about the Browns lack of awareness within negotiations, among much else. While some of that is likely to be typical pile-on Cleveland media hyperbole, where there's smoke there's fire. And goodness me, is there ever fire in Cleveland.
Now, listen, I'm not one for the doom-and-gloom treatment. I'm a well documented Johnny Manziel apologist, and eternal optimist. So, I'm not going to let yesterday's Day 1 results bring me down. Sure, it would be nice to have Mack and Schwartz shoring up the offensive line. And, of course having a Pro Bowl safety back would've been great.
Did we really expect them back, though?
I thought we may have gotten at a minimum, one of the 'big four' back. But if we're being honest, I wasn't really holding my breath. I thought of those guys, that Schwartz was the most likely to sign, but then the Browns went ahead and messed around with him in what appears to be an incomprehensible move of pulling his offer. So, it appears that while the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Where do they go from here?
Well, there's still a lot of free agency left, so we'll see them start to patch a team together. But, it appears that the team will be more focused on the Draft than ever. Which, let's be real, is a good thing. Good teams are built through the Draft, and yes, good teams retain said drafted players. However, the Browns are in a unique position. While they had talented players, realistically would you consider them irreplaceable? Is anyone on the Browns roster irreplaceable at this point? Joe Thomas? It's an interesting question to ponder, and one that personally I believe gives perspective as to what the Browns plan of attack (or lack thereof) has been in this short free agency window we've seen thus far.
Maybe the Browns view the 'big four' as good players, but players that in essence, could be replaced with cheaper, younger players of relatively equal value. It could be the Browns covet some draft targets they believe can fulfill the same roles. Who knows.
Maybe the reports are true and the new front office is in way over their heads. And that they tried, but ultimately failed miserably in attempting to keep their own players.
I can't say for certain which is true, or if it's somehow a combination of both. The reality that I do see, is that the Browns no longer have four of what many consider to be their best players. And sure, that stings. But, the other reality is, the Browns had those guys for the past few years, and they still sucked. We've been through rebuild after rebuild, and while we believed to have somewhat of a core intact for the long haul, we either were delusional, or the Browns flat out viewed things differently.
Regardless of what happened yesterday, we've got to move on. It'll be weird to see Alex Mack in a Falcons jersey, just the same as it's been weird to see Jabaal Sheard in a Patriots jersey or Buster Skrine in a Jets jersey. These things happen.
I mentioned earlier that I'm a well-documented apologist and optimist. And this is probably some internalization of optimism that has now spewed out in rambling-word-form, it is also true the Browns are worse off today than they were yesterday, we know that. But, that doesn't mean that they can't get better. Let's just see how it all pans out. There's nowhere to go but up, yeah?