Although the Cleveland Browns will still probably add a couple more lower-key players in free agency and we’ve yet to see what will ultimately happen with QB Brock Osweiler, for all intents and purposes, free agency is in the books and some of the focus is starting to shift back to pro days and the draft. Therefore, let’s go through and round up how some of the national media sites graded the Browns in free agency.
The grades from ESPN were dependent on each team’s NFL Nation reporter, which for the Browns was Pat McManamon. He gave the Browns a C- for their efforts, criticizing the injury issues with the offensive line and over-paying for Zeitler when they already had Greco:
It was nice to improve the line, but even that had its quirks. The Browns gave a contract extension to a player coming off serious foot surgery. Joel Bitonio when healthy is as good as anyone and well-deserving of the deal, but wouldn't it make more sense to see him on the field to ensure he's healthy before giving him this extension? The Browns also added a right guard, which was not a position of need. Ask around the league and John Greco is given nothing but respect as an underappreciated pro. The flip side of this is that Kevin Zeitler is a good player, and Greco could move to center if J.C. Tretter does not work out or again has to fight injury. The bottom line with all these moves is that the team's quarterback position remains a gigantic unknown, and the roster overall still has some needs, though the team does have an extra second-round pick in 2018 thanks to the machinations of the trade with Houston that included Osweiler.
CBS Sports: B
The grades from CBS Sports were via Pete Prisco. He gave the Browns a B grade, with the following reasons:
The Browns did a nice job of solidifying their offensive line by signing Packers center JC Tretter and Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler. They also extended their own guard, Joel Bitonio. That means a team weakness is now a strong point for the Browns offense. They added a second-round pick by trading to get quarterback Brock Osweiler from the Texans. They will likely dump him, which means they traded cap room for the pick. They also added receiver Kenny Britt from the Rams. ... The Browns are building this team slowly. Now if they could only find a quarterback.
Pro Football Focus
The Browns, like the Lions, invested in proven NFL talent along the offensive line. They signed G Kevin Zeitler, one of the best free agents on the market, and re-upped their own player in Joel Bitonio to form one of the league’s best guard pairings. J.C. Tretter is a player that has been good when on the field, but has never been handed the opportunity to start long-term. Last season, he started seven games for Green Bay and surrendered just eight total QB pressures; Tretter represents a huge potential upgrade for the Browns’ offensive line on a modest contract. Kenny Britt secured Cleveland at least one proven NFL-level receiver, even as Terrelle Pryor walked out of the door, but the coup of this team’s free-agent period was pulling off what amounts to the purchase of a second-round pick in 2018 by trading for Texans QB Brock Osweiler. His failure in Houston was so complete, and his contract so bad, that the Texans effectively paid Cleveland a second-round pick next year just to take his contract off their books. Cleveland entered free agency with over $100 million in cap space, so they could afford to make the move and it have zero impact on their free-agent plans. If they successfully adjust his deal and flip Osweiler to another team for even more picks, this just looks even better.
They also gave individual letter grades to the Browns’ signings:
OL J.C. Tretter to Cleveland Browns | Grade: A
Actual: Three years, $16.8 million, $10 million guaranteed
PFF play-earned contract: Three years, $15.8 million, $8.3 million guaranteed
Every time J.C. Tretter has been on the field, he has played well, but there just isn’t that much tape to go on. Last season he started seven games for the Packers, allowing eight total QB pressures across them, and was ranked in the top-five league-wide at the position by the time he had to make way for Corey Linsley.
G Kevin Zeitler to Cleveland Browns | Grade: B
Actual: Five years, $60 million, $31.5 million guaranteed
PFF play-earned contract: Five years, $43.3 million, $21 million guaranteed
Kevin Zeitler sets the new market for guard contracts, narrowly edging the deal signed by Kelechi Osemele a season ago. Zeitler has been a good, not great guard for several seasons now, grading well as both a run blocker and pass protector, but paying him more than any other guard in the game will likely prove to be a little too rich.
WR Kenny Britt to Cleveland Browns | Grade: B
Actual: Four years, $32.5 million, $17 million guaranteed
PFF play-earned contract: Four years, $25.6 million, $7.4 million guaranteed
Kenny Britt notched over 1,000 yards last season with a combination of Case Keenum and Jared Goff throwing him the football. That alone makes it hard to question the contract he got, but that was the best season of his career, and as a No. 1 target, he has some limitations.
Texans dump Brock Osweiler on the Browns | Browns grade: A | Texans grade: D
Cleveland Browns get: QB Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick in 2018, a sixth-round pick (188 overall)
Houston Texans get: fourth-round pick (142 overall)
The Houston Texans effectively felt the Brock Osweiler deal they made a season ago was so bad that they have paid the Browns a second-round pick just to get them to take the contract off their books. For Cleveland, they have effectively managed to “buy” a second round pick in 2018 by having the cap space to take on that contract. This deal becomes even worse for Houston if the Browns convert some of that contract to a roster bonus and successfully flip Osweiler for a profit in draft picks, something the Texans had the room to do themselves.
Walter Football also gave individual grades. They were high on most of Cleveland’s moves, but really hated the signing of Britt.
Browns sign C J.C. Tretter (3 years, $16.5 million): A Grade
This signing occurred Thursday morning, but it snuck by me, which is why I hadn't posted a grade for it until now. I wish I didn't have Cleveland fans wait so long because it's a great move. The Browns, despite losing, were competitive early in 2016. They took the Dolphins to overtime; were up 20-2 versus Baltimore; and had a lead on the Redskins in the fourth quarter. Things changed in the second half of the season, however, once they sustained so many injuries to their offensive line. Now with Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter in the lineup, the Browns will have one of the top offensive fronts in the NFL if they can find a capable right tackle.
Good offensive line play is more important than ever in the post-CBA NFL, and that's one of the reasons I'm giving the Browns an "A" for this signing. Another reason is because Tretter is so cheap. Aside from Nick Mangold, he was the best center available, and while I don't expect him to play as well outside of Green Bay's system, I still expect him to be a massive upgrade over the anemic Cameron Erving.
Browns acquire QB Brock Osweiler, 2018 2nd-round pick, 2017 6th-round pick for 2017 4th-round pick | Grade for Browns - A+ | Grade for Texans - A
Wow, I don't ever recall seeing anything like this in the NFL. It happens all the time in the NBA, where one team sends a highly paid player and a draft pick to another franchise for cap relief, but this doesn't happen in football. It's prevalent in basketball because of guaranteed contracts, but the Texans effectively had to pay $16 million to Osweiler no matter what. Well, not anymore. They're completely off the hook.
I actually think this is a fantastic trade for both teams. For the Texans, they now have the cap space to either sign or trade for Tony Romo. Osweiler was a complete failure, and they already admitted that they made a mistake by benching him in favor of Tom Savage. I like that they're getting rid of him and just admitting that he's a sunk cost. That's the smart thing to do rather than to stubbornly keep him around. Sure, it has cost them a second-round pick in 2018, but if that means getting Romo and competing for the Super Bowl this year, then it's worth it.
As for the Browns, they had the most cap space in the NFL entering free agency, so they can afford to have Osweiler hang out for a year for $16 million. And for a second-round pick in a loaded 2018 draft class? Why not? On top of that, perhaps the Browns will be able to develop Osweiler. He was once considered a promising quarterback, and he's only 26. Perhaps he'll amount to something. And if not, well, the Browns can just cut him next spring and not worry about it.
Browns sign G Kevin Zeitler (5 years, $60M; $31.5M guaranteed): B Grade
The Browns screwed up royally earlier in the day when they overpaid for Kenny Britt. It's nice to see them make amends with this signing. Kevin Zeitler is now the highest-paid guard in the NFL. It's well deserved, as he was a five-star player listed in the Top 100 NFL Free Agent Rankings. Zeitler is terrific in every blocking aspect, and he's only 27. He'll theoretically been playing on an extremely high level throughout the duration of this contract.
My one concern with this signing is that Zeitler is going from a perennial playoff contender to a horrible organization, so money is his primary motivation. However, there are some counter points. The first one is his age; unlike Calais Campbell (see below), Zeitler is in his prime and will continue to be so for the next four or five years. Second, the offensive line market is a very weak one, so teams will have to overpay. Offensive line play is more important than ever in the post-CBA NFL, and Cleveland has added a tremendous blocker. And third, the Browns are stealing a very valuable member from a divisional rival. That has to count for something.
I can't give an "A" to a big-money contract like this, but I think the Browns deserve a "B." They had the most cap space in the league, and unlike the Britt signing, they're spending their money wisely in this situation.
Browns extend G Joel Bitonio (5 years, $51M; $23M guaranteed): A Grade
We just had another guard signing, so let's put the two contracts side by side:
Joel Bitonio: 5 years, $51M; $23M guaranteed
Ronald Leary: 4 years, $35M; $20M guaranteed
Bitonio is making slightly more per year at $10.2 million compared to Leary's $8.8 million. The guaranteed money is nearly the same as well. With that in mind, the Browns have to be heavily praised for this contract. Bitonio is one of the top guards in the NFL. He's only 25, and he's been a force for them thus far when healthy. The Browns have lost so many talented players in recent years, so watching Bitonio depart would've been crushing.
This may seem like a lot of money for a guard who has gotten hurt often the past two years, and in a vacuum, I have to believe it is. However, the Browns have more cap space than any team in the NFL, and they need to make sure that they keep their few remaining talented players. Also, the 2017 NFL Draft is weak on the offensive line, so it's not like Cleveland could acquire anyone to replace Bitonio. As a result of this, I'm giving the Browns a rare "A" grade.
Browns sign WR Kenny Britt (4 years, $32.5 million): MILLEN A DAY WITHOUT KIELBASA Grade
When I saw the details of this contract, I imagined Matt Millen resting in a seedy massage parlor somewhere. As he prepared to have a young, 100-percent USDA Man penetrate his backside with a kielbasa, another individual walked into the room and informed him that the Browns have paid $32.5 million to Kenny Britt. Millen then got up and told the young, 100-percent USDA Man to go away. There will be no kielbasas today, as issuing this sort of contract is something Millen has always dreamt of.
This might just be the worst signing of the offseason. I'm not exaggerating; it's that bad. Britt has an extensive history of being injured, slacking off and dropping passes. He finally got his act together last season, but as it so happened, it was his contract year. Britt will now be fat and happy again, and it'll be absolutely shocking if he puts forth anything close to 100 percent into his game.
It's quite obvious that Britt is set to mail it in. He signed with the Browns, a team with no hope and no quarterback. NFL players go to Cleveland to die, and Britt's career will be the latest casualty. If Britt cared about being a good football player, he would've signed with a team that had a quarterback. Instead, he's chasing money. This really echoes the 49ers' signing of Torrey Smith a couple of years ago, except Smith hadn't shown a tendency to slack off prior to joining San Francisco.
This is the easiest grade I've ever given. There are no ands, ifs or buts. This is an "F" (Millen) grade, and there's no disputing it.