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Browns place fifth-round tender on RFA Rashard Higgins

Move is a puzzling one for a player the team has nurtured and who developed a solid relationship with QB Baker Mayfield.

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Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns began preparing for free agency on Friday by placing free agent tenders on wide receiver Rashard Higgins, defensive tackle Trevon Coley and defensive back Jermaine Whitehead.

The team announced the decisions on its website.

Coley, claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens near the end of the 2016 season, has not done much during his time with the Browns, registering 80 tackles and 2.5 sacks in two seasons.

Whitehead was a waiver pickup last season from the Green Bay Packers and played seven games with the Browns as a special teams member.

Coley and Whitehead are both exclusive rights free agents and whether they stay or go will likely go unnoticed in Cleveland.

Higgins is a different story, however.

A fifth-round selection by the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft, Higgins has gone from six receptions his rookie year to 35 last season, thanks in large part to the comfort level he developed with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Higgins also posted a 122.3 passer rating when targeted last season, according to Pro Football Focus, a number that ranked 13th among 108 qualifying wide receivers.

Basically, he is player that the Browns drafted and nurtured, and they started to see the payoff last season, which makes Higgins the type of player the team should be looking to retain.

The Browns placed an original-round tender on Higgins, meaning Cleveland would receive a fifth-round selection if Higgins were to sign with another team. While Higgins has professed a desire to return to the Browns, all it takes is one team with a nice contract offer to catch his eye. And with the compensation only being a fifth-round selection, more teams may be willing to take a run at Higgins.

For those keeping score at home, the original-round tender is worth $2.025 million if Higgins were to sign it. If the Browns had placed a second-round tender on Higgins - something that may have turned off potential suitors - the cost would been $3,095 million, which is certainly within Cleveland’s cap space.

The Browns can match any offer to Higgins, of course, which could be general manager John Dorsey’s plan all along. Let Higgins and his agent check out the market, let another team set his value, and Dorsey will sign off on that new contract, keeping Higgins in town.

There is some risk involved, but unless another team goes overboard with a contract, it still seems likely that the Browns will be announcing a new deal for Higgins in the coming weeks.