Free agency officially begins for the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the teams in the NFL at 4:00 PM ET on Wednesday.
We will have all of the Browns-related coverage on free agency here at Dawgs By Nature throughout the day. We will have individual posts about each free agent signing that Cleveland makes, or any other relevant news.
This thread will act as a “live blog” of sorts, with brief but important updates about the latest rumors, signings, or trades involving Cleveland or other NFL teams. You should also use the comments section as your free agency open thread! (Newest updates will be at the top of the live blog below)
2020 Browns Free Agency Live Blog - Day 1
8:21 PM: (Rubs eyes) We have news! The Browns are signing free agent safety Karl Joseph to a 1-year deal, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
Also, per Tom Pelissero, the Browns are signing BJ Goodson, formerly of the Green Bay Packers.
4:45 PM: Here is some more elaboration on how physicals can be handled. One way is what we previously discussed: the team and the player agreeing on a neutral physician in the area.
The other way is “players will sign contracts and payments in those contracts will be conditioned on a physical in the future,” per former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum.
4:15 PM: And now, we pause to think about the COVID-19 realities of free agency.
Teams cannot/will not announce their new additions, per league rules. Players are free to announce their decisions themselves, though contracts and trades won't be finalized until after players can take physicals.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) March 18, 2020
What does it mean? Pro Football Talk has some details on it, but it is a bit wordy when you read it. Let me try to explain it in simpler terms:
- Teams cannot officially announce free agent deals at the moment, per NFL policy.
- One of the big issues is this: how does a physical happen? Players cannot visit the team facility, and team doctors cannot visit the player.
- What can happen is that a neutral physician who is in the same geographic area as the player can give them the physical, and report the results to the team. Will the team be comfortable enough with that when a ton of money is being thrown at a player? They might have to be, because otherwise, a player can go try to sign elsewhere.
We are in unprecedented times here, so we’ll see how all of this unfolds.
4:00 PM: 3...2...1...Happy New Year! The 2020 league year is now officially under way in the NFL. Signings can now become official, but still may take some time depending on physicals and signing on the dotted line, especially in today’s crazy world situation.
3:50 PM: Kill time by watching as many old NFL games as you want (from 2009 onward), for free! This gives us an idea: soon, we’ll put together the Top 10 Browns games to watch from that timeline. By the way, free agency officially begins in 10 minutes.
Complimentary access to #NFLGamePass now available to fans both in the U.S. and Internationally, providing access to past full regular and postseason game broadcasts, NFL Originals and more: https://t.co/3oCxfxli0A pic.twitter.com/uprADlRV9N— NFL Media (@NFLMedia) March 18, 2020
3:00 PM: Next, let’s take a look at the status of the Browns’ restricted and exclusive rights free agents.
Restricted Free Agents
- The Browns’ restricted free agents this year were RB Kareem Hunt, TE Ricky Seals-Jones, OT Justin McCray, and DE Bryan Cox.
- The only RFA who was tendered was Hunt, and he was given a second-round tender. That means other teams can negotiate with him and make him an offer; if Cleveland does not match the offer, they receiver a second-round pick in return.
- The other players are set to become unrestricted free agents if they aren’t tendered by 4 PM ET today.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
The Browns already tendered all three of their exclusive rights free agents: RB Dontrell Hilliard, WR KhaDarel Hodge, and TE Pharaoh Brown.
2:48 PM: Let’s take this time to remind ourselves on the status of all of the Browns’ own free agents, starting with the unrestricted free agents.
Unrestricted Free Agents
- These players have not been re-signed yet, and are set to become free agents: QB Drew Stanton, WR Rashard Higgins, LT Greg Robinson, S Damarious Randall
- These players will sign with another club: MLB Joe Schobert (Jacksonville), S Eric Murray (Houston), S Juston Burris (Carolina)
The one that I didn’t realize, but happened two days ago, was the Panthers signing Burris to a 2-year, $8 million deal.
Juston Burris is going to the Panthers 2-yr, $8 million, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 16, 2020
It’s possible that the team will try to re-sign some of their own players still — this list is current as of this morning. We will look at the RFA and ERFA in a second.
12:43 PM: And lastly, here is what PFF said about the signing of Cleveland’s new backup quarterback. Remember, the “grades” are not just about the quality of the player, but a combination of the price tag paid for that player.
QB CASE KEENUM - ABOVE AVERAGE GRADE
Keenum showed the high end of his spectrum back in that 2017 run with the Minnesota Vikings, producing an 81.4 overall grade that ranked seventh among qualifying quarterbacks that year. Baker Mayfield is still the unquestioned starter, but should he get injured or should things continue to go off the rails in Cleveland, Keenum is capable of stepping in and delivering serviceable play.
12:41 PM: Building on the PFF grades, let’s move to Cleveland’s tight end signing.
TE AUSTIN HOOPER - BELOW AVERAGE GRADE
He is just 25 years old and coming off a season in which he was a top-10 tight end by PFF grade. He has played in 700 or more offensive snaps in each of the past three seasons as well, showing himself to be durable. The issue is that Hooper’s production was largely a product of his scheme. 75.5% of his receiving production has come on targets defined as holes in zone or underneath the defense and he has a receiving grade of just 58.9 against single coverage since 2016. That is not the profile of a player that you want to make the highest paid tight end in the NFL.
12:36 PM: We are past the noon hour, and as expected, the news is a bit slow, due to much of it happening the past two days. Over at Pro Football Focus, they are scoring the signings for each team though, so we will go player-by-player to see what they say in the next few updates. PFF’s six categories include: Elite, Very Good, Above Average, Average, Below Average or Poor.
OT JACK CONKLIN - ABOVE AVERAGE GRADE
Conklin was one of the best run blockers in the NFL on zone plays in 2019, a favorite of Kevin Stefanski’s offense with the Minnesota Vikings. That helped contribute to him ending the season as the fourth-most valuable tackle in the league per PFF WAR. The reason this deal isn’t listed any higher is that Conklin has been merely average in true pass-blocking sets over the last several seasons, benefitting from a healthy dose of double teams and chip blocks with the Titans.
10:54 AM: Per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, in response to a tweet, he says the Browns “are not releasing DE Olivier Vernon, at least not right now.” It had been rumored earlier this offseason that the Browns might cut ties with the defensive end.
9:14 AM: There are some key deadlines coming up for several of the Browns’ highest-paid players. Let’s take a look at them (source: Joel Corry of CBS Sports):
- WR Odell Beckham is set to have a base salary of $14 million in 2020. When he signed his contract, $2.75 million of that was already fully guaranteed. On March 20, the remaining $11.25 million will also become fully guaranteed.
- DT Sheldon Richardson is set to have a base salary of $11 million in 2020. When he signed his contract, $2 million of that was already fully guaranteed. On March 20, $6.5 million more of it will also become fully guaranteed (leaving $2.5 million non-guaranteed).
- C JC Tretter will receive a $4 million roster bonus on March 20. Additionally, on March 20, $3.5 million of his $9.1 million base salary for the 2021 season becomes fully guaranteed.
- WR Jarvis Landry’s $13 million base salary in 2020 becomes fully guaranteed on March 22.
I would expect Cleveland to retain all four players, with Richardson being the only outside question mark. As I noted previously, S Morgan Burnett would have been due a $625,000 roster bonus if he was still on the roster on March 20, but the team cut him a few days ago to avoid having to pay that out.
8:27 AM: Per Pro Football Focus, Andy Janovich was the 3rd best run-blocking fullback in the NFL last year. Who would have thought that a team adding Pat Shurmur would indirectly lead to something positive for Cleveland? Tony Grossi will surely be proud.
Stefanski got the FB his offense needs in Andy Janovich, who had the 3rd best run-blocking grade among qualifying FBs in 2019 (72.2) https://t.co/VgW4E457Zv— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) March 18, 2020
8:13 AM: As a general NFL point of discussion, this season sees several big-time quarterbacks landing new starting jobs elsewhere. That includes:
- Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Philip Rivers to the Indianapolis Colts
- Teddy Bridgewater to the Carolina Panthers
Also, by virtue of those signings, that means that Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brissett, and Cam Newton will all be looking for jobs elsewhere — although with the amount of interceptions that Winston has thrown, he might be hard-pressed to find a starting gig right out of the gate.
7:55 AM: We’ve talked about the safety position a lot here, and DBN’s Thomas Moore reviewed the team’s options again yesterday. Trading for Vikings S Anthony Harris is a possibility. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network says that while the Vikings did franchise tag him, they only really did it to hold his rights and look for a trade for a mid- to late-round pick. Jake Trotter of ESPN indicates that the draft pick part is less of an issue for Cleveland — it’s the fact that Harris would want big time money upon coming to a new team.
On any potential Cleveland trade for Vikings S Anthony Harris, I’m told the $$ he would want in a new deal would be a bigger obstacle for Browns over draft compensation. Similar to the Trent Williams situation. But Harris is, and has been, on Cleveland’s radar...— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) March 17, 2020
7:45 AM: Good morning, Browns fans! I slept in a little more than I had hoped, but that’s ok — it gave me a little more shuteye to prepare for the big day ahead of us. Let’s start this morning by looking at a bunch of former Browns and the deals they were able to score elsewhere:
- DE Emmanuel Ogbah (Dolphins): 2 years, $15M, w/ $7.5M guaranteed
- DE Carl Nassib (Raiders): 3 years, $25M w/ $17M guaranteed
- LB Christian Kirksey (Packers): 2 years, $16M
- LB Joe Schobert (Jaguars): 4 years, $45M w/ $26M guaranteed
- S Eric Murray (Texans): 3 years, $20.5 million
Some of those amounts seem pretty crazy, right? Especially for Murray, who was a reserve safety for Cleveland a year ago (but who knows what Bill O’Brien is doing with the Texans). After being cut by the Browns, Nassib posted back-to-back 6-sack seasons with the Buccaneers, allowing him to score a pretty nice free agent deal with the Raiders. Ogbah had 5.5 sacks last year as a part-time starter with the Chiefs, but an injury ended his season early.
12:15 AM: Let’s think about how much cap space the Browns have. It’s a difficult number to provide for several reasons. First, we didn’t know the 2020 salary cap until recently ($198.2 million) because the new CBA was being voted on, and also because of that, we still don’t know last year’s carryover numbers yet.
Compounding matters at this point is that Cleveland has already “signed” several free agents, but we don’t know the cap hit those players will have in the first year of their contract yet. Those details will be known in the coming days. We’ll try to get a better estimate of that later on Wednesday when more specific contract details are unveiled.
As of this post, the Browns technically led the NFL in available cap space at $60.815 million, according to Over the Cap. That figure does include things like the $3.259 million tender given to RB Kareem Hunt, the acquisition of FB Andy Janovich ($1.15 million), and dead money from cutting the likes of LB Christian Kirksey ($2.4 million), CB T.J. Carrie ($1.8 million), and S Morgan Burnett ($1.325 million). Those moves are already in the books.
However, the “signings” of QB Case Keenum, TE Austin Hooper, and OT Jack Conklin do not count until they officially sign on the dotted line after 4:00 PM ET today. Let’s review what their contracts were reported to be:
Estimated Cap of Browns’ Reported Free Agent Signings
|2020 Cap Estimate*
|2020 Cap Estimate*
|QB Case Keenum
|TE Austin Hooper
|OT Jack Conklin
Together, our estimates for those three players come out to a $30 million cap hit in 2020. Subtracting that from Over the Cap’s original estimate of $60.815 million, we project that as of this post, the Cleveland Browns have $30.815 million in available cap space.
I will update this blog with as many nuggets as I can on Wednesday, particularly when I wake up around 6:00 AM ET. Some early highlights you can expect include which former Browns have already received big deals, which players on the roster have guaranteed money coming near the start of the league year, rumors of players the Browns could still be looking at, the crazy-changing landscape of big-name quarterbacks in the NFL, and much, much more.
12:00 AM: It is Wednesday, and at 4:00 PM ET today, free agency officially kicks off in the NFL! The world has become a crazy place, but the last few days of the legal tampering period have offered a healthy distraction from that. Savor it while you can, and I hope as many of you as possible join me for our annual free agency live blogs.
I should have learned my lesson from a year ago and started this free agency blog two days ago, because the start of the legal tampering period is when free agency “really” begins now. That’s water under the bridge at this point, though.