Browns

5-4-5-5-4 and the Browns free agent strategy

Joe Banner
Joe Banner will have some decisions to make in Cleveland

Joe Banner will have some decisions to make in Cleveland

5-4-5-5-4

That’s the Browns win totals in each of the last five seasons from 2012 going back to 2008.1 Yes, they are preceded by a 10-win season from 2007, but that is over half a decade ago at this point. 5-4-5-5-4 is the most important thing to fans of the Cleveland Browns and they’re mighty sick of the cycle not being broken in five whole years across two head coaches and two leadership groups.2 5-4-5-5-4 is what Joe Banner and his entire cast of chosen staff members are forced to contend with even though they didn’t create any of it. They must remember this at all times. It explains why they’ve largely had a good start to free agency, and yet for many Browns fans the pressure has barely lifted.

There’s little doubt that with Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant the Browns got a couple of prized free agents. They weren’t necessarily the splashiest or sexiest (insert Bryant mugshot joke here,) but they were definitely big, necessary and made the Browns better in most everyone’s minds. Like any team contending to fill holes, though, the Browns couldn’t do it all at once via high-priced free agents. This is a world where needs reveal themselves all to easily while solutions seem to hide from anything bearing the orange and brown color-scheme. And so 5-4-5-5-4 again infiltrates the brains of Browns fans once the last member of the press has left Berea after seeing Paul Kruger hold up his new jersey.

Cornerback, safety, linebacker, offensive guard, kicker, punter, receiver, maybe quarterback and more! These are all positions that Browns fans see coming off the board of the “best available free agents” lists going around the Internet.3 Free agents presumably filling holes as Browns fans, scream, “Hey! We’ve got holes still.”

The good news for Joe Banner and Browns fans alike is that there’s still time. The Browns’ strategy of making a splash and then waiting for some prices to fall in the marketplace isn’t a stupid one. It’s a measured response to a fan-base demanding better, but honestly not expecting all that much. It also allows for the Browns to head into the NFL owners’ meetings with some available cap space left to explore the trade market, which usually involves re-signing acquired players to new, rich deals.

I’m not saying this is what the Browns are going to do and I’m certainly not perpetuating the New England backup quarterback rumors. I’m just saying generically it is a plan that could end up being successful. Yes, I wanted Keenan Lewis on this team to play corner opposite Joe Haden, but I admittedly am not in on the Browns’ larger strategy. Maybe the Cleveland Browns have determined that the predictability of free agent defensive linemen is a safer bet. Maybe the Cleveland Browns have determined that spending on the pass-rush will enable them to not have to spend $10.5 million guaranteed ($26.3 potentially) over five years to corners like Keenan Lewis. Maybe. I’m hoping there’s at least as much logic in the Browns’ plans right now.

And for once in a very long while I believe such a plan could be possible with this group of people running the Browns. I just get the feeling that Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Ray Farmer and all the rest of them could and probably would have a larger plan in place for the direction of the team. And honestly they better.

The Browns don’t get a free pass from 5-4-5-5-4 even though they didn’t create it. They bought into this team’s history and look forward to having the support of this fan-base. It’s their job to stare at that sequence of numbers long and hard to break their negative, hypnotic cycle.

This is all a very long way of saying the following things. The Browns haven’t failed in this off-season so far by any stretch of the imagination. Free agency isn’t over though, and this team has a long way to go before training camp. Browns fans are an understandably impatient bunch, but they’re not unreasonable. It’s also not unreasonable for fans to expect this team to finally break the 5-win ceiling that has been the bane of the last five years.

  1. You could reverse that if that’s how you like to look at the world, but I’ll choose newest to oldest, personally. []
  2. Maybe one and a half leadership groups considering the Kokinis false start. []
  3. Well maybe not punters, but you get my point. []

  • Garry_Owen

    Kerry Rhodes. This should happen yesterday. Otherwise, I’m still playing the patience game.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Can we do a comparison of last year’s starters and depth to this year’s? As much as people are whining a bit, there’s no reason in the world people shouldn’t be genuinely happy with where the Browns are at this point. We have good starters and nice depth at OL, DL, LB, RB. The positions we wish to upgrade (or take close looks at) are ones where if we do get good players there the current ones would serve as either a great group or good backups (CB, FS, WR, TE, QB?).

    It’s like everyone wants it all filled at once, but that’s not the best way to go. Create systems where you aren’t an injury away from being 4-12 but where you can continue succeeding no matter what. They’re well on their way to that now.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    A million times, yes.

  • thanks for www link this am. from that you know where i am on this.

    the question becomes: what are they planning to do with the ~30mm in cap room they currently have for this year?

    allowing 10mm for rookie signings, 6mm for the mack extension, 3.5 for a(n) (optional) ward extension, and charitably not including the releases of marecic and others, and that leaves the browns with ~10mm of cap and buster skrine as starting CB.

    it seems obvious to me that banner was too rigid in his ‘valuations’ and thus let 16 6’0″+ CBs be signed by others. now we’re left with 2nd/3rd tier FAs at CB and hoping milliner drops to 6th.

    is this not an obvious poor use of cap?

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I read your article just a bit ago, and although I generally like the talent on the Browns heading into this season, I agree that Banner & Company really should have grabbed a solid CB#2 by now. Grimes is trying to come back from blowing out his Achilles tendon… as good as he was in 2010, he won’t be anywhere near that now and frankly I don’t see him as being better than Sheldon Brown. This does seem like a missed opportunity and even if the Browns love Milliner, there’s no guarantee they will get him in the draft.

  • Garry_Owen

    The thing that frustrates me every year with the never-ending complaints of “why haven’t the Browns signed so-and-so?” is the fact that signing FAs requires 2 parties. Just because the Browns have the cap space and the need doesn’t mean that dream FAs are just going to come rolling through the door.

    As far as I’m concerned, the only “miss” of FA thus far is Lewis, but there is absolutely no logical presumption that Lewis, or any other FA, would have wanted to be here, irrespective of the Browns’ financial ability to make it happen.

    If we can get a S and CB (I’d take a chance on Grimes for the right price – assuming he’d want to come here), and there is indeed still time, this will have been a great FA season. Time is still on our side. Yes it is.

  • Jarrod

    Maybe this regime values younger DB’s instead of the 26-30 year old group that is available in free agency. I have no problem with what they have been doing there is no reason to blow a ton of money on some average DB’s.

  • k. lewis proves your point. lewis is from new orleans and took less, a lot less (he’s on the books for 2.2m this year.), to go home.

    however vazquez and talib are two examples where it’s hard to think the browns couldn’t have topped the price if they’d wanted.

  • Garry_Owen

    Sure, but that’s also my point. Even presuming that the Browns could have topped the price for either of those guys, there’s no corresponding presumption at all that they would have taken it. Certainly, for a guy like Talib, I can easily accept that staying in NE is worth more than the money he could have gotten in CLE.

    Granted, it’s a whole different argument if you’re saying (and I haven’t read your article) that the Browns should have at least TRIED to get them here, but didn’t. But even with this argument, there are inside workings to which we are not privy. It is not at all outside the realm of possibility (probability, even) that front offices know it’s not even worth contacting some players’ agents (or quickly discern basic truth after a short call to these agents).

  • mgbode

    yes, please. somebody tell Banner that Rhodes is 29yo to get it done.

  • mgbode

    yes, I am worried about Grimes. some positions you just do not want to have leg injuries and CB certainly is the top position on that list.

    CB2 is currently the highest of my concerns for the 2013 Browns, and I do not see an obvious fix (unless we really like Xavier Rhodes possibly after a small trade-down with Miami).

    I hate going into the draft with an obvious and urgent need. Pressure may have the ability to create diamonds, but it mostly creates fissures.

  • Garry_Owen

    In my world (as my beautiful, funny daughter likes to begin sentences), it’s already a done deal, but it’s just not “done.” In my world, Rhodes and Horton and Banbardi have already exchanged secret handshakes and are just waiting until the numbers work out from the other pending FA signings.

  • mgbode

    If we sign Rhodes and fix CB, then I’ll feel much better about things. But yes, we need to fix CB2. I also would have liked to get another young OG to challenge our guys there and we still don’t have a starting quality TE either.

  • Garry_Owen

    That was in my fortune cookie last night. An ill omen, indeed.

  • mgbode

    hopefully, it is closer to the land of reality than the land of Oz.

  • not to be argumentative (hah), but it’s hard to see how talib would prefer a one year contract from the pats when a two year contact here would result in his becoming a UFA concurrent with the new tv contract in two years (a la avril’s signing in seattle).

    sure there are inside workings. but the fact of 22 signed FA CBs point to something greater than a body odor problem with chud.

  • Garry_Owen

    Certainly seems logical – and we saw similar things happen when Crennel came from NE and Mangini came from NY.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I would agree with you if we were talking about a ton of money and long contracts… pretty much all of the cornerbacks that have been signed in this free agency period have been to small money for a couple of years. The reason being that there isn’t a CB#1 in the whole group… these are all CB#2 guys at best.

  • Garry_Owen

    Yes, a body odor problem with Cleveland!

    (This is the good type of argument. And for the record, my intial comment was not directed toward you, but more toward the classic Cleveland fan angst. You certainly complain, but your complaints are accompanied by analysis – which is more than I’m usually to do.)

  • mgbode

    and already have imported Groves.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    This is why any complaints that I might have are minor. There is no certainty that any guy we sign at this point will perform better than a guy we pick up off the street or a guy already on our roster. That guy could be a great fit for our team’s schemes compared to what he was asked to do under the old regime or for other teams. Would I rather have a more proven CB than guys like Skrine or Wade who would have to show big growth in the offseason? You bet. But I’m not blowing a gasket over it. All in all, I think there’s a lot to be excited about.

  • mgbode

    also, in the division, only the Bengals have more than 1 WR you have to cover anyway.

    (necessary joke about talent drain from Pitt and Baltimore)

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I like it… it’s funny because it’s true!

  • It might be. Not yet. They still have a chance to pull off a trade and/or find a CB in the draft. DB is a young man’s game and it’s not unreasonable to conclude that the Browns liked the value prospect of predicting pass-rush abilities first and foremost among free agents as opposed to coverage abilities.

    Your concerns are certainly well-founded.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Amen Mr. Craig Lyndall the 5-4-5-5-4 makes me sad, very sad. It’s enough to drive a man to drink, Kool-Aid of course, oh yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeea!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hey I wanted a CB as much as the next but just because that is the one position on defense which has yet to be addressed is far from saying the Browns have used the cap poorly. They have money left that doesn’t mean they have to use it but I have to believe if we all know a CB is needed then so do they. I would have loved a Talib, Lewis or a couple of others but there are still some guys out there better then Buster Skrine so don’t give up yet.

  • Jarrod

    I understand your point but I’m not sure that any of the guys signed so far would give a team much more value than say the average guy you can find in the 3rd round.

  • Garry_Owen

    My sources say that the Browns are planning to use the remaining cap space to sign Rhodes and then trade for Derrelle Revis.

  • porkchop

    Can we all just take a moment to appreciate the fact that this year at the owner’s meeting our actual owner is in attendance?

  • porkchop

    I wish they would use their remaining cap space to pay whoever (whomever?) the guy that keeps holding a turd under Banner’s nose seconds before every photo of him is taken, to go away.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I agree and this is maybe where personal opinion comes in, but I think there is less variability with the free agents than with potential draftees. It’d be nice to bring in a guy who you are fairly certain can do the job and then draft on top of that rather than trusting the 3rd round pick to perform at an NFL level with no backup plan if he can’t.

  • Kildawg

    Not just Kool-Aid. Mix the flavor packet with Mtn Dew and Everclear. Makes you feel better, well until it decides to clean you out.

  • Kildawg

    In Phoenix no less. Maybe they want to take in ST games like the one in Tempe on Wednesday the 20th.

  • mgbode

    Tempe Diablo Stadium is beautiful and just down the mountainside from one of the best restaurants in Phoenix.

  • Kildawg

    Indians will be hosted by LAA, is why I referenced it. I hear Goodyear is really nice as well.

  • mgbode

    I moved out of Phoenix the year before the Indians started up there, but Goodyear is just so far out from everything (when compared to sites for the Angels, A`s, Cubs, etc.). It’s not as bad as being out in Surprise, but I wish they would have gone to the other side of the city (Apache Junction – Canyon Lake).

    Of course, I’m speaking as someone who doesn’t live there anymore 🙂

  • Roosevelt

    Foolproof plan: Draft Milliner. If he is gone by 6, trade the pick to the Jets for Revis. Can’t lose.

  • Goodyear was really nice when I was there a couple of years ago.

  • mgbode

    anytime you can trade a top10 pick for a CB who is turning 28, coming off an ACL tear, and demanding $15mil+/season you have to do it!