Grantland lays out blueprint for Cleveland Browns free agency


The Cleveland Browns are one of the teams that Grantland’s Bill Barnwell thinks should dominate free agency. If his plan comes to fruition it will certainly be a one of the most active free agency periods in Cleveland Browns history.

Barnwell claims the Browns should re-sign T.J. Ward, while acquiring the services of Knowshon Moreno, Geoff Schwartz, Brandon Spikes, Calvin Pace and Antonio Cromartie. That’s a whole lot of imported talent. Let’s go through these options a bit.

A lot of it makes sense though. I think the Browns should bring back T.J. Ward. Ultimately I don’t think he’s going to demand the kind of money on the open market that everyone else seems to think he will. Remember back to last season when the Browns signed Paul Kruger. Kruger ended up signing a rich deal, but even at five years with more than $40 million of potential value, it still turned out to be $20 million in guaranteed dollars. Compared to what the rumors were prior to Kruger’s signing, he actually came cheaper than the hype. Some might argue the Browns still paid too much, but that’s what happens in free agency. The point is that maybe T.J. Ward will end up coming back at something less than what people seem to think.

Geoff Schwartz makes tons of sense. He’s a professional NFL guard and the Browns need help. Additionally, it might be a bit gimmicky, but I can’t imagine putting the Schwartz brothers together on the Browns’ offensive line will make either one of them worse. Mitchell Schwartz has had an uneven first two years in his career, but as the Browns enter a new offensive system under Kyle Shanahan, he might just be a better fit. We’ll see.

Brandon Spikes also makes a lot of sense. The former Patriot has reportedly had some maturity issues, missing meetings for example, but is a play-maker. He could step in for the Browns where D’Qwell Jackson’s departure leaves the team thin. Plus, Spikes sounds like he might have learned a thing or two about his behavior in New England.

Speaking on NFL AM Spikes said, “I think overall (if) I could do some things differently I would,” he said, “but it is what it is. It’s in the past and I think it’s just time to move on.”

On the outside, I’m unsure why Barnwell would put Calvin Pace on the Browns as the team has some depth at OLB with Mingo, Kruger, Sheard, and Groves.

Last, but not least, Barnwell pegs Antonio Cromartie with the second corner spot for the Browns opposite Joe Haden. While this makes some sense, I would be surprised if the Browns go out of their way to sign a 29-year-old corner. Maybe it’s a somewhat new day with slightly different strategies now that Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer are shepherding the roster, but we’ll see.

Either way, I think Barnwell’s right about one thing. I expect the Browns to be pretty active. I guess I would hope the Browns do something in the way of either wide receiver or running back in free agency ahead of the NFL draft.

  • justsayin

    I’d rather have Jairus Byrd than Cromartie

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Here’s a dream FA and draft:

    S Byrd. S Ward. C Mack.
    QB Matt Schaub.
    WR Eric Decker.
    RB Ben Tate or Rashad Jennings.
    OL Geoff Schwartz and/or Zane Beadles and/or some other good G.
    LB Brandon Spikes?
    CB With all the big names gone, perhaps Antoine Cason?


    #4 Mack (or Watkins and go into “F you, we’re throwing the ball” mode).
    #26 Carr or a WR
    #35 WR or RB (Hyde?)
    3rd – RB or McCarron
    3rd – Another LB

    Let Carr/McCarron/whatever project QB sit behind Schaub and Hoyer to learn. Sick WR corps. Solid RB tandem. Great OL. Great secondary. Great front seven.

  • Kildawg

    Cromartie could be a decent option since the Packers were able to retain Shields. I say get Khalil Mack or Sammy Watkins at #4, and a WR/ILB at 26 (whoever isn’t picked at 4). Another option is get a king’s ransom from Detroit to let them draft Watkins and still land Mack at #10, plus get DET’s 2nd and next year’s Rd 1 pick.

  • Bourn, Michael Bourn

    Even the Browns couldn’t afford that! Mack, Ward, Byrd, and Decker will probably cost $35-$40 million and The drafted players would probably eat up another $10-15 million. Then what happens when Haden, Taylor, Sheard, Gordon, and Cameron want extensions?

    I’d go for Decker, Byrd, Mack, James Starks, Johnathan Vilma in free agency and move Gipson to SS (I think he’s better suited for SS in TODAY’s NFL). Then get Bridgewater, Su’a Filo, Cooks or Beckham, RB and LB.

    It would be a mistake to replace Gipson and Skrine with high priced signings IMO. They both played pretty well last year, are extremely young and developing, and are paid near league minimum. WR, G, RB, QB, and MLB are much bigger needs at this point.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I don’t know the numbers, though I thought with the higher cap they might be able to squeeze it. Schaub, a G, and a LB should all come pretty cheap at the moment. I don’t think the first four will cost quite as much, though I do imagine that for the sake of future extensions they’d frontload them.

    I agree Skrine and Gipson are solid, and if they didn’t pick up a CB I’d be fine (I think McFadden also may be good), though I’d still prefer Gipson as a backup. I also don’t think Ward will cost as much as people expect ($7-7.5M range), nor will Mack ($6M?) once they come to a deal. And ultimately, every team has to let guys go sometimes, and DL are usually the most fungible – especially if you’ve got a great secondary. Look at SEA this year.

    No interest in Starks or Vilma.

    I should add that the real key was the concept – Decker + Gordon + drafted WR (+Benjamin/Little? at #4) is a really great corps, and with another solid G and a decent RB (+D.Lewis?) we’re talking about a very solid O for a QB to step into, whether Schaub, Hoyer, or even a rookie, though I’d prefer someone to sit first.

    On the D, we were already good. Adding Byrd and Mack to that makes us very, very good.

  • Bourn, Michael Bourn

    I think you’re underestimating some of these figures a bit. Kruger, Greg Jennings, and Mike Wallace signed for about $8, $9, and $12 million respectively last year. In 2012, their contract years, Kruger was pretty good in Baltimore, Jennings was injured most of the year in GB and Wallace struggled after a huge 2011 and preseason holdout, yet they still got these huge salaries.

    Byrd, Ward, and Mack are all young pro bowlers coming off of huge seasons (Decker also had a huge year). They don’t play premium positions, except for Decker, but they will still be paid well. Byrd allegedly declined an offer from Buffalo that would have paid him over $10 mil per year. Heck, Sam Shields over in GB just got a 4/$39 million contract. He’s a good player, but not close to Ward/Byrd/Mack quality.

    I also agree Decker plus a drafted receiver would be ideal. The knock against Decker is he’s a #2 receiver, which wouldn’t be a problem, lining up opposite Gordon. A Lee, Cooks, or Beckham type speedster would be a great compliment to the huge Gordon, Decker, and Cameron

    If you have such a great receiving corps, you would be doing it a disservice by not going after a good QB. This is a very strong QB class, I really think going after Bridgewater or Manziel is crucial. I love Khalil Mack as much as anyone, but if we draft a QB and they pan out, we’re a serious contender. Look at what Luck and RG3 did with HORRIBLE surrounding casts – Playoffs!

    Derek Carr was good at Fresno State against terrible competition and was terrible in his bowl game against USC. Schaub was Jake Delhomme bad last year. Hoyer played 2 games last year, so the tiny sample size coupled with the ACL make him an exciting wild card at best; he can’t be counted on.

    Also, if you haven’t already, I recommend watching Bridgewater’s game tape. His ball placement, athleticism, and intelligence are awesome. His arm strength is weak, but if he gets a little bigger, that can improve. I really think he’s going to be a superstar.

  • saggy

    Yeah, I’ve really been torn on who to draft but I’m solid in my belief that they should trade down to the 7-10 range and pick up a good player, plus picks.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I mostly agree with your assessments here; Bridgewater especially keeps looking better the more I read, though I believe HOU will end up taking him #1.

    The difference between Wallace and Decker is that Decker is a #2. Ward will get top money for a safety, but that’s not as high. Mack the same at C. Shields got great money, but he’s a CB, which always commands more than a S.

    Another factor is that the cap will likely be rising steadily the next couple of years, which means that they should have room to get back Haden et al without going over.

  • Bourn, Michael Bourn

    I’m not overly concerned with Haden’s extension, he already makes a lot because he was drafted under the old CBA. The problem is with Gordon and Cameron. These guys are making peanuts and they’re going to want to be paid like top dawgs at their positions. Huge pay raises are on the horizon. But like you said, the increasing cap will help and some highly paid guys like Rubin and Kruger probably don’t have long term futures on the team.

    Bridgewater is my man crush of this draft. I have no idea what Houston will do, but if he falls to #2, I really hope the browns deal with ST Louis. St Louis already has a great pass rush and Bradford, so they’ll probably want Robinson or Watkins. If they trade down to 4, both of those guys will still be there. Jax just drafted Joeckel last year and they have Blackmon and Shorts; they’re going after a QB or top pass rusher. I think we could conceivably trade a 3rd and 4th to move up to #2. 2 years ago, the Bucs traded down from #5 to #7 and drafted Mark Barron. They only got a 4th rounder as compensation – my point is that trading up has gotten affordable (excluding RG3 type deals).

    NOBODY in Cleveland wants to trade up, but if you can grab that franchise QB and it only costs you an additional 3rd and 4th rounder, I’d say jump on it!

  • Kool Aid

    Dominate that’s laughable none of the Cleveland teams do that particularly when it comes to free agency.

  • Kool Aid


  • Ezzie Goldish

    I can’t, I’m a CLE fan… 🙁

  • BenRM

    Dream Browns FA moves:
    1) Ryan Mallett (he’s available in the draft this year?)
    2) Kirk Cousins (nothing says success like two mediocre MSU QBs, am I right?)
    3) More outside linebackers

  • mgbode
  • mgbode

    I would be fine with that as long as they didn’t pass on Bridgewater to do it. Of course, Houston is taking him #1, so it won’t matter.

  • James Workman

    Decker is a product of his environment. Bust alert.

  • James Workman

    Well, duh. Byrd is a better player and plays a position of greater need for the Browns. If it were only as easy as playing Madden leads people to believe.

  • walaywalay


  • promise me we can do a follow up on this barnwell lunacy and debunk him once and finally. calvin pace? lolololololol.