The Cleveland Browns have decided to not place the franchise tag on wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and are now putting the ball firmly in the court of their most dynamic playmaker. The team let Wednesday’s tag-based deadline pass without using it on Pryor, but Sashi Brown stated signing Pryor “remains a priority,”1 and the team plans to meet with the former Buckeye quarterback’s agents—yes, multiple—this week at the NFL Scouting combine in hopes of reaching a multi-year agreement.
For the second consecutive year, Brown has gone on record to say that retaining talent is a priority, but is now hedging his original thoughts by saying the team “will not panic” if they cannot sign Pryor. After losing center Alex Mack, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, and others to free agency a year ago, the Browns have since managed to re-sign linebacker Jamie Collins Jr., but all other transaction-based press releases have come in the way of longsnapper Charlie Hughlett and punter Britton Colquitt.
A year after being yo-yo’d by general manager Ray Farmer, Pryor took to 2016 (a year where the current regime used four draft selections on wide receivers) and led the Browns in receptions (77), yards (1,007) and receiving touchdowns (4) despite having a wheel barrow of ineptitude throwing the ball in his direction. He served as a 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound weapon under center when needed, both as a passer and runner. Not using the tag on Pryor makes sense on the cover as 1) the team has not used an exclusive tag on a player since kicker Phil Dawson, and 2) the tag would effectively make him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL at $15.8 million—nearly a ten-fold increase from what he was paid last season ($1.67 million). On the other side of the coin, however, is the fact that the Browns are projected to have a league-leading $108 million in salary cap room when free agency begins, an insane amount of money for a team in dire need of a sales pitch to a fan base that has seen entirely too much losing. For a team looking to bring in a young quarterback, this seems like a low-risk, high-reward move that could pave the way to a modicum of respectability. If Pryor were to leave, the team is suddenly looking at Corey Coleman and a bevy of other unproven players, this in the wake of Andrew Hawkins’ recent termination.
Weeks earlier, Pryor’s representatives stated that their client’s desire was to stay in Cleveland, thus putting the onus on the front office (with all of its cap space) to get the deal done. In a move that seems to be more ill-advised than placing a restrictive tag on a player, Browns head coach Hue Jackson, speaking at the NFL combine, stated his hope for Pryor to “do the right thing” and re-sign with the Browns. In between these two statements, Pryor’s agents landed wide receiver Antonio Brown five-year, $72 million contract to remain with the AFC North-rival Pittsburgh Steelers. To play the PR game as a front office and coaching staff coming off of a 1-15 season is an uphill climb out of the gate. To do so with one of its only offensive weapons is a death wish.
Pryor, 27, is set to become an unrestricted free agent unless he and the Browns can come to an agreement in the next few days. Teams are permitted to begin negotiating with free agents on March 7 and can begin signing them at 4 p.m. on March 9. If last season was any indication, sitting on ones hands until the 11th hour is not the best course of action for retaining talent previously deemed to be a priority. The team has stated time and time again that the keys to a successful rebuild include drafting well and retaining talent. While they have yet to show they can do the former, it’s entirely up to them to execute upon the latter.
- According to ESPN.com’s Pat McManamon. [↩]