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Browns Making Moves to Solidify Offensive Line

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The Cleveland Browns continue their busy day of free agency addressing the offensive side of the football. Though not necessarily “free,” they did work toward retaining one of their better players in signing guard Joel Bitonio to a large extension while working on finalizing a deal with free agent center JC Tretter.

When healthy, Bitonio is widely viewed as one of the best guards in the NFL, but has had problems staying on the field over the past two years. After playing all 16 games in 2014 and being voted to the PFWA All-AFC and All-Rookie teams, Bitonio missed six games in 2015, including the four final games of the season due to an ankle injury. He followed up that season missing 11 games in 2016 with a mid-foot injury that required Lisfranc surgery.

The Browns’ front office does not appear to be deterred by the injuries over the past two seasons, locking up a talented, young player to a long and lucrative contract, expected to be worth $8.5 million per season. This was exactly what this regime failed to do last season when it refused to lock up right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, losing him to free agency.

The 6-4, 307-pound Tretter played in seven games for the Green Bay Packers last season and is expected to be the favorite to land the starting center position from Day 1 which could signal the end of Cameron Erving’s adventures at the position. Tretter was drafted by the Packers in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but only began playing regularly for the club in 2016. Tretter has also seen time at left guard and both tackle positions during his time in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus recently included Tretter as a “sleeper” free agent as the center was ranked fifth in football through eight weeks before he was injured, ultimately finishing ninth out of 35. He’s extremely athletic for a center and could—along with Bitonio and Joe Thomas—immediately make the left side of the Browns’ line one of the better ones in the league.

With these two moves, the Browns are clearly making an effort to address one of their most dysfunctional units in the 2016 season. Cleveland quarterbacks didn’t do their offensive line any favors last season, but even accounting for that truth, the offensive line didn’t not play well as a unit, was decimated by injuries and turnover, and was in dire need of some upgrades.

Update [2:17pm]: Numbers are circulating on Joel Bitonio’s new deal.