With $108 million in salary cap this offseason, the Cleveland Browns had plenty of money to make a big splash at the start of free agency and improve their team ahead of the NFL Draft at the end of April. Needing to improve (or add) to virtually every position outside of a few, the Browns were tasked with not only spend their league record amount of cap space, but also use it wisely and not just throw money at players just to do so.
The team’s biggest problem with luring free agents to come to the shores of Lake Erie just by offering more money than other teams around the league? Some players prefer winning over money, no matter how much they may lose out on. In a recent interview on NFL Network’s “Up To The Minute,” former Arizona Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson, who signed with the Ravens over the Browns, admitted that he chose to sign with Baltimore even though he was offered more money because he values winning over everything else.
Cleveland may have revamped their offensive line by signing center JC Tretter, guard Kevin Zeitler, and wide receiver Kenny Britt (while losing Terrelle Pryor), but their losing ways are still in the minds of many across the league. Their new signees not only trust in the process and believe in head coach Hue Jackson, but also want to be contributor to the team who can help make the Browns become a winning football team once again.1 But then you have players like Jefferson who value winning so much that they do not care how much money they may not be putting in their pocket just to do so, putting the Browns further behind the eight ball.
After finishing with 92 tackles, five passes defended, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 15 games (14 starts), the fourth-year undrafted safety was rated the 12th-best free agent and second-best safety among other free agents this offseason according to Pro Football Focus. The Browns, who not only could use a playmaker in the defensive backfield but also at the safety position, need a player like Jefferson. In his four seasons in the desert, the Cardinals used the 25-year-old as a strong safety, free safety, and linebacker. His versatility and the fact that he is one of the best at his position is something the Browns tremendously missed out on and would have fit very well with Gregg Williams’ flex-friendly scheme.
Baltimore may be in a bit of a funk lately, but their winning culture, one that includes two Super Bowl victories and multiple AFC Championship Game appearances since leaving Cleveland and becoming a franchise in 1996, speaks for itself. Meanwhile, the Browns seem to be rebuilding since they made their return to the league since 1999. If the Browns want the top free agents year, they will have to start winning and building through the draft in order to prove that they are capable if being a winner consistently.
- Yes, there was a time when they won games. Crazy. [↩]