It is inevitable; with success comes the desire for more. We see it often, a team does well and the players are compensated for that success. We have seen it both good and bad: Joe Flacco got six years and $120 million from the Baltimore Ravens for leading them to a Super Bowl victory. We saw it last year when Blake Bortles got an extension in Jacksonville after leading the team to a surprise visit to the AFC Championship game. Both of those extensions were questionable at the time, and while I’m sure Baltimore would like a do-over now that they have Lamar Jackson behind center, the deal was not as bad as some other flops.1 With the Browns successful 2018 campaign,2 it’s of no surprise that we are hearing reports that they are working to extend some of the players that were instrumental in the turn-around.
Browns have begun contract talks with Perriman, Higgins https://t.co/ZrEbiOdI9B
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 23, 2019
Browns working to extend Greg Robinson's contract https://t.co/3JfehRuPs7
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 23, 2019
As seen above, John Dorsey and the Browns front office have begun conversations to extend wide receivers Rashard Higgins and Breshard Perriman as well as left tackle Greg Robinson. Let’s discuss Robinson first, then work outside to the wideouts. Robinson came with a first-round pedigree. He was selected second overall by the then St. Louis Rams, a building block for the franchise that had few at the time, as these were not your Greatest Show On Turf Rams of old nor were they the Sean McVay air raid version that made it to this year’s Super Bowl. Robinson was unable to find solid ground as a Ram but was reportedly able to find a few extra pounds, and he eventually saw his fifth-year option declined and was traded to the Detroit Lions in 2017 for a sixth-round pick. He lasted until November when he was placed on waivers with an injury designation. Looking for a spot for the 2018 season, Robinson was signed with Cleveland in June as insurance at left tackle for undrafted free agent Desmond Harrison.
Robinson saw no snaps at all at left tackle until The Great Coaching Purge of 2018 happened and new offensive-coordinator-now-head-coach Freddie Kitchens installed Robinson as the new starter on the left side.3 Whether it was a combo of Baker Mayfield being Baker or Kitchens calling a quicker passing game than Todd Haley’s, Robinson played well, especially in the passing game. Robinson turned in only one PFF pass blocking grade below a 50 in his eight starts for Cleveland. While his run blocking could use some work, Robinson is an average-to-slightly-above-average left tackle in today’s game. For a franchise trying to supplant living legend and national treasure Joe Thomas, that’s all anyone can ask for.
Coming into his third year in the league, 2018 was always a make-or-break year for Rashard Higgins, and it seemingly made him an candidate to stick around. He was able to create some kind of rapport with Mayfield as his quarterback, posting the highest catch rate amongst Browns wide receivers in 2018. Despite missing four games in the middle of the season, Higgins had his highest reception total (39) as well as the most receiving yards in his young career (572). Some might argue4 that Cleveland is not in need of a No. 1 receiver type, someone who hogs the attention and targets in an Odell Beckham Jr type of way, because of Baker’s penchant for spreading the ball around to a stable of receiving options, and Higgins emergence in 2018 is cause for that viewpoint. Higgins has the measurables you want in a wide receiver: enough speed to get downfield, a 6’1″ 200lbs frame big enough to get to the ball, and hands that are good not great. Hopes are that he will continue to work with Mayfield, because at times, especially early on in the season, he appeared to be the best wideout on the roster.
Out of football and in much of the same position Robinson was, Perriman came to Cleveland in Week 7 and flourished under the tutelage of Baker and Freddie. The 26th pick in the first round by Baltimore in 2015, Perriman struggled with injury issues and never caught on with quarterback Joe Flacco. With breakneck speed being his calling card, Perriman is and can be a poor man’s DeSean Jackson, getting downfield for big plays and taking the top off a defense. He showed those qualities and better than normal catching ability as well in Cleveland, posting a 64% catch rate in 10 games. He had the best yards per reception of anyone on the Browns roster and would have been tops in the NFL if he had enough receptions to qualify. And in case you were wondering who he would have beat? DeSean Jackson.
There are of course caveats to all of these extensions. To tie it in with my lede, none of these players are signing a deal that will debilitate the team for future generations like the Flacco or Bortles extensions did. We have no financial expectations of what they might look like, but that shouldn’t matter too much given that Cleveland is in one of the best salary cap situations possible: they have the fifth most cap space out of anyone in the league despite being fifth in dead cap money as well. I’m not calling for backing up the Brinks truck and dropping mints at the doorsteps of any of these three, but two-to-three year extensions for all of these players makes sense. As one of our fearless leaders said on Twitter today, you need a middle class of player on a roster to win. Any one of these three could turn into a Pro Bowl player, given the right circumstances, but that’s not necessary for this roster to be good.
For the #Browns Higgins, Perriman, and Robinson are that “middle class” on an NFL roster that’s so important. You need stars, but stars can’t be stars in football and win games without a healthy middle of the roster. This was something @joethomas73 spoke about over the years.
— Craig Lyndall (@WFNYCraig) January 23, 2019
Another wrinkle in why these extensions could be a good thing: it allows the front office to be less needy come draft time. None of these players should preclude you from drafting a star at their positions, but they will allow you to have a decent placeholder until you find someone that fits the bill. Whatever side of the #SashiWars you are on, it isn’t hard to see that this roster has far fewer glaring holes in it than years prior. Extending Robinson allows time for Dorsey to look for another Thomas. Extending Higgins and Perriman won’t yield Antonio Brown results on the field, but now the front office doesn’t have to try and fill thirteen holes in the first round.