Since free agency officially began last Thursday, the Browns have shown us that they understand how big of a problem their offensive line was last year. They have invested a lot of money into that position group, so when they finally find their quarterback, they will be able to protect him and take some pressure off of him by being able to run the ball. There are still quite a few areas that need addressed. After all, the team did go 1-15 last year, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how aggressive and calculated they have been so far. Here is a breakdown of what they have done:
1) Signed G Kevin Zeitler to a 5-year $60 million contact. Grade: A-
Zeitler was widely considered to be the best offensive lineman on the market, and the Browns were able to lock him in for five years to fill one of their guard spots. The Browns were plagued by injuries and poor play on the line last year. They led the league by a large margin by giving up more than four sacks a game, and they went through long periods of time when their running game was very ineffective. Zeitler will now join fellow Wisconsin alum, Joe Thomas to help provide more stability to the line. The only downside to the signing is the fact that the Browns had to give him the highest contract ever awarded to an offensive guard, but they had a ton of cap room to burn and will probably be rewarded in the long run for their investment.
2) Signed C J.C. Tretter to a 3-year $16.75 million contract. Grade: C+
While Tretter is not as big of a splash as Zeitler, anything has to be a huge upgrade over Cam Erving at center. Tretter began last season as the starting center for the Packers, but a knee injury ended his season after 7 games. He’s an athletic lineman that has the ability to play multiple positions, but the Browns have almost certainly brought him in to fill the starting center position that has been a turnstile since Alex Mack left in free agency following the 2015 season. Tretter’s injury history causes some reason for concern, but the Browns have structured the deal so they can get out of it after one year and $6.75 million if they want to.
3) Re-signed G Joel Bitonio to a 6-year $51.2 million extension. Grade: B+
Bitonio also got a lot of money and has a bit of an injury history, but most people agree that he is a Pro Bowl-caliber talent when he is healthy. He has proven to be an excellent interior linemen since coming into the league as a second round draft pick in 2014. He benefited from playing between Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack for a couple of years, but he has definitely proven to be one of few solid draft picks the Browns made in the last number of years. As long as he can stay healthy, the Browns should have a very good offensive line the next few years. Locking him up seems to be another sound investment.
4) Replaced Terrelle Pryor with Kenny Britt on a 4-year $32.5 million contract. Grade: D+
Kenny Britt is a year older than Pryor and probably doesn’t have as much upside, but he is a more consistent and reliable option. They had almost identical numbers last year, but it was only Pryor’s first year playing receiver. He still has lots of room to improve and develop at the position, but he was very outspoken and at times seemed to put his own interests ahead of the team’s. Pryor said he wanted to return to Cleveland but reportedly turned down a multi-year deal worth a lot more guaranteed money in order to sign with the Washington Redskins. Time will tell how this decision works out, but it has more of a chance of being a net loss for the Browns.
5) Released Robert Griffin III. Grade: A
One of the biggest mistakes a person can make is to compound a mistake by not admitting it. The Browns admitted their mistake by releasing RG3 on Friday. Hue Jackson’s experiment to help revive his career in Cleveland was a flop as Griffin continued to prove that he can’t stay healthy. The Browns will incur a $1.75 million cap hit by letting him go, but at least they will be able to move on and continue their long search for a franchise quarterback.
Whatever direction this turns from here, it should at least be at least solid move for the Browns. The big incentive for the Texans was to get out from under Osweiler’s $16 million guaranteed salary for this year, but since the Browns came into free agency with more than $100 million in cap space available, they should be able to easily absorb the hit. The Browns may be able to turn around and use the second round pick they acquired to package with other assets to make a run at Jimmy Garoppolo. They could trade Osweiler to another team, eat some of his salary, and acquire even more assets, or they could even keep him to compete for their starting job this year. He at least has more upside than RG3 at this point.
All of the moves the Browns have made since the beginning of free agency have at least some upside, and they appear to finally have a plan that they are beginning to execute. One of their biggest weaknesses last year was the offensive line, and they came out and addressed it aggressively in free agency. It now looks like it could be one of the biggest strengths of the team. They are also now in position to use most of their high draft picks to address the holes at safety and on the defensive line. They did lose Terrelle Pryor in free agency, but they also replaced him with someone who is of similar age and had similar production. Hopefully they will be able to still add a piece to the receiving group before training camp.