I think the Browns did a great job thus far in the start of the 2018 NFL season. John Dorsey has come in and used the pieces that were left behind from Sashi Brown. What John Dorsey has done here in the early stages was very simple – find young talent who can get better.
The most interesting thing to me was that Dorsey realized that just having the most money was not going to get you the top talent in free agency. He found the trade partners who were looking to not pay players still under contract. This means those trades brought players here without having to compete with other offers. This allows for the front office to work for at least a whole season to work on an extension for the long term. This was not an approach the Browns have taken because we have not had this much capital to make those moves.
Below is my grade for every trade and free agency signing from the first week of free agency:
How he was acquired: From Dolphins via trade
I think this is the best move the Browns have made so far this off-season. Before we get started, I must warn everyone that I am very bias about Jarvis Landry. I made a trade in my fantasy football league last year that saw Zach Ertz and Keenan Allen go and I brought in Landry and Frank Gore. Man, oh, man, that was just a piss poor effort on my part. Still, I managed to make it to the championship game where I fell short. One thing I learned last season about Jarvis Landry is he is going to show up every week and produce. Now enough of me talking about fantasy football and back to the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns got the NFL’s most productive receiver EVER in their first four years. The record was held by Anquan Boldin who caught 342 in his first four years. Landry finished his 4th season with an even 400 receptions. The Dolphins have not had the best QB situation over Landry’s career. This move to the Browns where he will now play with Tyrod Taylor may prove to be the best QB he has played with.
The slot is where Landry has made a living. He has shown the ability to make tough catches in tight windows. Bring a consistent threat to the defense every play is now something the Browns have on their roster. He has made his living in the NFL by separating quickly at the line and using strong hands to haul in passes. With Josh Gordon on the outside, you could easily say this will be the best talent either have suited up with.
How he was acquired: From Bills via trade
Tyrod is the veteran quarterback who knows his strengths and weaknesses, which allows him to take smart risks. Taylor is known for limiting his turnovers and keeping the ball with the offense. Of the 29 QBs to start at least nine games last season, Tyrod had the least amount of interceptions with four. The protection of the ball is something the Browns missed dearly last season, as we watched DeShone Kizer throw 22 interceptions.
Taylor should do well with the playmakers the Browns currently have. One of the best receivers physically in Josh Gordon (when mentally checked in), Jarvis Landry, Duke Johnson and David Njoku. This core is better than any group of skill players he had in Buffalo. I do not expect Taylor to be invited to a Pro Bowl or win MVP, but I do expect bigger and better then what he showed in Buffalo. Taylor is going to have the right to be called the starter Day 1, but the drafting of a rookie with the 1st or 4th pick is expected.
How he was acquired: From Packers via trade
Damarious Randall was a draft pick by the Packers at the end of the first round in 2015, just three seasons ago. The Browns added Eliot Wolf, assistant general manager and Alonzo Highsmith, vice president of player personnel to their front office earlier this off-season. These two were both in Green Bay when they selected Randall. This helps the grade of the trade because it’s with a strong belief that if Wolf or Highsmith had an issue, they would have had to opportunity to let John Dorsey know.
Randall played free safety in college and was the top coverage safety in the nation. While he played CB in Green Bay the trade will put him back at his FS. Getting a coverage safety is the exact weapon the Browns lacked last season. Greg Williams tried to cover that up by playing Jabrill Peppers 30 yards off the line of scrimmage, every play. This will now put Peppers back and closer to the line allowing him to be the playmaker in the box. This was a huge hole filled by a young and talented playmaker, who the front office was familiar with. Along with the additions of the other free agent cornerbacks – Randall helps round out the defensive backfield.
How he was acquired: Five years, $37.5 million
Chris Hubbard was a solid pick up for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns made it a priority to add offensive line talent through free agency. This season was a little different because there was the big unknown, until recently, about the impending decision of Joe Thomas. Before Thomas made his decision, the Browns had already signed Hubbard. He came over from the Steelers and played under new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley. This will be a good transition for Hubbard as he will be looking to compete for the starting right tackle job.
Hubbard is a younger player who has not had the opportunity to be a full-time starter. Hubbard put a good showing on last season as he did start at RT for 10 games. He was a solid contributor which had earned him the ability to fight for a starting position. In his 10 games as a starter, he gave up just four sacks and tallied only three penalties and established himself as a worthy full-time starter. Hubbard has told the media he is here to play RT, which means Shon Coleman will bounce over the replace Thomas at LT – for the time being. When you lose a legend like Thomas, there is no one person who can replace him, so signing Hubbard allows the Browns options at LT with Spencer Drango and Coleman.
How he was acquired: Three years, $15 million
I wrote about Carlos Hyde and what his impact will be on this offense earlier, closer to when we signed him. I think this was a great pick up not only for the Browns but also for Hyde. Last year we saw with Hue Jackson incompetent play-calling the issue in the run game was not the talent, but rather the will to run the ball. With Todd Haley coming in and taking over that duty, this run game should be able to shine with Duke Johnson and Hyde. Hyde is going to be an instant fan-favorite because of his roots to THE Ohio State University.
Hyde will come in and be the lead back and shoulder most of the load. In San Francisco this past season we really saw the physical nature that Hyde likes to run with for the full season. He has dealt with injuries in his first three season, but he was able to play a full 16 games last season. The biggest area of growth in Hyde’s game to me was his ability to show he can be a reliable pass catcher. While I do not expect that to be a big part of his game, it is a nice compliment. Hyde will be running next to one of, if not the best, 3rd down backs in all of the NFL, in Johnson. I believe that the two of these running backs with Todd Haley’s offense could produce a top-10 backfields based on total production.
How he was acquired: Four years, $31 million
One of the weakest points on the Browns roster last year was the defensive backfield, primarily the lack of skill at cornerback. T.J. Carrie is another free agent who should come in and grab the hearts of fans before he hits the field. For the die-hard, Northeast Ohio MACtion fans, they would recognize him as he played for Ohio University prior to entering the NFL.
Last season, he played 1,719 snaps, more than all the other Raiders cornerbacks combined, according to Raiders’ beat writer Michael Gehlken. This was in part due to the struggles that the Raiders had with their other corners but also show the ability to be a consistent and durable piece of the defense. In his career, he has 36 starts, 29 in 2015 and 2017, with three interceptions and 30 passes defended. Carrie is not a finished player and the Browns will hope he continues to improve and grow into a lockdown corner.
How he was acquired: Three years, $12 million
The Browns spent the overall #1 pick last season on Myles Garrett. On the opposite side of Garrett was Emmanuel Ogbah, a second-round pick from two years ago. Due to injuries the two were only able to start with each other six games but showed signs of promise. However, there was a real lack of depth due to other injuries and lack of talent. Chris Smith fits that bill as a solid veteran rotation player. This was a need for a team that was one of the worst in the league at pressuring the QB.
Smith has pretty much been a rotation player over his first four seasons in the NFL. Before landing in Cincinnati last year, the first three were spent in a Jacksonville uniform. Smith did not start a game last year but was able to record 17 tackles and three sacks. This move is another young veteran who will look to fight for playing time. Smith will come in and battle for the third DE position with Nate Orchard and Carl Nassib. He should win that depth chart position and be a contributor this season.
How he was acquired: Three years, $12 million
The signing of Darren Fells was another move to help add young but experienced depth. Fells is not going to jump off the stat sheet when looking at his career numbers. Good news is that the receiving part of Fells’ game is not what the Browns signed him for. Fells is coming in from Detroit where he was the main back up to Eric Ebron and was the #1 blocking TE option for that team. Last year that was an area that the Browns did not have much depth. David Njoku and Seth DeValave are receiving specialists – while Randall Telfer was the blocking TE.
Fells has an interesting path to the Browns, as he did not decide to play in the NFL right out of college. At UC-Irvine he only played basketball and in his senior season averaging 14.4 pts/7.2 reb/2.1 ast/1.6 stls. He went on to play professional basketball in a couple of international leagues. He played in Belgium, Finland, France, Mexico and Argentina.
It was not until 2013 when Seattle gave him his first opportunity to change sports. They worked him out initially as a defensive end before inviting him to training camp as a tight end. Fells is going to come in and give the Browns another very athletic TE. Fells should fit in nicely and allow the Browns to use more two TE run-heavy set for new Brown Carlos Hyde.
How he was acquired: Three years, $12 million
If you have not caught on to the theme of this free agency let me break it down. YOUNG PLAYERS COMING OFF EARLY CONTRACTS. Terrance Mitchell fits this mold as well. This is going to be Mitchell’s fifth season in the NFL. Last season was the most he has seen the field in his first four years. Playing in 15 games total and starting nine of them. There is experience at both comer positions, which I am sure will be used in this defense.
Knowing that last season was the first real playing time Mitchell had seen expectations should be kept realistic. He is not coming in to be a lockdown #1 CB but rather another key piece of depth and experience. Dorsey is familiar with Mitchell and was the GM when he signed with the Chiefs. With the departure of Jason McCourty, Mitchell will try to help fill those snaps. He ended last season with four interceptions.
How he was acquired: One year, $2.5 million
Donald Stephenson comes in to fill depth as the tackle room got a little skinnier with Joe Thomas announcing his retirement. This was a cheap signing of a veteran who was at one time a 3rd-round pick in 2012. Another player who new GM John Dorsey is very familiar with, as they spent three years together in Kansas City. Stephenson is coming over from the Broncos where he has been for the last two seasons.
While Stephenson has experience playing on the left side, the past two seasons have been spent on the right side. He started four games for the Broncos there last year. Mainly, Stephenson has been a backup and coming to Cleveland he will be filling that same role.