Free Agent Spotlight – EJ Gaines

Upgrade the secondary. Words I hope are reverberating through the halls of Berea this offseason.

In 2017, the Browns pass defense performance wasn’t impressive on the field or on paper. The defense allowed the highest pass completion % among all teams at 68.6%. Further, they also allowed an opponent passer rating per game of 102.2, the highest in the league.

To put that into perspective, Cleveland’s completion percentage and passer rating last season was 54.6% and 61.4%, respectively. Both figures ranked, you guessed it, dead last. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that correlation isn’t a recipe for success.

Evidently, the Browns could not defend the pass. Arguably the most important facet of today’s game. The Jacksonville Jaguars, a franchise that has seen as little success as the Browns over the years, rode the coattails of their vaunted secondary all the way to the AFC Championship Game, an outcome no one predicted. If it wasn’t for the GOAT, Tom Brady, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the 4th quarter, Jacksonville would have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl.

A concept that I still haven’t completely grasped, but provides optimism, is that teams go from first to last, last to first, year to year frequently in the NFL. This offseason could be one where Browns make championship strides. Those moves will need to focus on A) developing a passing attack, B) defending the pass or C) a combination of both. Most Browns fans are accustomed to option D) none of the above.

That’s why this offseason is so crucial. It’s not a mystery the Browns NEED to upgrade the roster in several ways. Hiring a competent coaching staff would be nice, but this is still Cleveland we’re talking about. Wouldn’t want it to make too much sense. Seriously, though, possessing an abundance of draft picks and $110M in cap space helps. Pour one out for Sashi.

The secondary is a unit that needs major improvement and one free agent that is intriguing and helped another ailing franchise return to the playoffs is Buffalo Bills CB, E.J. Gaines.

Gaines was traded by the Los Angeles Rams this past offseason to the Bills in the trade for Sammy Watkins. He wasn’t the major chip in the deal, but was a major reason for the Bills’ defensive success along with Tre’davious White this season. He excelled in Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme, featuring heavy zone and underneath man coverages. His play garnered an 86.6 grade from the analytic/player evaluation group, pro-football focus (PFF). Good enough for 13th among all CBs.

The Browns could use a young (turns 26 end of February), experienced defensive back that has proven ability on the field. But that’s the problem, Gaines has struggled to STAY on the field throughout his career. Lower body injuries forced him to miss five games this past season and he missed the entirety of his second season with the Rams.

The Browns cannot afford to spend valuable dollars on a player at such an important position that may not be available to them due to injury. Especially, if the market for Gaines is overheated. Although Gaines would be an upgrade to the Browns secondary, he lacks elite size and speed at the position and his injury issues cause a major concern.

No matter what, the Browns have to address upgrading the defensive back unit – and they will, I just hope it’s in a way that makes sense, both financially and schematically. The Browns success depends on it.

Photo: ESPN

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