With NFL free agency starting in about four weeks, pro football fans are making out their lists and checking them twice. Some are as long as Josh Gordon’s list of suspensions. Every fan wants their team to sign every available player. The only problem, it’s not possible. As a Browns fan, I understand the desire to acquire talent. Who doesn’t want their favorite NFL team to improve? But NFL teams can’t spend money like the New York Yankees or a Kardashian. They can’t sign every player who becomes available. The 2021 NFL off-season is going to be different. There’s a 10% drop in the salary cap and because most big-name free agents in 2020 were signed before anyone knew the full extent of the pandemic, 13 NFL teams are currently over the salary cap. As the deadline approaches for teams to get under the salary cap, the available talent pool will go from shallow to extremely deep. Here are some simple rules to make your free agency experience a more enjoyable one.
A. Available players. Just because a player becomes available, it doesn’t mean the Browns want to sign him or he wants to sign with the Browns. Yes, the Browns are close to competing to get to the Super Bowl and fixing the defense is job one. Friday, the Texans released DE J.J. Watt. Would the Browns be interested? Sure. The way GM Andrew Berry searched for pass-rush help all season last year tells me Berry might be interested. But would Watt be interested in the Browns? Reportedly Watt is searching for a team with cap space, scheme fit and supporting personnel. Check, possible check and check. He also doesn’t want to go to a team going through a rebuild. (Cough…cough…Pittsburgh). When players come available, remember positional need, difference makers and locker room guys.
B. Trades. The “Russian Roulette” of trading for quarterbacks has started. I’m so glad the Browns can sit this one out. For those of you who don’t know, the Browns have their starting QB. Baker Mayfield is a top-10 quarterback. Before you call him a game manager, former Browns QB Kelly Holcomb is a regular guest on a local sports talk radio show I listen to here in Nashville. When one of the hosts suggested a certain QB was game manager, Holcomb said, “all quarterbacks are game managers, that’s their job.” Trades are great, but Andrew Berry has only made two trades since being named the GM of the Browns; fullback Andy Janovich and safety Ronnie Harrison. He gave up low draft capital for starters at positions of need. If you want the Browns to trade for someone, how about Saints CB Marshon Lattimore? The Saints have the worst cap situation of any NFL team, trading Lattimore carries no dead money cap hit for New Orleans and puts $10.2 million toward the $70 million they’re over the cap.
The Tampa Bay Effect. From ESPN to every Tom, Dick or Harry on Twitter who thinks they’ve earned their blue checkmark, not every free agent can play for the Buccaneers. ESPN floated the idea that Tampa should trade for Odell Beckham Jr. because he wants to play for a ring. Personally, I think he can play for a ring with the Browns. The Browns aren’t trading OBJ unless he wants to be traded. I even saw on Twitter that Tampa will go after J.J. Watt because, repeat after me, he wants to go for a ring. Right now the Buccaneers have their own free agents to sign like Shaq Barrett, Lavonte David, Rob Gronkowski, Ndamukong Suh, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown, Blaine Gabbert, Chris Goodwin, just to name a few. A reminder to the kids, if you grow up to be an NFL GM, don’t drink heavily at the Super Bowl party and scream “we’re bringing everyone back.”
The next four weeks are going to be a roller-coaster of rumors and sources. Remember sources aren’t the voices in someone’s head. The one thing I know for sure, the Browns front office doesn’t leak, doesn’t negotiate in the media and is straightforward with agents and players. All this team needs are some key free agents on the defense. Let the games begin.