Cleveland Browns’ New Front Office Honeymoon is Over

It appears that the media’s honeymoon is over with the new Cleveland Browns regime, and the Love Boat has sprung a few leaks. With everyone from former Browns safety Tashaun Gipson to Adam Schefter, and from “unnamed agents” to new-former Browns tackle Mitchell Schwartz’s brother taking potshots at the Browns new Cum Laude Management Group, only new head coach Hue Jackson and his coaching staff seem safe from criticism.

Popular thinking at the moment goes something like this: the Browns, namely Paul DePodesta, Sashi Brown, Andrew Berry and owner Jimmy Haslam, are losing free agency because they have not signed big-name free agents or re-signed their own players. To recap, the Browns are coming off a 3–13 season, and are sporting a new front office and coaching staff.

The ink one the players they have lost in free agency so far—Gipson, Schwartz, Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin and Johnson Bademosi—has barely had a chance to dry, but here we are.

Just last season there was popular sentiment advocating not just letting Schwartz walk, but cutting him since the Browns drafted Cam Erving in the first round. Schwartz had been the “weak-link” of the line since his second season. While he’s a solid player, the Browns aren’t better for letting him leave, but he is not and never was considered a “core member” of the Browns.

As for Gipson, during a 16-game span he was one of the best safeties in football. Unfortunately for him, those 16 games were during two seasons. Last year, Gipson was a ghost of himself with only two interceptions—one was ripped from his hands and secured in the redzone by Brandon Marshall—in his return to action after suffering a serious knee injury. Why pay him like he’s coming off a Pro Bowl season? He wasn’t. He was coming off a mediocre performance after having a devastating injury. For all the talk of his “ball-hawking” ability, Jim Leonhard looked just as good when he filled in for the injured Gipson a season ago. He seems like a great person, and he deserves his payday, but the 3–13 Browns do not need to overpay him.

Mack is in the same boat as Gipson. He had a so-so year after a devastating knee injury. By the way, when Mack signed his contract with Jacksonville last season it was obvious he didn’t want to be in Cleveland and wasn’t going to re-sign with the Browns. Articles were written about it at the time. As recently as a week and a half ago, an article stating: “if Mack opts-out of his contract, he won’t return to Cleveland” was published on a national sporting news site, yet there is surprise and outrage he left for Atlanta for a similar price as it would have taken to retain him. DePodesta and Brown inherited that mess, they didn’t create it. (Remember the Transition Tag fiasco former GM Ray Farmer caused?) It was obvious then, and it was just as obvious when he opted out that he wasn’t interested in the Browns, unless they were the highest bidder. Truth be told, he probably has a few Pro Bowl seasons left, but not in Cleveland. Bottom line, Mack didn’t want to be a Cleveland Brown.

Benjamin is the other “key” player who left via free agency. He had a really good year in 2015, but of his 10 career receiving touchdowns and 109 career receptions, five and 68 of those were last season, in a contract year. The Browns haven’t had a lot of depth at wide receiver in those four years, so you do the math. Congratulations to him, but the Browns need a more complete receiver.

Just a few weeks ago, articles surfaced about Jackson’s power within the Browns organization and how the team would rely on his experience for the new rebuild. Apparently, from the reactions we are seeing, Brown and DePodesta are holding him hostage threatening to beat him with their degrees if he contacts any potential free agents.

The truth is what the owner, front office, and coaching staff have said all along, “you build a winning team through the draft”, but nobody wanted to hear that as four “key” players walked out the door last week. They saw free agency, salary cap space, a new regime, and an owner with a quick-temper, and thought the Browns would go all out in free agency to try to buy a winner, or at least overpay for two unproductive players coming off major knee injuries and two players who have finally raised their game to passable in their contract seasons. The old 3–13 Browns would’ve done that, like outbidding themselves for Dwayne Bowe.

Ask yourselves if the Browns would be better if they were to overbid to keep Mack, Schwartz, Gipson, and Benjamin? For the upcoming season, maybe, but, in a year or two those contracts would seem like an anchor, pulling the team farther down into mediocrity. The Browns would be in the same position the Indians were in with Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, overpaying for underperforming players, saddled with bloated contracts to pay for what players did, not are doing and going to do. This new front office and coach seem to understand the Browns are far from being competitive, not a player or two away from competing—which is what good teams use free agency for, bad teams rely on free agency to cover up for poor draft picks—and have accepted that some of their players will leave for more money or a seemingly brighter future. Remember, winning free agency doesn’t equate to winning games.

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David Burkart

David was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Sports are deeply rooted within him. He has seen the highs and lows of Cleveland sports.
  • mike numbs

    This post has a lot of good points, and I agree that all four of those player were over paid with there new contracts, but the idea your going to build a team from drafting is wrong. It would have been nice to see them keep either Mack or Schwartz. Offensive lineman, quarterbacks, and tightends are usually not ready for starting in the NFL right away. So get back in the game right now if Im the browns front office I give up the second round pick to get Kapernick and sign Bowden to come with him for a little chemistry already there. Should make both players more comfortable and give the Browns a good combination ready to play. Time to spend some money Browns.

    • SKN

      And not just on new colors and uniforms! 🙂

  • SKN

    I could buy this argument if the Browns have EVER been able to draft anyone remotely productive. When you’re the worst team in the league at drafting, I think you need to look at free agency more than other teams. Yes, “good teams” build through the draft, but we have not been a “good team” for a long time and have not been able to draft anyone who has panned out for a long time.

    • tigersbrowns2

      sorry , SKN … with all due respect , you cannot build a team through free-agency & expect to have sustained success . sure , if you want a quick fix & want to be good for only a year or two … then go for it. the only 2 winning seasons we’ve had since 1999 were followed by 3 & 4 win seasons … this won’t do.

      • SKN

        Not completely free agency and not completely draft, it needs to be a combination of the two. Assuming your team can draft anyone since 1978.

    • tigersbrowns2

      SKN – do you want to be shocked ??? … go back & look at all the browns 1st round picks since 1978 … in 1978 they had 2 first round picks & they were ozzie newsome & clay matthews … pretty good. the rest , up until now , will leave you scratching your head.

  • Charles

    I will admit that I have not been a fan of Mitchell Schwartz, but I had hoped that the Browns would have retained him to help protect the QB, whoever it might be. It is hard to throw a football while on your back, and even harder if you are in the locker room being tended to by team doctors.

    Considering Joe Thomas’s age and the weaknesses of the OL, I’m afraid that any QB will have a short career.

  • tigersbrowns2

    i think some of you may be in for a major disappointment. the browns are NOT going to spend in free-agency … in fact , don’t be surprised if LB craig robertson goes somewhere else … don’t be surprised if aging veterans with big salaries , like whitner , dansby & kruger are let go.

    and since this will pretty much be a complete blow-up & it may take 2-3 years to get good , i wouldn’t be shocked if they traded joe thomas for picks.

    • tigersbrowns2

      … the only area they may do something in is at QB … Hue wants & needs a good QB. this is obviously why they MAY be showing interest in Kaepernick.