Baking the 2014 Browns.

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Holes and one plan with multiple options to plug them.

We’ve got a plan and it’s baking.  We’re following the same recipe as last year and we’re 100x more optimistic that this could bear some resemblance to something Berea might actually try to put into play.  The recipe is is this:

  1. Identify gaps/holes;
  2. Inventory draft/UFAs with respect to relative strength by position;
  3. Project where the best value intersects with most impact;
  4. Transfer genius to Powerpoint;
  5. Lard up presentation with caveats and;
  6. Publish.

Holes.

For our purposes, we’re going to assume that Mack and Ward are re-signed.1  This leaves with holes at (ranked in some order of importance):

  1. WR2:  I’ve hung with Greg Little longer than most but it’s time to look for something better.  It’s not a dropped-ball thing in my opinion; it’s a ‘doesn’t get open’ thing.  Regardless, he’s been ineffective and hope is not a strategy.
  2. CB2:  Not a Buster Skrine hater here, but CB2 remains an area of need and it’s a high-value position with the possibility of an elite player to plug-in.
  3. ILB x2:  Two holes here.  The Craig Robertson experiment didn’t pan out, DQ is gone.
  4. OG2:  Lauvao won’t be back and that’s fine.  You can’t bank on Pinkston or Gilkey.
  5. RB:  Nada.  Dion Lewis maybe?
  6. WR3:  Rather than search for a fullback on this chart, I’m going with a third WR.  Like/love Benjamin but speed guys with repaired ACLs are chancey propositions and Benjamin wasn’t really a prototype ‘possession receiver.’
  7. FS:  Gipson is just ok; maybe slightly less than ok.
  8. QB2:  A backup QB is on the shopping list too.

That’s eight slots to fill in draft and free agency.  That’s do-able.  Let’s overlay those needs on top of our draft and UFA resources and see what falls out.

Rank (cap space)TeamOffense CapDefense CapCap RolloverEst. Total CapCap Space
01Oakland Raiders23,686,96231,181,09102,250,000068,887,07966,362,921
02Cleveland Browns39,225,85748,882,20424,537,568096,447,21361,090,355
03Jacksonville Jaguars40,308,29045,136,30719,645,313096,517,18956,128,124
04Indianapolis Colts45,805,47145,524,67300,607,906092,700,87740,907,029
05Miami Dolphins52,940,08948,907,45918,064,000111,882,78639,181,214
06Green Bay Packers50,982,91248,560,55209,820,459107,697,19835,123,261
07Minnesota Vikings59,521,60035,065,78500,812,317098,781,07935,031,238
08Cincinnati Bengals45,025,90760,808,33208,663,480111,300,52030,362,960
09Washington Redskins55,856,39036,113,3910103,426,34729,573,653
10Baltimore Ravens44,268,56151,706,50901,531,423106,402,28628,129,137
11New York Jets62,861,35143,528,54501,473,437107,728,85426,744,583
12Philadelphia Eagles72,770,67147,795,58717,169,768123,775,56826,394,200
13Atlanta Falcons64,326,56733,076,90503,129,200109,878,26226,250,938
14Buffalo Bills52,289,62358,585,16217,801,975125,134,56525,667,410
15Carolina Panthers53,824,03844,489,10506,012,268117,723,05321,289,215
16New York Giants69,474,90936,543,7640113,711,81419,288,186
17Tampa Bay Buccaneers55,367,52660,221,42606,769,781120,978,07118,791,710
18Denver Broncos71,797,76938,063,90106,400,000121,487,83217,912,168
19Arizona Cardinals53,879,05854,364,22705,750,007120,874,91917,875,088
20Seattle Seahawks57,261,37352,174,21102,845,004118,030,45117,814,553
21San Francisco 49ers50,204,37366,355,45602,175,038121,433,92713,741,111
22Tennessee Titans67,040,46451,115,37706,953,561126,946,60813,006,953
23New England Patriots57,974,54352,766,44904,106,801124,407,54612,699,255
24Detroit Lions54,376,63864,073,27101,474,552124,259,42210,215,130
25Kansas City Chiefs53,070,36561,909,13702,381,518125,589,07509,792,443
26Houston Texans73,412,13044,742,05001,114,730124,892,96409,221,766
27Chicago Bears75,618,55042,426,78000,746,727125,281,99908,464,728
28New Orleans Saints70,923,41638,856,04300,500,000125,317,01008,182,990
29St. Louis Rams60,460,76763,152,1100125,682,77107,317,229
30San Diego Chargers70,111,20746,077,64902,319,341131,443,00503,876,336
31Pittsburgh Steelers65,065,34868,894,74501,352,450140,275,524-05,923,074
32Dallas Cowboys74,031,59761,974,59801,280,693150,751,381-16,470,688
Data in this table is from Spotrac Cap Tracker on 3/2/2014.

Free agency priority moves.

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Moats in good company in linebacker grades.

Without digging too too deep into this, it’s clear the Browns are in good shape.  They have the second most cap space in the league now (~61M).  (See table above with accurate data as of 3/1/2014.)  Even after signing Mack and Ward; even after extending Haden; even if they do right and get out front and start signing the 2015 UFA class of Cameron, Hoyer, Sheard, Taylor (and Rubin)2 — the Browns should be participants in free agency.

In terms of “needs versus costs,” two signings approach no-brainer category:

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Ditto Schwartz.

1. Arthur Moats, ILB, Buffalo.  Pettine player who graded out in the Kiko Alonzo, Bobby Wagner range.3 Put it this way:  if we sign Moats, it’s because his defensive coordinator from last year who is now our head coach vouches for him.  Works for me.

2. Geoff Schwartz, OG, Chiefs.  I can’t claim original ownership on this one… it was either GRR or MGBode who started this Schwartz talk but damn it makes sense.  He grades out highly, he’s available, he’s our right tackle’s brother.  We could do worse.

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Not the Mike Pettine needs this to evaluate Jairus Byrd.

There there are two marquee signings:

3. Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo.  First off, yes, I know he’s 5’10”.  But second, I like the idea of re-uniting the Ducks at safety.  (Ward and Byrd both are Oregon products.)  Again, if it turns out we make a full-court press for Byrd, I’m happy to trust Pettine to make the right calls with guys he knows inside-and-out.  In fact, I’m doubly happy for a Byrd signing because a player widely considered tops at his position, having played for Pettine would have chosen Pettine.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jax.  He’s just 29 and dammit he still looked good/great in the game he played against us.  Alternatively, Donald Brown would be a fun signing just for the irony factor.4

Assuming these FA acquisitions unfold as planned, this leaves us in a good place to fill the other holes.

Draft priorities.

i-1

If we can get Gilbert for the cost of an added third rounder, must do it.

#4 Mike Evans, WR, TAMU.   Fills a major hole with a unique talent.  I’d be most definitely fine with Greg Robinson and Sammy Watkins or Justin Gilbert.

At #26 three options:

  • (If Byrd is signed) CJ Mosley, ILB, Bama.  There was a time in last season when Mosley was the player in college football I most wanted for the Browns.  Then that Oklahoma game.  So I’m still a tad pissed at Mosley but I’m getting over it.  He can be a dominating game changing force.
  • (If Byrd not signed) HaSean Clinton-Dix, Bama or Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville.  I like both.  I thought Clinton-Dix looked worse in field drills at the combine.  But I like Clinton-Dix’s length.  But rangy Bama d-back =?= Dre Kirkpatick?  Either of these two are fine here, I lean Clinton-Dix because he did impress me in game play.
  • (Optional trade-up) Justin Gilbert, CB, Ok St.  Let’s say Gilbert is still on the board at #15.  If that happens I’m picking up a phone and seeing what our second third round pick might bring in terms of move up.  And if I can get Justin Gilbert for the price of our #26 and #83 picks, I’m doing it, fast.

#35 Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, EIU.  Seems like a good place to acquire a top-notch learn-as-a-backup QB of the future.

At #71 three options:

  • (if Schwartz signed) Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington. He killed it at the combine with speed (sub 4.5) and strength (26 bench reps).  With 60 receptions in Seattle I guess you can say he can catch the ball.  At least he does it more than Carlos Hyde (not as much as Dri Archer).
  • (if Schwartz signed, and you’re feeling frisky) Dri Archer, RB, Kent.  Fast and strong and exciting and local.  There’s a lot to love here.  But he is less conventional, not an every down feature back.  If you only can have one, Sankey is the more sensible pick but Archer would be fun/fine with me.
  • (if Schwartz not signed) Gabe Jackson, OG, Missy St.  Best guard in the SEC, third best o-lineman.  His slow 40 at the combine might leave him available in the third round.  Jackson would fix the hole at OG for years (probably better than Geoff Schwartz).

#83 Keith McGill, CB, Utah.  I get my long d-back.  6-3 with a 39″ vert and 33+” arms.  If Stanley Jean-Baptiste is gone when we pick at #71, I take McGill there and take one of the three options listed for #71 here.

i

Campanero smells like late round value pick.

Fourth round #15, Max Bullough, LB, MSU.  Were going to need more help at linebacker.  ((Although I like Chris Borland, the 29″ arms cause me to question if he can shed blocks in the NFL.))

Fourth round #2, Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB, BC.  Combine winner; we get athletic coverage linebacker6.

Fifth round.  Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon.  Interview the guy, check him out thoroughly, if he’s not Andrew Bynum draft him.  The two tight end offense is a real thing.  Lyerla is first round talent.  What’s the worst than could happen… you miss out on Jamoris Slaughter.

Sixth round.  Michael Capanero, WR, Wake Forest.  Rock solid possession receiver.  Holds all sorts of records at Wake.  Showed good speed and strength and great vertical at the combine.

Seventh round.  Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State.  Another prototype QB with size and arm.  Might strike gold.

Finished product looks like this.

To sum, here’s what I’m talking about and the most likely outcome:

  • Free agents:  Moats, Schwartz, Jones-Drew, Byrd.
  • Draft:  Evans, Mosley, Garropolo, Sankey, McGill, Bullough, Pierre-Louis, Lyerla, Campanero, Wenning.

If this all comes together… how do you like the look of this starting lineup:

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 1.22.23 PM

Like I say, this is first pass.  We’ll fine tune this going forward when we know more.

                     

  1. DBN does math for us and estimates the Browns’ cap space post-Mack/Ward to be ~42MM. [back]
  2. Nice work getting all these contract to expire at the same time by renown cap genius Joe Banner, eh? [back]
  3. Quick, someone remind me that PFF stats aren’t end-all be-all. [back]
  4. However karma requires that the Colts would then sign Alex Mack so maybe we just stay hands off on Brown. [back]
  5. The draft order for rounds four and on are subject to change depending on awarding of compensatory [free agent] picks. [back]
  6. and Mingo is buried at yet another position on the depth chart. [back]

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  • zarathustra

    No fundamental disagreement to the approach to the draft–though I would probably take Robinson at 4.
    Re: free agency. I support targeting moats. At safety I would prefer Byrd/gipson to ward/gipson and would be quite alarmed by the cap irresponsibility of a potential ward/byrd pairing. Apparently signing mack is a priority which is fine, but if they do so hell no to g. Schwartz–as bupalos states above it would be far better to draft a lineman. Moreover, it is questionable that mitchell is athletic enough for the new blocking scheme so the brother angle could blow up in your face if he is cut next year.
    My top free agent target is Edelman, then byrd/ward, and moats. If you are rolling with hoyer–as I too would do–edelman makes too much sense given their developmental history together. Wr is crazy deep this year but I don’t know how many project as premier “suicide slot”guys–again h/t to bupalos on the coinage of that very apt term. Edelman is the rare free agent wr who will actually be worth his price.
    There are enough promising young players–plus a big question at qb–that it is imperative that they don’t go overboard in free agency this off-season–especially considering the many draft picks bequeathed by the previous incompetents in charge.

  • FTCMikeD

    Transition Tag was used on Mack. It’s likely he’ll stay. Hopefully the Browns can work out a long term deal with him. Grossi is saying Ward will walk now, was he dead set on testing free agency? I can see not wanting to tie up huge money in Haden, Ward, and Byrd, but what else would all that cap be used on? http://espncleveland.com/common/more.php?m=49&post_id=29441

  • mgbode

    first off, thanks for the h/t but I honestly do not know if I was the first as his name has been floating around for a couple years now. I liked him with Carolina but he got hurt, disappeared and eventually landed in Minn. He graded out well there, so he was on my target list last offseason. He signed a whopping 1year/$700K deal with KC though (so, obviously not many takers). Once given a chance, he was great and I actually expect us to have a better chance at prying Asamoah (guy he replaced – also pretty good) than we do him.

    overall, I like your list of transactions though I think you are being a bit optimistic about guys being available in the draft (you have already noted Mosley, but Sankey, Jackson, and Campenaro I expect to rise as they are currently well undervalued. Which is to say I agree with you on them. If they are there, then grab them).

    I’d be happy with the end product. Hopefully, Farmer and staff have a million such scenarios they are working on and can give us a team without glaring deficiencies this time around 🙂

  • Petefranklin

    RBs are nice @71 but this is a receiver draft and I’d like to get WR stud #3 at that position if we can. Then we could still get the possession guy from Wake late as insurance.
    What about a trade down for Gilbert? Find a team who likes a QB and pick up a 2nd, but if Evans is really the best WR on the board, he would be hard to pass on even though another highly rated WR (Woods to 23?) would fall a spot for teams looking for WR help.

  • Petefranklin

    24 million in cap rollover? Didn’t we lose 12 million or does that count against the cap floor or something?

  • Petefranklin

    I think Byrd is going to be franchised today. Hopefully I am wrong.

  • bupalos

    I’d concur absolutely no way Mosely is there at 26, I’m OK with whichever of Borland or Smallwood can be had with the 2nd 3rd. And you can’t have all those free agents if you’re talking about those other extensions– I think you’re about a Byrd or a Schwarz over. Personally I believe in drafting the o-line, there’s a higher value there, so I’d drop Schwarz and hope to get Mewhort with the 1st 3rd rounder.

    Beyond that I think the overall approach is right. While I think trying to build a complete team last year made little sense, I’m OK enough with Hoyer to go ahead and roll ’em. Not to the extent of pushing a bunch of extra dollars into out-years, but at least to the extent of using the space we’ve got. This can be a playoff team easily with just mediocre QB play and there’s reason to think Hoyer can possibly provide that. And I agree Moats is about as much of a must-do as any mid level player ever can be. Perfect for our needs, helps with the system, young with upside, and probably not on a ton of radars, no way this does not happen unless he hated Pettine or something.

    I’m still still think the Cowboys might give us Romo (and his contract, and his back, and maybe even a pick) for the #4 to use on Monsieur Jean d’Football …supposing the little “prick” is still on the board. They are chronically capped up and pretty well need a little rebuild– and the only way to do that without JJ losing out on money (JJ does not lose out on money) is to create a JFF marketing spectacle. 17MM in cap relief plus the number 4 pick versus a big bloated dead-money payroll trying to wobble it’s way to the playoffs on Romo’s dicey back….they’ve got to be thinking about it.

  • Senior Bowl habitué Zac Jackson reports that Mosley not a realistic option at #26. Not sure if I’d trade-up for him like I would for Gilbert.