Finishing the season at just 1-15, many would think that 2016 was just another terrible year in the Cleveland Browns lineage. While on the surface that would appear to be true, having watched every game myself I can assure you that the record doesn’t quite match the talent that the team has. Last year’s team still has plenty of potential and the front office’s actions during free agency give hope towards next season and years to come. The Browns have made some moves in the offseason that should give any Cleveland fan a positive outlook for the future.
The Browns have made some additions that will significantly bolster the team for the road ahead. My analysis has always been that they need to revamp the offensive line and add more defensive playmakers. The quarterback injury circus that the team went through this past season is primarily a result of the young, underperforming offensive line. While the defense has some young talent, they don’t have as many big time playmakers that can effectively cause turnovers and sacks when they’re needed most. Let’s take a look at what the Browns have accomplished so far this offseason.
It’s not that the Browns’ offensive line is lacking talent, but rather, they are young. With the exception of Joe Thomas, there isn’t a whole lot of experience on the Browns line. Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango, two Baylor alums, were both decent draft picks last year that have the potential to be great offensive lineman with the right coaching and more experience in the league.
During this offseason, the Browns signed Zach Sterup to the reserve/futures list, claimed Marcus Martin via waivers, and agreed to terms with unrestricted free agents Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter.
Sterup is a 6′ 9″, 318 pound tackle from Nebraska who fared well on the second string of the Kansas City Chiefs last year during the preseason. However, he was suspended for four games for abusing the league’s PED policy. But with his size and athleticism, he is capable of maturing into a player capable of competing for a starting job as long as he doesn’t violate any more league rules.
Kevin Zeitler was drafted in 2012 by the Cincinnati Bengals and has played his entire career there. As a rookie, he led the team in least sacks given up with four and started every game at right guard. Since then, he has faired well on Cincinnati’s line. The Browns offered Zeitler a 5-year, $60 million contract which makes him the highest paid offensive guard in the league. This clearly shows the Browns believe that he is worth the money. Also, the addition of an experienced lineman will not only contribute to better protection, but also, offer some additional guidance and leadership to the young developing line.
J.C. Tretter was a fourth round pick in the 2013 draft who has played with the Green Bay Packers during the duration of his career. He played very well in six games last year before getting injured. While a talented player, he has been injury-prone throughout his career which is the one concern I have with this pick up. However, if he manages to stay healthy, he can be another experienced and talented center for the Browns.
Finally, Cleveland claimed Marcus Martin off of waivers from San Francisco. Martin only played in five games last season for the 49ers and appears to be a low-risk addition who may eventually replace Cam Erving at the backup center spot.
The Browns defense is littered with young raw talent that needs time to be molded into elite-level defenders. 2016 draftees Emmanuel Ogbah (DE/LB), Carl Nassib (DE), Joe Schobert (LB), Derrick Kindred (DB), Trey Caldwell (DB), and Scooby Wright III (LB) each had memorable moments in their rookie season and all possess the ability to earn starting jobs.
Kindred was ninth on the team with 32 total tackles, Ogbah had 28 total tackles with 5.5 sacks, Schobert had 19 total tackles, and Nassib had 15 total tackles with 2.5 sacks. While these guys were the best of the bunch, the others still got valuable on-field experience and will likely compete well enough to stay on the team.
The Browns have added some future potential talent to the list as they signed James Burgess (LB), Justin Currie (DB), Trevon Coley (DL), Trae Elston (DB), and Darrius Hillary (DB) to the reserve/futures list and they claimed Tyvis Powell (DB) off of waivers from Seattle.
If it doesn't help the Browns win games in the fall, then I'm not doing it ??
— Tyvis Powell (@1Tyvis) February 15, 2017
Tyvis Powell is by far the most promising addition to defense that the Browns have made thus far. Powell practiced at cornerback all year with Seattle; however, he primarily only saw playing time on special teams. With that being said, Powell is an Ohio Native and a Buckeye alum and his previous statements in the press have shown he is fired up and eager to help take the Browns back to greatness.
Coley spent time on Washington’s practice squad last year as a rookie and Burgess played in four preseason games with Miami before getting shipped to San Diego. Additionally, Currie got picked up by the Giants as a rookie free agent but spent the year on injury reserve after suffering an injury during the preseason, Elston spent most of his rookie season on Tampa Bay’s practice squad and Hillary spent time on Cincinnati’s practice squad before being picked up by the Browns.
While these young players may not appear to have the most awe-inspiring talent they still may be effective members of team with a propensity to grow into players who could see field time. Some were injury prone while others were just rookies surrounded by better talent. Only time will tell how each of these players will develop, but the Browns are sure to further strengthen the defensive side of the ball via the NFL draft.
The Future is Bright
Cleveland’s future couldn’t look any brighter. I know that may sound like an optimistic outlook filled with a dash of the usual false hope. But I genuinely believe it for the first time in my life.
With all of these additions to the team filled with young talent and high potential, what’s not to like about the future of Cleveland? The Browns have worked their magic and might actually start making great draft picks (I believe that started with last year’s draft). After having 11 draft picks last year, as of now, they also have 11 draft picks for this year AND 11 draft picks in 2018. They’ll more than likely take Myles Garrett with the #1 pick which adds a potential defensive rookie of the year to the roster and with ten remaining picks they have quite the ability to draft great players and/or trade for already established players. Furthermore, they should use a majority of those remaining picks on some other high-caliber defensive players to round out the average defensive additions made in the offseason.
A one win season may not be the outcome fans were hoping for when Hue Jackson came to town. But management is making waves in the offseason to try and fix that. So far, from what I have seen, I have been overall generally impressed. Adding some veteran experience to the offensive line and adding more young talent on the defensive side of the ball is exactly what the team needs and it can only have a positive effect.
If any coach can mold young men into NFL-caliber players it is Hue Jackson. All he needs is time and talent. In 2017, it appears that the Browns are giving him just that.