That's the annual time when the Browns sign one or two guys who are going to provide a pass rush or lead the league in receiving or be a Pro Bowler at guard. The buzz will grow about how good these guys are, and how good the team will be. It happens every offseason.
Such is life for fans who have not seen their team win seven games in any of the past six seasons. They must find hope somewhere.
The most popular time, of course, is the draft, when the team annually adds four or five All-Pro players, so determined the day of the draft.
But that can wait. In the interim, here's the MailBag.
CLEVELAND -- Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant says he's been medically cleared to play after a health scare.
Bryant underwent an operation in December to correct an irregular heartbeat. His season ended with four games left because of a rapid heartbeat, a condition he has known about for several years and had been treated for in the past.
On Friday, Bryant posted a message on his Twitter account regarding his clearance.
Everybody has been asking about my health. The doctor gave me full clearance and I am currently preparing for a very successful 2014 season!
- Desmond Bryant (@DBryant92) March 7, 2014
The 28-year-old signed a five-year, $34 million contract as a free agent last March with Cleveland. He finished with 3 1-2 sacks and 45 tackles in 12 games.
Bryant had been taking medication for the condition, which forced him to leave an Oct. 3 game against Buffalo. He experienced a rapid heart rate following a game against Jacksonville on Dec. 1 and doctors determined he needed a heart ablation.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
In one corner with Mack is one of his agents, Marvin Demoff, who is one of the smartest, shrewdest negotiators around. Very few “get over” on Demoff.
In the other corner are the Browns, who clearly feel that by giving Mack the transition tag they ensured they could and would keep him in Cleveland.
The one thing the Browns did was ensure Mack would be wealthy.
Because he’ll sign a long-term contract with a team that will have to be lavish to make the Browns not match it, or he’ll play for the transition figure of $10.04 million in 2014.
There are those who wonder why the Browns didn’t just franchise Mack and make sure he’d stay. No team would give up two first-round draft choices for a center, and the cost was “only” another $1.6 million. But the Browns chose the transition tag, figuring that kept Mack’s pay a little closer to the top centers. The team no doubt figures with its cap room it will be able to match any offer.
Mack’s other agent, Tim Younger, threw a bit of a curveball at that thinking, though, telling USA Today he will treat the market as if Mack is unrestricted.
Last weekend, the Browns sent a contingent of folks including line coach Andy Moeller, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, coach Mike Pettine, GM Ray Farmer and even owner Jimmy Haslam to talk to Mack. They didn’t discuss the transition tag. The discussion was about football philosophy, and the team had no obligation to tell Mack he’d be transitioned. The team is simply using a tool to try to keep him, as Mack will use his free agency to see what's out there.
What’s interesting is that he is so determined to see what might be available -- almost as if his corner has something surprising up its sleeve.
“You only get to play this game so long,” Mack told USA Today.
Mack’s stock has risen as free agency has approached. ESPN’s Bill Polian has rated him the fifth-best player available, but two of the four players ahead of Mack have been franchised -- New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Carolina’s Greg Hardy.
At $10.04 million, Mack is overpaid for a center -- his value given his position and where he ranks in the league is probably closer to $6 or $7 million annually.
But his value to the Browns is important. He anchors the interior of the line, he fits in Shanahan’s zone-block system and he’s adept at line calls. If he leaves, he’ll create another need to fill -- much like the departure of D’Qwell Jackson created a need or the impending departure of T.J. Ward will create a need.
Nobody is indispensable. Those three were with the Browns for years and the team hasn’t won more than six games the past six seasons. The Browns can lose with or without them.
But adding more needs to a 4-12 team increases challenges.
Without the transition tag, Mack would have been in demand. With the franchise tag, he’d have been off the market. As the transition player he is somewhere in middle -- able to solicit offers but restricted in what he can take.
Demoff is the wild card.
If anyone can make it more interesting than the Browns may like, it’s him.
Key free agents: C Alex Mack (transition), S T.J. Ward, G Shawn Lauvao
Where they stand: The Cleveland Browns have a ton of salary-cap space and a ton of needs. The team hopes the transition tag keeps suitors from signing Mack, but they could have ensured he’d stay in Cleveland by simply paying another $1.6 million and making him the franchise player. If he leaves, that means the Browns have added another need to others that include safety, guard, inside linebacker, running back and receiver. They could go in any direction they choose in free agency, but given the strength of the draft at receiver, that is probably one area they will bypass.
What to expect: The Browns should be active on the free agent market. They have cap room, they have needs and they have an owner in Jimmy Haslam who has made no secret he feels this offseason is critical to the team’s future. Guessing what positions the Browns focus on might be foolish, but clearly they need help at safety, and they could go after Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd. They also need help at linebacker after the release of D'Qwell Jackson, and they need help at guard. The biggest splash might just come at running back, though, where a guy like Houston’s Ben Tate might appeal to Mike Pettine’s physical approach. As for the much-needed and discussed quarterback spot, look for the Browns to bypass free agency and look to the draft.
Cast your vote on your top priority for the Browns in free agency.
That’s a lot of money, but it's also money that could be spent foolishly. Free agency has often shown that lavish spending does not lead to success. As ESPN's Bill Polian wrote in his Insider rundown on free agency of his experience guiding the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills, "You want to make sure there is a precise reason you’re adding that player."
Polian also lists his best free agents in his Insider Free Agent tracker, and he gives safeties T.J. Ward of the Browns and Jairus Byrd of the Bills grades that would not warrant huge-money contracts.
Coach Mike Pettine has said that quarterback is the team’s greatest and most obvious need. That’s a given. But the free-agent market in quarterbacks does not warrant serious consideration because a team like the Browns that is going to rely on Brian Hoyer and a draft pick is probably not going to prioritize a quarterback in free agency. Too, Polian’s top-rated guys are Kellen Clemens and Matt Cassel. The Browns may well add a Jason Campbell-type backup, but those kind of players rarely turn into big-time players.
Teams seem to have learned that money does not make an average player better.
Setting aside quarterback, here’s a rundown of the Browns' needs, in alphabetical order by position:
Putting the transition tag on Mack reduces the need for two guards. Assuming Mack stays, John Greco can remain, which means Shawn Lauvao must be replaced at the other. The good news is the Browns also have Jason Pinkston and the draft to consider, and a guard usually can be found via the free-agent market at not too great an expense.
Polian’s top two: Zane Beadles, Denver, and Chad Rinehart, San Diego.
Craig Robertson did not work well in the three-four, though he always can get better, and D'Qwell Jackson was released. This might actually raise this level of need to "significant." It’s probably not optimal to need two starters inside when running a 3-4 ... err ... multiple defense.
Perry Riley, Washington, and Jackson.
The release of Davone Bess was a formality and expected. But it means the Browns have Josh Gordon and not much else. Greg Little may stay on the team because the Browns need to have bodies, and he has that potential he shows just often enough to keep everyone interested. There are a plethora (like that word?) of receivers in the draft, so the need to add one in free agency might not be urgent. That being said, a veteran capable of acting like a veteran is never a bad thing at that position.
Polian’s top two: Golden Tate, Seattle, and Eric Decker, Denver.
Edwin Baker was the touchdown maker, but the Browns badly need help here. Teams and players may scoff at the running game, but teams that don’t run the ball eventually are exposed. The Browns need a back, probably two. Professional football is still about blocking, tackling, passing, catching, and yes, running.
Polian’s top two: Donald Brown, Indianapolis, and Rashad Jennings, Oakland.
Ward appears headed to the market to see his value. His agent released a statement saying he’d be willing to try to work out a deal before March 11, but when a player gets this close he usually likes to see what he can get. Everyone and their aunt and uncle expect the Browns to make a run at Byrd, who played for Browns coach Mike Pettine in Buffalo. But Byrd will be in demand. His father is an assistant coach in Tampa Bay; Philadelphia is rumored to be interested. If the Browns interest is accurate, the scenario is classic Browns. Develop a Pro Bowl safety, change coaches, let Pro Bowl safety go so team can bring in another team’s Pro Bowl safety the new coach likes and perhaps pay the new safety more money than the safety the team developed. This will be an interesting scenario to watch.
Polian’s top two: Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis, and Chris Clemons, Miami.
That’s one rundown. Now it’s your turn. Vote in the poll. Weigh the players, the potential costs, the impact on the team, the talent in the draft. Then make the judgment. What position would you pick as the top priority for the Browns in free agency? We’ll be back with the results on Monday.
The deal is for one-year, $1.02 million, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Cundiff, who originally signed with the Browns last September, was set to become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday.
Cundiff, 33, was solid in his second stint with Cleveland last season, making 21 of 26 field goal attempts. His 80.8 percent success rate was his highest since his Pro Bowl year with Baltimore in 2010.
Entering his 11th season, Cundiff also has played for Dallas, New Orleans and Washington in his career.
The former Browns linebacker signed with the Colts on Thursday, and no doubt appreciated being released before the start of free agency so he could get a jump on finding a new team.
Among his other points:
• The fact that former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski is now an assistant with the Colts contributed to Jackson's decision to join the Colts over Miami, Denver and Tennessee.
"Once I became free and I was allowed to speak to teams, (Chudzinski) was one of the first calls that I personally made," Jackson said. "He's a big part of me being here today. I thought highly of him last year when he was my head coach in Cleveland. He hadn't been here for a long time but I trusted his judgment. We had a great run in Cleveland.
"It's unfortunate it didn't work out, but all things happen for a reason and here we are today."
One man's "great run" is another's fireable offense, evidently.
• The fact the Colts have Andrew Luck at quarterback was significant.
"If you've been in this game long enough, you start to realize if you don't have a guy under center, it's going to be hard for you to be in a place with stability and let alone win games," he said. "Unfortunately, that's been my career in Cleveland.
"But it never stopped my drive, my passion, the way I prepared, the way I played the game at all. I can only imagine. That's why I'm so excited today because there is a guy under center. I feel it's like it's going to re-energize the batteries. I feel like everything happens for a reason. I'm in the right place."
-- Finally, Jackson hinted that he may have taken less money to play for the Colts than he was offered elsewhere.
"Every guy has a reason why they play the game. In my opinion," he said. "I'm going in Year 9, I've made a great living so far so the decision for me was easy. It wasn't a financial decision. It was a decision to be around a good group of guys, first and foremost, and a team that was willing to get to the Super Bowl and that's what it comes down to. It's the passion of the game."
McShay has the Browns taking the best available quarterback with the fourth pick, and a receiver at the 26th. The surprise is the receiver isn’t Davante Adams, even though he’s there on McShay’s board.
This thinking is logical and sound, and very much "inside" the proverbial box.
McShay says the Browns have to think quarterback with the fourth pick, which I don’t necessarily agree with. The remaining quarterback of the top three on his board at four is Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, so that’s the guy McShay has the Browns selecting. Given the meteoric importance that hand size has garnered recently, McShay addresses Manziel’s by saying his hands are plenty big enough to grasp the ball in cold weather. So … there’s that.
I’m not budging from my pick. I think the Browns should take receiver Sammy Watkins of Clemson.
At 26, McShay picks Brandin Cooks of Oregon. Cooks is only 5-foot-9 3/4, but he’s been timed at 4.33 in the 40 and he had the fastest time at the combine. He caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns last season in Oregon. Impressive numbers.
I’d still prefer Watkins with Josh Gordon, and a quarterback and running back Carlos Hyde later. Brian Hoyer can hold the fort; his experience helps. Gordon and Watkins would be a dynamic tandem, and Hyde and a free agent could be an effective tandem at running back. This was my position the night of the Orange Bowl, and it remains so today.
ESPN’S Adam Schefter reported that D'Qwell Jackson received four years and $22 million to sign with the Indianapolis Colts, with $11 million guaranteed. It’s tough to think the Browns could not have paid him that much. Jackson had been slated to have a cap number of $8 million with the Browns, including $4.1 million in bonuses.
The details of the Colts deal aren’t known, but for the Browns and Jackson not to be able to come to an agreement similar to the one with the Colts shows three things: Either the Browns didn’t offer that much, Jackson wanted more to stay in Cleveland, or he really and truly was ready for a new team and home.
Somehow it seems the latter carried the day. The Browns described Jackson’s departure as a mutual decision, and Jackson talked as if he was ready for a new team, tired of the constant upheaval and change with the Browns.
Perhaps it simply was time.
There is risk for the Colts. Jackson is 30, and though he’s a good player he’s not a great player. Age could catch him at any time, but productive linebackers do not typically see a great dropoff from ages 30 to 35.
The Colts are the same team that traded a first-round draft pick for Trent Richardson, and that hired Rob Chudzinski. Jackson will do all he can to make sure that the Colts' investment was wise.
Time will tell if the Colts made a smart move. But Jackson gets to join a team that has Andrew Luck at quarterback, and as Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said at the combine, “You’ve got a chance to win your division ever year if he is playing for you.”
Which means Jackson probably finishes his career with a team that should always compete for the playoffs.
Tough to think he doesn't deserve that after all these long and cold seasons in Cleveland.
While no one will deny that quarterback is a need for Cleveland, I am high on Brian Hoyer and a player like Sammy Watkins could be an amazing complement to Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Watkins would be very tempting and this offense could use one more receiving option as well as a huge upgrade at running back and a starting guard.
At No. 26 and with their early second-round pick, Cleveland could go in many different directions as their roster could have several major additions in free agency. The defensive backfield could use another strong prospect as well.
Whom does McShay have the Browns drafting at No. 4 and No. 26? Let's take a look:
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Jackson received a four-year deal worth $22 million, including $11 million guaranteed, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
"It wasn't a financial decision, it was a decision to be around a good group of guys first and foremost and the chance to get to a Super Bowl,'' Jackson said. "It wasn't about money.''
Colts owner Jim Irsay and the team's Twitter account welcomed Jackson in separate tweets Thursday morning.
Welcome to the Colts, D'Qwell!
- Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) March 6, 2014
- Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) March 6, 2014
The Cleveland Browns cut ties with Jackson, who was due a $4.1 million roster bonus this month, on Feb. 26. He made visits to several teams in the days after he was released.
In joining the Colts, Jackson is reunited with former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, who was hired by Indianapolis to assist coach Chuck Pagano after being fired by Cleveland after just one season at the helm.
Ward can negotiate with the Browns up to and after the start of free agency.
Ward's agent Josh Arnold released a statement this week addressing Ward's status.
“After receiving numerous requests from local and national media outlets, fans, and several others connected to the Cleveland community, we felt it necessary to provide a statement with respect to T.J.'s current contract situation.
“Detailed contract discussions with multiple front office executives of the Browns began last month at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Since then, several conversations have occurred in an attempt to secure a new deal for T.J., but we've yet to agree on terms that work for both sides.
“T.J. has proven himself to be not only an elite NFL safety, but an elite and top NFL player league wide, which is evidenced by him earning both All Pro and Pro Bowl recognition this past season. With the passing of the franchise/transition tag deadline, we remain open to further discussions with the Browns in working towards a long-term deal and look forward to that possibility.
“However, if things don't work out in Cleveland, we likewise look forward to the opportunity that can coincide with becoming an unrestricted free agent. Several factors will be considered before making a final decision that will provide best for T.J. and his family.”
There you have it.
Bess also was a disappointment on the field, as he never lived up to the leadership role the team envisioned when it acquired him from Miami in the offseason.
Bess caught just 42 passes for 362 yards. He dropped nine passes, tied for the third-highest total in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also left the team prior to the 15th game. The team attributed it to a family issue, but when Bess started tweeting photos of himself with marijuana paraphernalia it was evident there may have been other issues. His tweets got more and more bizarre in the offseason, and word soon broke that prior to the trade from Miami, Bess had been hospitalized by his family for emotional issues.
Former Browns general manager Mike Lombardi, contacted shortly after he left the team, declined to comment on whether the team had done a background check on Bess.
The Browns gave Bess a new contract that was worth $5.75 million in guaranteed money, including $3.067 million in 2014. The Browns did not mention the guarantee in the release, but they could try to void the guarantee based on his behavior.
Bess' release confirms the need for a third receiver. The team recently made center Alex Mack its transition player, but also released inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. The Browns also have not been able to come to an agreement with free-agent-to-be safety T.J. Ward.