- Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter
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The Cleveland Browns' free-agency strategy is becoming clear.
Sign released players, let in-house free agents walk and compile compensatory picks as a result.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi pointed out the Browns are angling for compensatory picks, and people from a few NFL circles have gotten strong indications the Browns are working this angle, hoping to turn the loss of several players into more at-bats in the draft.
The signings of quarterback Josh McCown, wide receiver Brian Hartline, defensive tackle Randy Starks and possibly wide receiver Dwayne Bowe won’t count against the compensatory pick formula. Those players were cut. Coach Mike Pettine pointed out unprompted in an interview last week that the team is evaluating not just free agents, “but guys that are being released from rosters.” The team targeted pass-rusher Trent Cole, who was cut by the Eagles and eventually signed with Indianapolis.
The Browns signed unrestricted corner Tramon Williams, which could affect the formula, but the loss of four in-house free agents -- Jabaal Sheard, Buster Skrine, Jordan Cameron, eventually Ahtyba Rubin -- unofficially puts the Browns at plus-three in the compensatory math column for the 2016 draft.
Compensatory picks are mid-to-late-round picks given to teams to offset the loss of a key player to another team. A team that loses more than it acquires in free agency is eligible to receive a maximum of four extra picks. The formula accounts for salary, playing time and postseason honors of the players coming and going.
The Ravens are known for employing the compensatory strategy, compiling four additional picks in each of the last two years.
But this plan works for Baltimore because they generally draft well, though Day 3 drafting is generally low-percentage hitting for many team. Of the Browns’ 18 picks from Rounds 4-7 in the last five years, six were on the roster in 2014.
If you wanted more evidence the Browns want to be a team that builds through the draft, this is it. But did the Browns leave good free agents on the table just to acquire more players that might not pan out?
The Browns are angling for compensatory picks, hoping to turn the loss of several in-house free agents into more at-bats in the draft.