CLEVELAND -- Miles Austin signing a one-year deal with the Eagles symbolizes the Browns' slight offensive overhaul of playmakers.
Approaching free agency, Austin seemed like a reasonable re-sign for the Browns. He wouldn't command major money, and he's dependable on third down. But the signing of Brian Hartline made Austin expendable. They have similar skill sets and are not burners but reliable possession guys.
If that's a wash, the bigger issue is the lack of a replacement for Jordan Cameron, who signed a two-year deal with Miami. The Browns' whole approach to tight end has been murky. They targeted Charles Clay but Buffalo outbid everyone. Then they offered Cameron a contract in what seemed like a desperation move.
Now Dwayne Bowe slides into a prime playmaking spot. So, for the sake of argument, let's say the Browns directly replaced the Austin/Cameron combo with Bowe/Hartline. This isn't specific to positions, but under a broader pass-catcher category.
Let's see what comes and goes, based on a two-season, unscientific sample size:
*Coming: Bowe (30 games, 117 catches, 1,427 yards, 12.2 ypc, 5 TDs), Hartline (32 games, 115 catches, 1,490 yards, 12.9 ypc, 6 TDs)
*Going: Cameron (25 games, 104 catches, 1,341 yards, 12.9 ypc, 9 TDs), Austin (23 games, 71 catches, 812 yards, 11.4 ypc, 2 TDs)
Cameron and Austin both have missed games due to injury, so here's the breakdown of the average per-game production.
*Bowe/Hartline: Combined 7.48 catches, 94 yards and 0.35 TDs per game
*Cameron/Austin: Combined 7.29 catches, 89.7 yards and 0.45 TDs per game
And, of course, the total numbers:
*Coming: 232 catches, 2,917 yards, 11 TDs
*Going: 175 catches, 2,153 yards, 11 TDs
*Difference: 57 catches, 764 yards.
ANALYSIS: When Cameron and Austin are healthy, they pose a more potent scoring threat, but the Browns get slightly more in receptions and yardage with Bowe and Hartline. Not sure, as it stands, the Browns offense got much better -- maybe slightly, if Bowe and Hartline can recapture their 1,000-yard past. The tight end need is glaring, and options are bleak. The Browns can comb the second-tier free agents or rely on the draft, which isn't considered strong for tight ends.
Here's where the potential payoff comes: The Browns need either Bowe or Hartline to become legitimate red-zone threats. Hartline already has expressed the desire for this. Travis Benjamin led the Browns receivers with three touchdowns a year ago. If one of these two players changes that trend, this swap can be a success.