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Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Are the Browns getting better?

By James Walker

Jake Delhome, Scott Fujita & Seneca Wallace
The new front-office regime in Cleveland has been very busy this offseason in both free agency and the trade market, acquiring veterans such as Jake Delhomme, Scott Fujita and Seneca Wallace.
It's hard to keep score with the Cleveland Browns these days. So far they have been the biggest whirlwind in free agency this offseason.

The Browns got rid of their top two quarterbacks and added two more. They signed a veteran linebacker (Scott Fujita), tight end (Benjamin Watson) and right tackle (Tony Pashos). They also traded Corey Williams and Kamerion Wimbley for draft picks and added another fullback to the roster from the Denver Broncos (Peyton Hillis).

Yes, the Browns are making a ton of changes. But are they getting better?

It's still early. But despite a large flurry of transactions, there is nothing the Browns have done to this point in free agency to make you believe they'll climb out of the basement and to the top of the AFC North in 2010.

The division champion Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers all finished with winning records last season. And if the season started today, most would pick the aforementioned trio ahead of Cleveland, which was 5-11 last season.

"Anything we do, we've done it thoughtfully, hopefully," Browns president Mike Holmgren said this week of their busy free-agency period. "We've done it together. We've done it to make the team better in our opinion and however that manifests itself."

QB dilemma

Is the quarterback combination of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace truly an upgrade over Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson? That is one of the biggest questions in Cleveland this week.

Quinn and Anderson had their chances in Cleveland and it didn't work out. So a change of scenery was needed for both players, especially with a new regime coming to town in Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert.

But, to put it bluntly, the acquisitions last week of Delhomme and Wallace were anticlimactic.

Intriguing names such as Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb were being thrown around almost daily in Cleveland. The Browns burned up the phone lines to see what was available around the league but ended up with a 35-year-old starter (Delhomme) and a career backup (Wallace).

Cleveland's success next season will depend on whether Delhomme has anything left in the tank. He is coming off his worst year in 2009, when he threw for 2,015 yards, just eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Delhomme also had a meager 59.4 quarterback rating, but the Browns are confident he can bounce back.

"Over time, he's been a proven winner. He's been a consistent winner," Cleveland coach Eric Mangini said. "His completion percentage over the years, that's been consistent as well. I don’t think it's uncommon for a guy to have a bad year, but when you look at his body of work last year ... there were a lot of good throws on that tape too."

Delhomme adds a winning mentality and plenty of playoff experience, and that's something the Browns need in their locker room. Six years ago, Delhomme led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl.

Cleveland's best hope is to get another good year or two out of Delhomme, while the Browns eventually find and groom their franchise quarterback of the future. Either way, Holmgren was convinced Quinn and Anderson weren't the answer and drastic changes had to be made.

"I think we all came to the conclusion that we couldn't go into the season the same way we went into last season," Holmgren said of his quarterbacks. "That's very difficult for everybody. Derek's situation, there was a time element there because of his roster bonus. We didn't have that to deal with Brady. That factored in, certainly, in our decision for Derek to go first. We knew we were going to make changes at quarterback and add some people to the pile certainly."

The draft is key

Despite the current hoopla with free agency, Cleveland will make its biggest impact this year in the draft.

Mike Holmgren
Mike Holmgren will have 12 draft picks he can use to help rebuild the Browns.
The Browns will be major players with 12 total picks at their disposal. Recent trades of Wimbley and Williams added third- and fifth-round picks in this year's draft, respectively.

Cleveland's top pick is No. 7 overall, where positions like safety, cornerback and receiver are all possibilities. Following the recent trades, you can now add the quarterback position as well, with Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen being possible candidates.

"We will probably look at the quarterbacks, yes," Holmgren admitted.

Despite not making any splashy additions, Cleveland did patch some holes in free agency. Pashos likely will start at right tackle for the Browns next season. Fujita gives the team toughness at inside linebacker, and Watson is a much-needed receiving threat at tight end.

Holmgren knew about the large cleanup job ahead of him when he became president of the Browns. After studying the roster he inherited, it's clear Holmgren didn't like how most of it was constructed based on the team's already-busy offseason.

"We've done what we thought was best for the Cleveland Browns," Holmgren explained. "Hopefully moving forward, it doesn't get so frantic in years to come. [But] we're doing what we think we have to do."