At first glance, attempting to grade the Cleveland Browns’ activity in the 2011 free agency market would be like trying to describe something that quite simply doesn’t exist. General manager Tom Heckert said the Browns weren’t looking to make much of a splash, but did anyone expect it to be this quiet?
Despite the fact that the Browns did not make much noise during free agency, they did throw around enough money to make at least a pitter-patter in the giant frenzied free agent puddle that the rest of the league was creating.
Here are the Cleveland Browns unrestricted free agent signings through August 4:
DT Derreck Robinson (re-signed)
RB Brandon Jackson
FS Usama Young
LG Billy Yates (re-signed)
DE Jayme Mitchell (re-signed)
CB Dimitri Patterson
Obviously, that’s not exactly a stellar list of Pro Bowlers and high-impact players and it is understandable that Browns fans would be upset that the team could not nab someone like a Ray Edwards or even a Steve Breaston. Lord knows the Browns could use the help, but that’s just not the philosophy of this team right now.
You might be asking yourself, “But shouldn’t acquiring talented players be the philosophy of every team at all times?” Sure, but think about all the bad contracts the Browns have doled out over recent years. This time around, the youth movement is in full effect, as the Browns have trimmed the roster down to become one of the youngest in the league. The team will build itself up through the draft and will make free agent signings when it is the right fit.
It’s just easier to focus on the players the Browns lose out on when they have such a limited scope of prospects to begin with. Not every team signs every player it’s interested in – it just so happens that this year the Browns lost out on some bigger free agents they were targeting. It’s certainly not for a lack of trying.
Now, rather than focusing on who the Browns didn’t acquire, let’s take a look at the new players (unrestricted free agents who weren’t re-signed from the 2010 squad) they have been able to sign:
Brandon Jackson – Jackson was a member of the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers in 2010, starting 13 games for an injury-ravaged offense and establishing himself as a reliable third-down back. He rushed for 703 yards in 201o with 3 touchdowns while catching 43 passes for 342 yards and 1 touchdown. Fans would love to see Montario Hardesty healthy but at this point, there’s no reason to assume that he will be. He is still recovering from last year’s surgery and, so far, has been unable to fully practice. If he is unable to contribute, Jackson suddenly becomes a very wise signing.
Usama Young – Never given much of a chance in New Orleans, the Browns hope that a fresh start will unleash Young’s potential. Plus, signing a safety was always a priority, as it was assumed that Abe Elam would be leaving. In his first day of camp, Young practiced with the first-team defense and will continue to battle Mike Adams for the starting spot.
Dimitri Patterson – A lot of people would like to point out Patterson’s “better production” when compared to departed cornerback Eric Wright, but it’s hard to value that so much when it comes to players in the secondary. A lot of it depends on how much teams target a specific cornerback which, when it happens a lot, isn’t much of a good thing. Based on this, it would seem Patterson has received his own Eric Wright-like level of disdain.
There’s still plenty of time to judge the quality of these signings but at first glance, it’s hard to give this free agent crop a grade any higher than, say, a C-. Brandon Jackson really saves the grade from being too embarrassing, because I like to think that he is going to really show his value as camp progresses and the Browns start playing some actual games.
It’s hard to reserve one’s judgment when the Browns were so inactive for the major free agent signings, but that’s just the direction of this team right now. After so many years of mediocrity and a consistently awful “I feel like we’ve been here before” feeling, maybe a change of pace is exactly what this organization needs.