NFL Draft: Should Free Agency Impact Browns Draft?


Here at Dawg Pound Daily we have attempted to give you full coverage ramping up to both NFL Free Agency and the NFL Draft. Have a look at our posts from yesterday and you will see quite a few NFL Free Agency posts as well as an Full 7 Round NFL Mock Draft for the Cleveland Browns. The two “events” have so much in common and seem to be intertwined. The question is two-fold: Does one impact the other? And should they?

Difficult questions indeed for the two most important parts of the NFL off-season. First it is important to look at some facts. In the NFL, free agency happens before the draft. This allows veteran players to claim their spots before the teams fill the roster with drafted and undrafted rookies. In the NBA this process is reversed as teams draft players before entering free agency. That is a key and significant difference.

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  • In all of the 3 major sports in the United States (NFL, NBA and MLB) all teams would love to compete and build from their drafts. Drafted players are younger, cheaper, healthier and generally easier to coach. Veteran players are older, often cost more, have more mileage on their bodies and are more set in their ways of doing things. The NBA and NFL also make it difficult to build via free agency due to salary cap restrictions. No team, in any of these sports, would set a plan in place to build long term through free agency.

    Yet every year we enter NFL Free Agency with fans hopeful and teams likely to spend big money on veteran players hoping they are the solution the team is looking for. Even looking at some of the veterans cut already this off-season we see a group of players that either signed or re-signed free agent contracts in the last two years: Josh McCown, Brian Hartline, Jacoby Jones, Ted Ginn, Brandon Gibson and Steven Jackson just to name a few.

    So it begs the questions: Does one impact the other? Should they?

    Fans often think that when a team has a hole to fill they need to either fill it via Free Agency or the NFL Draft. The Browns obviously have needs at nose tackle and wide receiver. Fans line of thinking is that if they don’t fill those holes in Free Agency then they must in the NFL Draft. But is that how teams think? Is that the “right” way of thinking about the roster?

    We then have to take a look at the NFL Draft and there is no team better to look at than the Cleveland Browns. The Browns drafted Barkevious Mingo because Ray Horton‘s defense “needed” a pass rushing threat. This was after also giving a fat contract to Paul Kruger to also help the pass rush. Mingo was highly rated but drafting him because of a need has not worked out. The team drafted Johnny Manziel because they “needed” a quarterback, so far not so good.

    Yet, if we look at the rest of last year’s NFL Draft, we see that the Browns didn’t draft for need but for talent and fit. Joel Bitonio wasn’t a need pick, the offensive line seemed to be okay in most people’s opinion. The Browns ended up getting someone that many think is the next best guard in the NFL. In the 3rd round the Browns drafted Terrance West and Christian Kirksey, neither filling a particular need. The Browns had already signed Ben Tate in Free Agency to start at running back and also signed Karlos Dansby to join Craig Robertson at inside linebacker. In the 4th round of the NFL Draft the team pulled in Pierre Desir even though they had Joe Haden, Buster Skrine and 1st Round Pick Justin Gilbert at corner. Those four players are foundational to the team’s future.

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  • Based on how the Browns addressed Free Agency last year, we can make some assumptions about this year. We expect the Browns will try to fill holes in free agency. Last year it was starters at RB, ILB and SS (Donte Whitner). This year we hope, expect that they look to acquire a starting level wide receiver and defensive lineman to join Josh McCown. It wouldn’t shock to see them try to bring in a cheap veteran running back (change of pace guy) and even more offensive and defensive line help. Getting another pass rusher, to replace Jabaal Sheard, also may be in the works.

    If the Browns go as we hope and expect in Free Agency, how would that impact the NFL Draft? In a lot of ways it won’t and shouldn’t. Good teams tend to draft with Year 2 and 3 in mind. The Browns might draft an offensive tackle but it isn’t because they don’t like their line but because they know Mitchell Schwartz can become a free agent at the end of the season. Good planning. They also know the history of free agents, the list above is just a small example of years and years of the same results, and are likely to draft players at ILB and SS to be ready to replace Dansby and Whitner. They will also likely attack the receiver and defensive line positions, knowing their free agent signings this season could be gone in two seasons.

    That is what good, quality teams do. While we want to see them draft players who can start right away, that isn’t the way to build a long term team. In fact, besides offensive line and quarterback, players can impact games even if they are not starters. Injuries, as the Browns know to well, often open up chances on the offensive line as well. A 1st round receiver, who doesn’t start because a free agent was brought in, will still get time on the field. Same for most other positions. That time allows them to acclimate slowly to the NFL game instead of being forced into action before they are ready.

    So how should Free Agency impact the NFL Draft? It should break ties. If the Browns sign a good nose tackle in Free Agency, all for Stephen Paea or even Terrance Knighton, than a tie between Danny Shelton or Arik Armstead could go the defensive end’s way. The other way it should impact the draft is based on sheer numbers. At the wide receiver position, for example, the Browns are only likely to carry 5 or 6 on their roster. Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel will return. If the Browns re-sign Miles Austin and sign a starter, say Jeremy Maclin just for fun, then the team only has 1 or 2 spots left for receiver. That impact would be felt more in the mid to late rounds.

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    So as you look at, think about or prepare your own NFL Mock Draft, think about what the Cleveland Browns’ needs might be in two or three years. What holes might they need to fill then, not what holes do you see on the team now. That kind of thinking leads to Barkevious Mingo and Johnny Manziel. The Browns aren’t the only team that falls prey to that thinking. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Marcus Smith in the 1st round last year because they had a need, he didn’t work out so far either.

    Should Free Agency impact the NFL Draft? No, not really. The goals are different and, when treated properly, can work together for the long term good of the team. When treated improperly, teams are setback by a year or two. With the expectations of quick turnarounds, many teams and front offices fail to learn from history and are doomed to repeat it. We can hope the Browns do not do the same.

    What do you think about the relationship between the NFL Draft and Free Agency?

    Next: 1st Round NFL Mock Draft Edition 1.0