The Cleveland Browns would be better served to work with their own wide receivers than to waste time and money in free agency.
The Cleveland Browns have put a considerable amount of work into the offensive side of the ball since the close of the 2016 NFL season.
The team rebuilt the offensive line with the signing of free agents JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler, added athletic tight end David Njoku in the draft, took another stab at fixing the quarterback problem with the selection of DeShone Kizer, and kept the backfield tandem of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson together for at least another season.
The one area that the Browns neglected – for lack of a better term – was the wide receiver position.
Cleveland “lost” wide receiver Terrelle Pryor in free agency after he chose to take less money with the Washington Redskins, replacing him with veteran Kenny Britt, who was the fifth-best free agent available, according to Pro Football Focus. (Interestingly, Britt’s season grade of 74.6 was not that far off of Pryor’s grade of 78.6).
The Browns also return the quartet of wide receivers selected in last year’s draft, a group that starts with Corey Coleman and included Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton.
It is a solid, if mostly unspectacular and unproven position group, which has led to some to claim that the Browns must “do something” before the start of the regular season.
But bringing in a free agent wide receiver at this point would be foolish on the part of the Browns.
After multiple rounds of free agency in the past two months, if a player is still unsigned my mid-May there is usually a reason for it – and that reason is generally not a positive one.
The names tossed around most frequently as the “best available” wide receivers include 36-year-old Anquan Boldin, Eddie Royal (31), Stevie Johnson (31), Victor Cruz (30) and Vincent Jackson (34).
Of that group, Boldin is the only one who had anything resembling a solid season in 2016 as he finished with 67 receptions for 584 yards and eight touchdowns for the Detroit Lions.
As for the rest? Johnson last played in 2015 and only appeared in 23 total games in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Royal played in just nine games last season with the Chicago Bears, Cruz has an injury history after playing in just six games in 2014 and missing all of 2015, and Jackson had just 48 total receptions in 2015 and 2016.
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Eliminate Boldin because of his age – there is no way he will still be around when the Browns are good in a couple of years – and that leaves a group of receivers who collectively put up an average stat line of 22 receptions for 282 yards.
This is what the Browns should be looking for to “help” the wide receiver position?
The rookies certainly underperformed last season, due to injury (Coleman missed six games with a broken hand), being saddled with Robert Griffin III as the starting quarterback for a third of the season, and a lack of opportunities.
The Browns fixed the issue with Griffin, and Coleman has recovered from his injury, but bringing in aging or unproductive wide receivers to take playing time away from Louis, Higgins and Payton is not going to solve the problem.
The only way that the young receivers are going to get better is through practice reps and playing time, so limiting those opportunities does no one any good.
They may not turn into the second coming of Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne and Brian Brennan, but given the chance the trio of Louis, Higgins and Payton can certainly surpass the recent output of the wide receivers currently available in free agency.