The Cleveland Browns have reportedly signed two offensive tackles so far in free agency. What does this mean for the current Browns offensive line?
For the past two seasons, the Cleveland Browns have attempted to draft and develop offensive lineman. However, given the proliferation of spread style offenses in the college ranks, offensive linemen are not entering the NFL with the skill set to compete.
The Browns have attempted to draft and develop players like Spencer Drango, Shon Coleman and Roderick Johnson. Cleveland has also tried to develop center Austin Reither. Of all these players only Shon Coleman has become a starter.
Spencer Drango looked very much a guard while trying to fill in at left tackle. Roderick Johnson is a massive project (pun intended). Reiter has filled in but even Sashi Brown signed a free agent to fill the starting center role.
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The only draft and develop project that has been successful is Shon Coleman. Coleman played right tackle last year for the Browns. He started slow and gradually developed into a good right tackle by the end of the season. His pass blocking was average for a right tackle in the league.
This free agency marks, what seems to be, the end of the draft and develop mentality for offensive linemen.
First, the Browns signed Donald Stephenson from the Denver Broncos. Stephenson is viewed as a depth signing at one year for $2.5 million dollars. Stephenson was primarily a backup swing tackle for the Broncos. He did start twelve games for the Broncos at right tackle in 2016. Signing Stephenson brings depth and an adequate backup swing tackle to the Browns. At the very least, Browns fans no longer have to endure watching Drango play out of position as Joe Thomas’ backup.
Second, the Browns signed Chris Hubbard. Hubbard was primarily a utility offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. He has played every position on the line except center during his career. Last season he played ten games at right tackle filling in for injured Marcus Gilbert.
The Browns signed Hubbard to a reported five-year deal worth $37.5 million. That is not considered backup money. To pay him that much means that Browns expect him to start along their offensive line.
Hubbard gives the Browns options. First, Hubbard could still start at right tackle with Shon Coleman making the transition to left tackle. This scenario makes Shon Coleman learn left tackle on the job. On the job training is usually messy. Or they could draft someone with the intention of them being the blind side guy, with Coleman reverting to a swing tackle role.
Either way these signings represent a shift away from the draft and develop model for acquiring offensive linemen. The Browns are now considering veteran options over projects for depth. Given the difficulty of drafting and developing offensive linemen, this is a smart move.