With the 2021 free agent frenzy about a month away, the Cleveland Browns are in a prime position to add some key pieces and make a Super Bowl run.
Rumors are running rampant as it was reported that recently released defensive end, J.J. Watt, is interested in signing with the Browns. Fans are salivating about the potential signing of Watt, who would then be paired up with Myles Garrett to terrorize opposing quarterbacks for at least the next season.
Last year, general manager Andrew Berry made some big splashes to bolster up the offensive line, which was a big key to the success quarterback Baker Mayfield enjoyed. This season, Berry will likely get his team better on the defensive side of the football, and signing Watt would be a huge first step in the right direction.
In years past, Cleveland wasn’t necessarily a favorite to land free agents, especially the caliber of Watt. Times are changing off the shores of Lake Erie and so is the Browns culture. The fan base is extremely passionate and excited, rightfully so, and they deserve good things to happen to them. The 2020 season was just the beginning of what could be to come.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at the Browns free-agent history by highlighting some of the key signings since the return of the franchise in 1999. Of course, not every free agent signing has been nor will be a success, but here are the five best signings over the last 22 years.
5. Brian Hoyer – Quarterback
Up until the 2018 NFL draft, the Browns had quite the quarterback carousel. One of the names added to that extensive list was Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer came to the Browns in 2013 after spending three seasons in New England as well as brief stints in Pittsburgh and Arizona. The hometown kid got a chance to start for the team he rooted for, and he made the most of it.
In his first season with Cleveland, Hoyer started in place of injured Brandon Weeden, remember him? He led the Browns to victories in his first two starts before tearing his ACL in the third, thus ending his season.
A year later it seemed as if Hoyer would get another shot at being the starter for the season, that is until the Browns traded up to draft Johnny Manziel. What a dumpster fire that was.
In that 2014 season, Hoyer led the Browns to a 4-2 start through the first seven weeks. Manziel took over for a brief period due to a Hoyer injury, but Hoyer returned. The Browns finished 7-9 that season and Hoyer became a free agent, one the Browns did not re-sign. Hoyer is currently a journeyman having stints with numerous teams in the past seven years.
While he, like many others did not pan out for the Browns, he deserves a lot more credit than he received.
4. J.C Tretter – Center
If you have a quarterback you think is your franchise guy, you do everything you can to protect him. The left tackle is arguably the most important lineman for a quarterback in order to protect his blindside. Next on the importance list is the center, who is responsible for getting the ball into the quarterback’s hands cleanly and is also responsible for noticing blitzing schemes.
After spending his first three seasons with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, J.C. Tretter signed with the Browns in 2017 on a 3-year, $16.75 million deal with the Browns. This was a year prior to the Browns drafting Mayfield with the first overall pick, after the infamous 0-16 season.
Since joining the team, he has started all 48 games and has been a huge boost to the offensive line. He and Mayfield have developed good chemistry together and that relationship will only continue to blossom.
In 2019, Cleveland rewarded Tretter’s good play with a $32.5 million extension over three years. He remains relatively cheap for an important piece of the Browns puzzle.
A year later in 2020, Tretter was voted as the president of the NFL’s Players Association. That speaks to the kind of guy Tretter is off the field.