Do the Browns believe in life after Guards?
By Joel W. Cade
Do the Cleveland Browns believe in life after guards? We know Cher believes in life after love. But do the Browns love their guards enough to pay them a combined $12 million in 2024? Or are they willing to believe in life after love?
Prompting this question is the expected signing of Wes Martin in Free Agency. Martin is a four-year veteran who has played for the Washington Commanders and New York Giants. He has played little in the past four years and managed only one snap in all of 2022. Per Jacob Roach of BrownsWire, Martin isn't even a starting-caliber player in the NFL.
It seems crucial to fans to know that Martin is an Ohio native. He grew up in West Milton, about 20 minutes from where I grew up. So, if that helps you like him more, fantastic!
Adding Martin is sensible as former Browns lineman Hjalte Froholdt signed with the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. Martin will be joining a Cleveland team that has had success with low-level free agents and turning them into good football players. Martin was someone Browns' offensive line coach Bill Callahan coached in 2019 with the Commanders. Familiarity probably helped out in the potential signing.
His signing isn't all that important or surprising, but it does raise an interesting question. What are the Browns plans for guard in the future?
The guard position is crucial for the outside zone offense. Controlling the defense's 3 technique is the key to a successful running game in that scheme. It made sense to pay left guard Joel Bitonio and right guard Wyatt Teller who have controlled the 3 techniques well.
But with the addition of quarterback Deshaun Watson and senior offensive assistant Bill Musgrave, will the Browns continue to run the outside zone offense? Per analytics followers, a running play is almost equivalent to surrendering your possession. Will the Browns continue to use a run-first offense after breaking the quarterback market on Watson?
Most likely the Browns will implement an offense similar to the spread option style Musgrave likes to operate. An option-based passing offense plays directly into Watson's strength as a player. Chances are the Browns know this and are already adapting the offense.
This means players like Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller may be going the way of the dinosaur (and not the kind Myles Garret talks about). Bitonio, who is the longest-tenured Brown, is probably safe. His cap hit is $1.3 million next season.
Teller on the other hand may be in trouble. His cap hit next season is $11 million. Plus, his guaranteed money will have all been paid out. There's a potential out on his contract after the 2023 season.
I believe, functionally, there is no cap in the NFL. No Cap. But teams still have to allocate their funds wisely. Could the Browns keep Teller after 2023? Yes. Would it be smart to, probably not. Why pay a guard whose primary skill is run blocking? If Teller does leave Cleveland, there will be a plethora of outside zone teams looking to add his services.
Remember Teller's acquisition was an afterthought during then-general manager John Dorsey era. Teller improved under the coaching of Bill Callahan turning himself into a perennial Pro Bowl-level player. Maybe Wes Martin is the next Wyatt Teller?
Do the Browns believe in life after guards? Or will they continue to put premium money in a position that may lose its overall significance to the Browns offense? It seems succession plans may already be in the works. The Browns, it seem, do believe in life after guards.