This free agent period will definitely be one to watch for, and I believe it will go a little differently than the previous two seasons. Tom Heckert’s philosophy (which I agree with) has been to typically avoid the big-name free agents and acquire young, cheaper talent with rather meager contracts. Tom must decide the teams direction through trading personnel, obtaining available players, and re-signing free agents on the 2011 roster. In order to see why the 2012 offseason may be a little different, we must look at the two earlier periods.
Recently, the Browns have made moves for players with whom personnel had prior knowledge or experience. Two seasons ago, Tom Heckert (formerly with the Philadelphia Eagles) traded for Chris Gocong and Sheldon Brown – from his previous franchise. They also traded for Seneca Wallace, whom was with Mike Holmgren for several years in Seattle. In 2011, the Browns traded a late draft pick to Saint Louis, coach Pat Shurmur’s former employer, for John Greco and attempted to nab Broderick Bunkley from the Eagles (which fell though). I can definitely envision the team doing something similar to this again in 2012, I just hope it is for only a player or two and they are worthy assets.
The teams’ options will be more plentiful in 2012 due to the fact there will be a complete off season to make transactions. In 2010, the Browns traded Brady Quinn for Peyton Hillis and a few draft selections. Before injuries and contract disputes, this was one of the better trades the franchise has made in a long time (and even after the negatives, this is a pretty good deal as Quinn has not contributed at all in Denver). Although Sheldon Brown has been less than stellar, he and Chris Gocong have been viable options the past two seasons, while Alex Hall (whom the Browns traded to get the two former Eagles) has not done much since the trade. The Kamerion Wimbley trade for a draft pick (which was used to select Colt McCoy) is still up in the air, as Wimbley has had success in Oakland and McCoy is still a question mark. Overall the 2010 moves made the team better, even if it was not by a large margin.
In 2011, the Browns traded a late round draft pick for John Greco, who played very little during the season. They also tried to get Broderick Bunkley, who failed his physical and the trade was voided. It was a quiet offseason, partially due to the lockout, and in a short time-frame Tom Heckert was not as successful in the trading period as he was in 2010. Therefore in 2012, I envision the team going back to making more quality moves that will improve the roster.
I also believe Tom Heckert will try and get a few higher-profile guys that will bolster the current roster immediately. Two main reasons why the team would sign more expensive free agents in 2012 than in the past are pressure from several outside sources (including the owner – who mentioned that he was sickened by this past season and wants to win now) and available salary cap space. Fans and local media have been pining for an improved roster through all facets of the offseason – not just in the April draft. I foresee at least one playmaker being added (I’ll save speculation for future articles) to the offense and possibly the defense as well. The eye test showed the team’s lack of ability to score an offensive touchdown on a consistent basis for one reason or another. The only way to compete in the NFL is to score and being in a league loaded with playmakers; you’re not going to consistently win scoring 14 points a game. Also, by not spending too much in past offseasons and avoiding expensive free agents, the Browns have the flexibility to use the additional money in free agency this year (should they chose to).
One of the most important aspects in free agency is to decide whether to spend money to keep current players on the roster or not. In 2010 there was some turnover of the roster from the previous regime, but it came from a different way than expected. They let Brodney Pool leave in free agency, however the Browns also signed one-year tenders for restricted free agents Jerome Harrison, Matt Roth, and Jason Trusnik. However, all of these players left after the following season (delaying the turnover by one year). In 2011, the team had re-signed more free agents than the prior year (like Seneca Wallace and Jayme Mitchell). In addition, they let Eric Wright, Abe Elam, and Lawrence Vickers leave for other teams. Based off of this, it will be somewhat difficult to predict the moves of the 2012 offseason.
After this season ended, the three main free agents the team has to think about are Peyton Hillis, D’Qwell Jackson, and Phil Dawson. As with all free agents go, each situation is different from the next. Contract negotiations begin with length and amount of the deal; these can fluctuate greatly depending on the player’s position and recent ability on the field.
With that, I believe in a slightly more active free agency period for the Cleveland Browns in 2012. I will give my opinion down the road as to what I feel the team should do, but fans should expect the front office garnering some attention (from the news). The type and quantity of players picked up and traded for will be a result of front office demands, additional money to spend, and (once again) a complete period to make the correct decisions.