Getting to Know You – Cleveland Browns Free Agent Acquisitions – 1st Three
The Browns picked up a couple of solid defensive athletes in the first twenty-four hours of free agency. Two of the pickups were expected (as mentioned in the “Options at Defense – 2013 NFL Free Agency” blog), while the other was a bit surprising. Nonetheless, the 2013 defense for the Browns appears to be better than the 2012 one – Ray Horton’s “attacking” style got a few guys that should fit in.
Paul Kruger – OLB
There have been some concerns raised about the few starts by Kruger over his four-year career (just seven). However, his tackle and sack totals have increased each season to a career-high of forty-two and nine, respectively, in 2012. Having linebacker depth in Baltimore last year, the Ravens were able to employ Kruger as a starter when Terell Suggs was injured. With Jabaal Sheard already on the roster and the other signing at outside linebacker (Groves), the Browns will not have to rely on Kruger being the face of the defense and playing every down. The outside linebacker will be called upon to blitz the quarterback, but the team has other capable players (and can add more in the draft) to complete this task as well. This regime is determined to succeed where previous Browns’ regimes have failed – i.e. signing a guy to a larger role than he can assume. Kruger might be able to make that jump in the coming years (as he appears to be hitting his prime now), but I really like the approach the front office is taking in not putting too much pressure on the newly acquired veteran.
Desmond Bryant – DT
Selecting four defensive linemen in the last two drafts, as well as switching to a 3-4 defense (which requires fewer defensive linemen), and it was a bit surprising to see the Browns select one early in free agency. However, Michael Lombardi seemed to have his eyes on the athlete immediately; many touted Desmond Bryant as one of the best available defensive linemen. The former Oakland Raider started all but one game in his four years in the league – clearly he is talented enough to be given the job and hold onto it. Additionally, the lineman has accrued nine sacks over the past few seasons – given an opportunity in a defensive line with Phil Taylor and Athyba Rubin, and I believe he can be successful in being disruptive in the opponent’s backfield. Several dominant linemen (including second-year pros Billy Winn and John Hughes) will make things difficult for offenses to game plan against the Browns. This includes decisions about who to double-team and how to utilize blocking schemes, including using help from running backs and tight ends.
Quentin Groves – OLB
Being in the league for five years, Groves has bounced around a few times – from Jacksonville to Oakland and playing for Horton in Arizona last season. The veteran has been a part-time starter over that time period (averaging just under five starts per season since 2009). I believe he will be used in certain situations, while Kruger and Sheard (and possibly a draft pick) will be lined up on the outside a majority of games. Following three years without a sack on the quarterback, Groves got to opposing quarterbacks four times last season. His tackle total of forty-six in 2012 was more than Kruger’s; perhaps the former Raven will be better used in passing situations while Groves participates in likely rushing downs. He was another solid selection who was rather inexpensive and expectations are not extremely high for the veteran. However, he will make the linebacker corps better and I am looking forward to seeing him play in Cleveland.
Conclusion: I think both Browns fans and media have reasonable expectations regarding these pick-ups. Many do not feel any of the three will be perennial Pro-Bowlers but will be solid, dependable players for several years. Also, the franchise will likely not be a multiple Super Bowl champion over the next few seasons because they made a few moves; it will come down to pairing these athletes with dominant draft picks (as well as having great quarterback play). However, after not seeing a season that has had more than five wins since 2007, the fan base of the Browns is yearning for some excitement – these moves provides optimism.