2015 NFL Offseason: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns (Last Year: 7-9)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Josh McCown, WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Brian Hartline, TE Rob Housler, DT Randy Starks, CB Tramon Williams, P Andy Lee.
Draft Picks:
NT Danny Shelton, C Cameron Erving, DE/OLB Nate Orchard, RB Duke Johnson, DE/DT Xavier Cooper, S Ibraheim Campbell, WR Vince Mayle. Browns Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Brian Hoyer, WR Miles Austin, TE Jordan Cameron, NT Ahtyba Rubin, DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard, CB Buster Skrine, P Spencer Lanning.

2015 Cleveland Browns Offense:
The Browns are a mess. And that’s putting it nicely. They don’t seem to have any sort of plan for how they’re going to score this season. Their apparent strategy to sign Josh McCown and pray that Johnny Manziel suddenly finds his way because he went to rehab and moved to the suburbs clearly illustrates why this franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since reentering the league back in 1999.

McCown could perhaps still be a functional signal-caller with a quarterback guru like Marc Trestman assissting him, but he’ll be playing for a coaching staff that allowed Brian Hoyer to regress into oblivion and Manziel to put together one of the worst quarterbacking performances in NFL history. Manziel’s tape against the Bengals was so bad that it was used as comic relief around the league – it was a joke, much like his supposed stint in rehab. Anyone who isn’t naive is well aware that it was a PR stunt set up by either Manziel’s agent or the Browns themselves.

Making matters worse, the “winner” of the Manziel-McCown training camp “battle” won’t have anyone to throw to. Jordan Cameron wisely bolted out of town, leaving behind nothing at tight end, unless the disappointing Rob Housler counts (he doesn’t). The “top” two receivers on the roster are Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, which is just pathetic. Bowe quit playing football long ago and will continue to steal money from a new front office. Hartline, meanwhile, wouldn’t even be on a 53-man roster on some teams; let alone be starting. Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins is the lone functional player, and he could do some damage if Cleveland actually had a quarterback who could get the ball to him consistently.

The running game at least isn’t a wasteland, though Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and Duke Johnson won’t have any sort of running room with opposing defenses not respecting the pass at all. It’s unclear who will lead the team in carries; Mike Pettine’s game plan in terms of utilizing his backs is unpredictable and erratic. Crowell is the most gifted of the three runners, but he could easily have the fewest touches in 2015.

Meanwhile, Cleveland has two studs on the offensive line: left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. Thomas, who allowed two sacks in 2014, continues to prove that blind-side protectors are worthless if they don’t have anyone to block for; he has been one of the elite left tackles over the years, and yet he hasn’t made a difference in terms of the Browns’ playoff chances. Mack was having a great season as well until he broke his leg in October. That was the beginning of the end for Hoyer, who started to struggle once Mack went down. Mack will be back for 2015, but he’s expected to opt out of his contract after the year is over.

The Browns are strong surrounding Mack. Both guards, Joel Bitonio and John Greco, were terrific this past season. Bitonio was especially brilliant; despite being a second-round rookie, he was one of the top guards in the NFL. The fifth position up front currently belongs to Mitchell Schwartz, who is the clear weak link on the unit. First-round rookie Cameron Erving could start there, though he’ll ultimately take over for Mack beginning in 2016.

2015 Cleveland Browns Defense:
The Browns have a few very talented players on this side of the ball, but they were plagued with such major issues in their front seven that they were almost forced into using multiple resources in an attempt to fix it. As a consequence, they spent two of their three initial draft choices on upgrading a group that was responsible for a pedestrian pass rush and one of the worst run defenses in the NFL last season.

The first selection, No. 12 overall, was used on monstrous nose tackle Danny Shelton. The Washington product has some conditioning issues – he wore down during Senior Bowl practices – but he should be an immediate upgrade for the Browns at the position, as the departed Ahtyba Rubin was woeful there.

Shelton will be joined by another new player to the team, Randy Starks, formerly of Miami. Starks had a terrific 2013 campaign, but didn’t play as well last season, perhaps because of a back injury. Starks, who is still capable of being a disruptive pass-rusher, turns 32 in December. He and Shelton will play along with Desmond Bryant, who doesn’t defend the run well, but can get after the quarterback pretty effectively.

The other early draft choice ended up being pass-rusher Nate Orchard. The Utah product isn’t expected to start, but he’ll be an alternative at outside linebacker to Barkevious Mingo on obvious passing downs. Mingo, a former first-rounder, does everything well, save for getting to the quarterback. The Browns needed to acquire someone who could do this effectively, so perhaps Orchard can be the solution. Mingo and Orchard will be in a rotation along with Paul Kruger, who was Cleveland’s best pass-rusher by a mile; he recorded 11 sacks in 2014.

Rounding out the linebacking corps are Karlos Dansby and Christian Kirksey. Dansby is coming off a terrific season for the most part, but there are some concerns with him, given that he’s a soon-to-be 34-year-old who dealt with some knee injuries at the end of the year. Kirksey, a 2014 third-rounder, struggled at times throughout his rookie campaign, but perhaps he’ll improve now that he has some experience under his belt.

The Browns are at their best in the secondary, as they have two mega talents there in Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson. Haden isn’t coming off his best season, but he’s still a legitimate No. 1 corner. Gipson, meanwhile, proved to be extremely difficult to throw against when he was on the field; he missed the final five weeks of the year with a sprained MCL. Gipson has not reported to OTAs because the Browns are being cheap and not giving him a contract he deserves. Instead, they are trying to pay him $2.356 million on a restricted free agent tender, which is just absurd for a player of Gipson’s caliber.

Cleveland has a couple of other solid players in its defensive backfield. The other safety, Donte Whitner, continued to be strong in run support, all while not being a liability in coverage. At 30 years old, Whitner should have a couple of strong seasons left in the tank. Tramon Williams, signed over from the Packers to start across from Haden, has played on a high level throughout his career. He continued to thrive in 2014, but he’s 32 as of March, so he could slow down soon. Nickel corner K’Waun Williams impressed as well last year. The same can’t be said for the “other” 2014 first-rounder, Justin Gilbert, who dealt with some off-the-field issues as a rookie.

2015 Cleveland Browns Schedule and Intangibles:
The Dawg Pound is just not an intimidating place to play. Since their expansion year in 1999, the Browns are a dreadful 48-80 as hosts (21-35 the past seven seasons).

Long-time kicker Phil Dawson isn’t on the team anymore. The Browns currently don’t have a proven player at the position, as the fans will be looking forward to a fierce training camp battle between Travis Coons and Carey Spear.

Andy Lee, acquired from San Francisco for a 2017 seventh-round choice, was fourth in net yardage in 2013, but he saw that ranking drop to 15th this past season.

The Browns weren’t awful on special teams last year, but the opposition outgained them by slim margins on both punt and kickoff returns.

Here are some of the winnable games Cleveland has on its schedule: Jets (road), Titans (home), Raiders (home) and 49ers (home).

2015 Cleveland Browns Rookies:
Go here for the Browns Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2015 Cleveland Browns Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Cleveland Browns Analysis: The Browns, as usual, have no hope. Their offense is an absolute disaster, their run defense is still questionable, and they have absolutely no leadership in the locker room. Their defense will keep them in some games, but the team could easily finish with the worst record in the NFL this upcoming season.

Projection: 2-14 (4th in AFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: C- Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: It’ll be an absolute disaster if the Browns go into the 2015 season with Josh McCown and Johnny Rehab as their two quarterbacks. They need to make a move up for Marcus Mariota. They also have to find weapons and blocking for Mariota, as well as some help on the offensive line.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: NFL Network listed the Browns as one of the options for the winner of the 2015 NFL Draft, and I can’t understand why. The Browns screwed up on so many levels, beginning with their reluctance to trade up for Marcus Mariota. This was their one chance to finally obtain a franchise quarterback, yet they were too stingy to pull the trigger. They’ll regret that decision.

I have no problem with the Danny Shelton pick, but the Cameron Erving selection is baffling. The only reason Erving emerged as a first-round prospect was because of how well he played at center compared to the other positions. Yet, barring an injury to Alex Mack, Erving won’t be able to play center in Cleveland. So, with that in mind, why did the Browns pick him in the first round? Did Ray Farmer not watch the appropriate film on him?

I liked some of Cleveland’s other selections like Xavier Cooper and Ibraheim Campbell, but they once again failed to find a play-maker. The one receiver they drafted was Vince Mayle. They took him in the fourth round, when he probably belonged in the fifth or sixth. Ifo Ekrpe-Olomu was an awesome final choice, but given the state of his problematic torn ACL, he may not be able to salvage what appears to be an underwhelming class.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

12. Danny Shelton, NT, Washington: B Grade
I always thought that Danny Shelton was a bit overhyped. He’s a force in the middle, but it really worried me that he was gassed during the Senior Bowl. He’ll be just a two-down defender, but to be fair, the Browns desperately needed to improve their run defense. They have to go up against Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Hill and Justin Forsett twice per year, and they had a huge hole at nose tackle. I never bought him as a top-10 prospect, but he makes sense at No. 12.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

19. Cameron Erving, C/G/OT, Florida State: C- Grade
Uhh… did the Browns forget that they have Alex Mack? Was this a byproduct of Ray Farmer’s suspension, or was Farmer too busy texting to remember that Mack was still on the roster? Cameron Erving projected as a solid center, but he won’t be able to play that position in Cleveland. So, where does he fit in? Right guard? Right tackle? Erving can start there, but those aren’t ideal spots for him. Perhaps Farmer should’ve actually drafted a real right tackle.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

51. Nate Orchard, DE/OLB, Utah: C+ Grade
This is a round too early for Nate Orchard, as there were were better pass-rushers available. I get the selection – Barkevious Mingo does a lot well, but doesn’t do a good job of rushing the passer – so Orchard makes sense, given that he nearly had 20 sacks for the Utes last season. The Browns could’ve gone a different direction in terms of taking an edge rusher, but they at least moved down prior to making the pick.

77. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami: B Grade
This is a solid pick, but I’d like it a lot more if the Browns actually, you know, needed a running back. They already have two decent ones, but Duke Johnson should be able to fight for some touches, especially with Mike Pettine’s chaotic and confusing game-planning. Johnson fits the range, and I like him as a prospect, but there’s a chance he’ll only be the third running back.

96. Xavier Cooper, DE/DT, Washington State: A- Grade
The Browns had major issues stopping the run late in the year, so they had to make multiple upgrades on the defensive line. They selected Danny Shelton in the first round, and now Xavier Cooper was added to complement him. Cooper is an athletic lineman who could have been chosen a bit earlier than this. It’s a solid choice for the Browns.

115. Ibraheim Campbell, S, Northwestern: B+ Grade
I had Ibraheim Campbell going at the end of the third round in my mock as an underrated safety prospect, so the Browns are getting some value again. Cleveland pretty much had nothing behind Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner, so this is a quality pick for depth. Campbell could eventually start down the road.

123. Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State: C Grade
Finally, a receiver! Unfortunately, Vince Mayle is a slow athlete, much like Cleveland’s current wideouts. Mayle is a bit of a reach here, as he was seen as a fifth- or sixth-round prospect. At least he fills a need.

189. Charles Gaines, CB, Louisville: A Grade
The Browns needed to add some cornerback depth, and they found a good prospect for the position in Round 6. Charles Gaines, who could have easily gone in the third frame, is a skilled player with nice measurables. If the players in front of him continue to disappoint, he could emerge as a starter at some point in his career.

195. Malcolm Johnson, TE, Mississippi State: C Grade
I didn’t think Malcolm Johnson was going to be drafted, given that he’s just a 230-pound tight end. However, he’ll have a chance to fight for playing time once Rob Housler gets injured.

198. Randall Telfer, TE, USC: B- Grade
Another player who would have gone earlier had it not been for an injury, Randall Telfer wasn’t able to work out prior to the draft because of a Lisfranc issue. He also has work-ethic issues. However, he has good ability and could emerge as a contributor if he gets his act together.

219. Hayes Pullard, ILB, USC: B Grade
I was yelled at by some readers to have Hayes Pullard earlier than the seventh round, but I thought this was the right spot for him. He makes sense as yet another Pac-12 prospect for the Browns, given that they needed help at inside linebacker.

241. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon: A+ Grade
Another A+ in the seventh round! If only we could have back-to-back Millens… At any rate, the Browns are making a great selection here with a player who was once considered a first-round prospect. Charlie Campbell reported a couple of weeks ago that Ekpre-Olomu was off many teams’ draft boards because his AC was worse than reported, but I think he’s a great gamble in the seventh round. What do the Browns have to lose? If they blow this pick, so what?

Season Summary:
The Browns were 7-4 at one stage of the season, and they were in control of their own destiny in terms of winning the division in late November. Unfortunately, things fell apart for them, as they lost their final five games of the year. A 7-9 campaign in Cleveland is usually cause for celebration, but the team is so incredibly dysfunctional that it seems miles away from any sort of playoff contention.

Offseason Moves:
  • Browns sign TE Rob Housler
  • Eagles sign WR Miles Austin
  • Seahawks sign NT Ahtyba Rubin
  • Browns sign WR Dwayne Bowe
  • Browns sign CB Tramon Williams
  • Browns sign DT Randy Starks
  • Browns sign QB Thad Lewis
  • Dolphins sign TE Jordan Cameron
  • Patriots sign DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard
  • Browns re-sign WR Marlon Moore
  • Jets sign CB Buster Skrine
  • Browns sign WR Brian Hartline
  • Texans sign QB Brian Hoyer
  • Browns sign QB Josh McCown

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Johnny Manziel doesn’t want to put the work into being an NFL quarterback, as he’s more interested in rolling $20s in bathrooms like some idiot. Manziel put on one of the worst quarterbacking displays the league has ever seen, and it’s now evident that Cleveland has to find a franchise signal-caller. Unfortunately, the Browns will have to wait until the second day to address the position, unless they want to reach for Brett Hundley. Signed Josh McCown and Thad Lewis

    2. Two Wide Receivers: Josh Gordon may not be back next year because of his personal issues. Even if he is, the Browns will need to add a second receiver, as they didn’t have any downfield play-makers outside of Gordon for a handful of games. Signed Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline

    3. Defensive End: The Browns were miserable against the run for numerous reasons, but the primary one was the poor play of the defensive line. Phil Taylor has been a massive bust. Signed Randy Starks

    4. Nose Tackle: Ahtyba Rubin, a free agent in March, was a sieve in run defense this past season. The other Cleveland nose tackles sucked as well.

    5. Rush Linebacker: Paul Kruger was Cleveland’s only reliable pass-rusher last year. Barkevious Mingo played well in other facets, but he didn’t have success getting after the quarterback at all. Jabaal Sheard, meanwhile, is an impending free agent.

    6. Inside Linebacker: The Browns need someone better next to Karlos Dansby for the short term and a replacement for him in a couple of years.

    7. Right Tackle: The Browns wanted to upgrade Mitchell Schwartz last year, with plans to move him inside. They may spent one of their two first-round picks on a tackle.

    8. Tight End: Jordan Cameron disappointed last season. I imagine the Browns would like to have him back in 2015, but they’d have to re-sign him first. Signed Rob Housler

    9. Kicker: Cleveland was so desperate for a kicker that it tried out Garrett Hartley late in the year.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Tramon Williams, CB, Packers. Age: 32.
      Signed with Browns (3 years, $21 million)

      Tramon Williams played on a high level throughout his career. He continued to thrive in 2014, but he’s 32 as of March, so he could slow down soon.

    2. Randy Starks, DT, Dolphins. Age: 31.
      Signed with Browns (2 years)

      Randy Starks had a terrific 2013 campaign, but didn’t play as well last season, perhaps because of a back injury he dealt with in the middle of the season. Starks, who is still capable of being a disruptive pass-rusher, turns 32 in December.

    3. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs. Age: 30.
      Signed with Browns

      Dwayne Bowe has been overrated for quite some time. He has never been reliable on the field, making too many mistakes. Now, he appears to have lost some of his talent. It’s not entirely his fault, but he hasn’t eclipsed 801 receiving yards since 2011. He’ll turn 31 in September, so the odds of him bouncing back are low.

    4. Brian Hartline, WR, Dolphins. Age: 28.
      Signed with Browns (2 years, $6 million)

      Brian Hartline has shown that he can post No. 2-receiver numbers if given the chance, but he’s a very sub-par second option. On the bright side, he’ll be just 28 well into the 2015 season.

    5. Josh McCown, QB, Buccaneers. Age: 36.
      Signed with Browns (3 years)

      Josh McCown has proven that he can be a reliable backup quarterback, and he can even start for a stretch if he has quality offensive coaching aiding him. He can’t do it all himself though, as we saw last year when he struggled with the Buccaneers. Still though, McCown is a solid reserve who should find work.

    6. Rob Housler, TE, Cardinals. Age: 27. — Signed with Browns (1 year, $1.76 million)
    7. Thad Lewis, QB, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with Browns

    Cleveland Browns Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Tashaun Gipson (RFA), S, Browns. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Browns

      Tashaun Gipson, just 25 in August, is one of the top, young safeties in the NFL. His absence at the end of the season made a huge impact; the Browns were 7-4 with him, but 0-5 without him when he sprained his MCL.

    2. Jordan Cameron, TE, Browns. Age: 27.
      Signed with Dolphins

      Jordan Cameron caught 80 passes in 2013, but was an obvious candidate for regression when Rob Chudzinski left. Still, Cameron is a very athletic tight end who is capable of posting big numbers. The main issue is his health; he has an extensive concussion history.

    3. Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB, Browns. Age: 26.
      Signed with Patriots (2 years, $11 million)

      An adequate pass-rusher who is very forceful in run support, Jabaal Sheard played well last year until a foot injury, which was believed to be season-ending, hindered him in late November and December. Sheard should be better next year once his foot is repaired. He’ll be just 26 in May.

    4. Ahtyba Rubin, NT, Browns. Age: 29.
      Signed with Seahawks (1 year)

      Ahtyba Rubin was a big reason (literally) why the Browns struggled against the run in 2014. He had a shockingly dreadful season despite always being a great run-stuffer. Perhaps an ankle injury that he sustained in early October was the culprit.

    5. Craig Robertson (RFA), ILB, Browns. Age: 29.
      Tendered by Browns

      Craig Robertson really struggled in 2013, but rebounded well this past season, holding up well against the run and the pass. He’s an adequate starting inside linebacker with no glaring weaknesses in his game.

    6. Brian Hoyer, QB, Browns. Age: 29.
      Signed with Texans

      Brian Hoyer began the year well, but things quickly fell apart for him when Alex Mack was lost for the season. Hoyer proved that he can be a very strong backup in this league, but he needs everything to be right for things to go well for him.

    7. Buster Skrine, CB, Browns. Age: 26. — Signed with Jets (4 years, $25 million)
    8. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (RFA), NT, Browns. Age: 27. — Tendered by Browns
    9. Sione Fua, DT, Browns. Age: 27.
    10. Miles Austin, WR, Browns. Age: 31. — Signed with Eagles (1 year)
    11. Johnson Bademosi (RFA), S, Browns. Age: 25. — Tendered by Browns
    12. Shaun Draughn, RB, Browns. Age: 27.
    13. Zac Diles, ILB, Browns. Age: 30.
    14. Marlon Moore, WR, Browns. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Browns


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