Offseason In Review: Cleveland Browns

Notable signings:

Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams had interest from all around the league as the incumbent Packers expressed interest in retaining him, the Saints met with him, and the Eagles, Titans, Vikings, and Ravens also showed varying levels of interest. However, it was the Browns who came away with his signature. Williams started all 16 games for the Packers last season, notching three interceptions, and grading as the league’s 34th-best CB among 108 qualifiers per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He’ll be tasked with replacing Buster Skrine, who we’ll talk about in a bit.

Speaking of replacements for notable players, let’s talk a bit about Dwayne Bowe. Bowe, 30, was part of the underachieving and record-setting group of Chiefs wide receivers that managed to go the entire 2014 season without catching a single touchdown pass. It was the third straight mediocre season for Bowe, who has averaged approximately 59 receptions and 743 yards per year since 2012, on the heels of back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011. Were Bowe’s woes his own fault, or was he just not getting the right looks in KC’s offense? We’ll find out in 2015.

All year long, Browns fans wondered whether it would be Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel under center for Cleveland in 2015. Now we know it definitely won’t be Hoyer (now in Houston) and Manziel probably won’t be the starter given all of his issues. Instead, that mantle will likely belong to offseason acquisition Josh McCown. The Browns will be McCown’s ninth franchise since he entered the league in 2002 and third in the last three seasons. The 6-foot-4, 213-pounder spent the 2014 campaign in Tampa Bay and performed poorly in 11 games for a Buccaneers team that finished with the NFL’s worst record. He threw for 11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and completed only 56.3% of his passes – good for a dismal 70.5 rating. The Bucs subsequently cut McCown in February.

Randy Starks was displaced from Miami when the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh but he quickly found a new home in Cleveland. Starks, 31, went to two Pro Bowls with the Dolphins and was an interior anchor on the defensive line since joining the team in 2009, missing just one game in his six seasons in Miami. In Cleveland, Starks will help solidify a Browns defensive line that underwhelmed in 2014. In addition to signing Starks, the team also hopes to get a healthy John Hughes back in the lineup for a full season, which should help offset the loss of defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.

Brian Hartline had a down season in 2014, catching only 39 passes and two touchdowns. However, he’s been a solid possession receiver in the past, topping 1,000 yards in both ’12 and ’13. The Chiefs, Patriots, Texans, and Bears were among the other teams who had expressed interest in adding the veteran pass-catcher, but the Browns came out on top. Hartline was cut loose by Miami back in February.

Browns safety Tashaun Gipson was the last restricted free agent on the market, but he officially got under contract in June when he signed his RFA tender. Gipson will play the 2015 season on his RFA tender before becoming eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2016. While the 24-year-old has reportedly discussed a long-term contract with the Browns, he likely won’t hesitate to test the open market if given the opportunity, since he’d certainly draw interest from teams in need of talent in the secondary. Potential suitors this year were almost certainly scared off by the second-round pick they would have had to surrender had they been able to sign Gipson away from the Browns. Over the last two years, Gipson has started 26 games for the Browns, racking up 146 tackles during that stretch and showing a knack for coming up with big plays — he has grabbed 11 interceptions during the last two seasons, returning two of them for touchdowns.

Jordan Cameron took his talents to South Beach and Rob Housler has been brought in to try and replace some of his production. Housler, 27, had a disappointing 2014 season, as he notched just nine receptions for 129 yards. However, he posted respectable numbers in 2012 and 2013, averaging 42 catches for 436 yards during those two seasons.

Notable losses:

Skrine played second fiddle to Joe Haden in Cleveland and he’ll now be the No. 3 cornerback with the Jets behind Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. In 2014, Skrine showed that he is durable by playing 1,152 snaps and he held opposing QBs to a respectable 56.9% completion percentage. It’ll be interesting to see how the Browns’ secondary looks with Tramon Williams in Skrine’s place.

Originally, Jordan Cameron was said to have reached an agreement on a new contract with Cleveland worth $15MM for two years. However, in one of the offseason’s biggest swerves, Miami made a second push to sign Cameron once they heard about the agreement and ultimately landed him. Cameron struggled with injuries in 2014, managing to play in 10 games but only catching 24 passes. However, he had a breakout season in 2013, when he caught 80 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns.

Despite his winning record, Brian Hoyer didn’t receive much interest from the Browns this offseason, as the team opted instead to bring in former Buccaneers starter Josh McCown. The 29-year-old saw his first extended run as a starter in 2014, and though his overall numbers – including a 55.3% completion percentage, 12 touchdowns to 13 interceptions, and a 76.5 passer rating – weren’t overly impressive, he led the Browns to a 7-6 record in his starts before giving way to Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw near the end of the season. Now, rather than returning to Cleveland to compete again with Manziel, Hoyer has reunited with Bill O’Brien, who coached him during his years with the Patriots.

Jabaal Sheard spent all four years of his career in Cleveland but he’ll now continue with the Patriots. Sheard, who turns 26 in May, appeared in all 16 games for the Browns last season and made five starts. In that time, the edge defender racked up 44 straight tackles, three pass deflections, and 2 sacks. Sheard, for his part, is happy to be with a winner.

“Coming from a not-so-good program to a great program that has been winning and doing well, I’ve just been excited,” Sheard told Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. “I want to win in the league, and I want to be part of a great organization. That was a big part of me signing.”

Extensions and restructures:

Hughes, a 2012 draftee, became extension-eligible this winter for the first time, and the Browns didn’t waste much time in locking him up. The former third-round pick has started just seven games in his first three seasons in Cleveland, but appeared poised for a bigger role in 2014 before he landed on the injured reserve list for a good chunk of the season due to an MCL injury. Although he only logged 212 defensive snaps for the Browns in 2014, Hughes was productive in his limited action, per Pro Football Focus’ metrics, which gave him a +5.2 grade (subscription required). The 26-year-old was similarly productive in 2013, ranking among PFF’s top 10 3-4 defensive ends despite playing only 402 defensive snaps.


  • Acquired a 2015 second-round pick (No. 51; DE/OLB Nate Orchard), a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 116), and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 195; FB/TE Malcolm Johnson) from the Texans in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick (No. 43; ILB Benardrick McKinney) and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 229).
  • Acquired a 2015 third-round pick (No. 96; DT Xavier Cooper) and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 219; ILB Hayes Pullard) from the Patriots in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 111; G Tre Jackson), a fifth-round pick (No. 147), and a sixth-round pick (No. 202; TE A.J. Derby).
  • Acquired a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 123; WR Vince Mayle), a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 198; TE Randall Telfer), and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 241; CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu) from the Cardinals in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 116; DL Rodney Gunter).
  • Acquired P Andy Lee from the 49ers in exchange for a 2017 seventh-round pick.

Draft picks:

  • 1-12: Danny Shelton, DT (Washington): Signed
  • 1-19: Cameron Erving, OL (Florida State): Signed
  • 2-51: Nate Orchard, DE/OLB (Utah): Signed
  • 3-77: Duke Johnson, RB (Miami): Signed
  • 3-96: Xavier Cooper, DT (Washington State): Signed
  • 4-115: Ibraheim Campbell, S (Northwestern): Signed
  • 4-123: Vince Mayle, WR (Washington State): Signed
  • 6-189: Charles Gaines, CB (Louisville): Signed
  • 6-195: Malcolm Johnson, FB/TE (Mississippi State): Signed
  • 6-198: Randall Telfer, TE (USC): Signed
  • 7-219: Hayes Pullard, ILB (USC): Signed
  • 7-241: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB (Oregon): Signed

The Browns beefed up its run defense big time with the signing of Starks and also with the selection of Danny Shelton at No. 12. The Washington star led the nation in fumble recoveries with five and had 16 tackles for loss in 2014 while finishing second on the team with 93 tackles. Strong and athletic, the 6’2″ athlete should go a long way towards helping the Browns improve on their No. 32 run defense.

With their second first-round choice, the Browns tapped Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Erving. Erving arrived at LSU years ago as a defensive tackle and didn’t do much but he saw great results when he eventually switched to the other side of the ball. The youngster will be used to help shore up the right side of Cleveland’s line but can also be used as leverage against center Alex Mack, whose contract is up after this year.


Since parting ways with previous offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Browns conducted an extensive search that saw the team linked to current and former coaches like Marc Trestman, Jim Hostler, Brian Angelichio, Anthony Lynn, Frank Cignetti, Tom Clements, and Mike Martz, among others. In the end, their search led them to John DeFilippo. While DeFilippo was never identified as the frontrunner, he also interviewed for the job a year ago when the team chose Shanahan, and had an “outstanding” interview at that point, per head coach Mike Pettine.

Top 10 cap hits for 2015:

  1. Joe Haden, CB: $11,700,000
  2. Joe Thomas, LT: $10,200,000
  3. Paul Kruger, OLB: $8,200,000
  4. Alex Mack, C: $8,000,000
  5. Desmond Bryant, DL: $7,000,000
  6. Donte Whitner, S: $6,750,000
  7. Tramon Williams, CB: $6,500,000
  8. Karlos Dansby, LB: $5,500,000
  9. Phil Taylor, DT: $5,477,000
  10. Andrew Hawkins, WR: $5,000,000

The Browns made some very necessary upgrades in the offseason, including improving upon their atrocious defensive line. But, as usual, there are major question marks at the quarterback position and Josh Gordon‘s absence certainly doesn’t help matters. Cleveland might improve upon its 7-9 mark from last season, but it’d be somewhat surprising to see them win the AFC North.

Contract information from Over the Cap and Spotrac was used in the creation of this post.

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