It's Also Addition By Subtraction With Banner, Lombardi
By Steven King
The seemingly biggest question about the Cleveland Browns’ performance in free agency thus far is really not such.
Sure, it’s important to try to figure out: how has Cleveland done with their signings?
Let’s see, The Browns have done some good things – or at least in most cases they appeared to do so.
*Got rid of QBs Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, both of whom were unproductive and will not be missed at all. No question, it is addition by subtraction.
*Signed ILB Karlos Dansby to replace D’Qwell Jackson.
Dansby will be 33 just before the 2014 regular season is over, but is coming off a great year with the Arizona Cardinals and is reputed to be a real team leader. Jackson was a longtime, extremely popular veteran who was one of the leaders not just of the defense, but of the club overall. Jackson was a tackling machine, but few of those were behind the line of scrimmage and of the dramatic variety.
An even trade? Maybe, and maybe not.
*Signed RB Ben Tate from the Houston Texans to replace … well, no one. They had a nameless faceless many playing the position last year. It was the worst running back situation in team history. After doing well in limited opportunities in his short career, Tate is ready to become a feature back. We’ll see if that’s the case, because the running back-desperate Browns will give him plenty of chances to prove it. They have no choice but to do so.
*Signed S Donte Whitner to replace T.J. Ward.
Whitner, from Cleveland Glenville High School and Ohio State, is thrilled to be coming back home. He’s a heavy hitter who is also good in coverage. Ward’s a heavier hitter but can’t cover.
So, then, it’s a wash? No, because in a day and age when a plethora of passing mandates that everyone in the secondary be able to cover, Whitner gets the edge.
*Signed restricted free agent WR Andrew Hawkins from the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals, who declined to match Cleveland’s offer. Hawkins is small, quick and fast – just like Travis Benjamin – giving the Browns two such players. Is that one too many to play the slot, even when it’s taken into consideration that Benjamin is also an electrifying returner? We’ll see.
Yes, we’ll have to wait and see with all of these new players. Only time will tell.
But here’s the bigger – and much more interesting, thought-provoking and pulsating-in-Cleveland -- question: how would Cleveland have done if Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi had still been with the club as CEO and general manager, respectively?
Certainly, Banner and Lombardi were able to lure a few notable free agents in 2013 in their only offseason together on the job. But that can’t be used as a measuring stick, for it all happened well before they unceremoniously fired coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season, which, combined with their questionable public personas, caused their approval ratings to drop quicker and more dramatically than the thermometer on the shores of Lake Erie in the dead of winter. And that’s saying a lot.
Had Banner and Lombardi remained here while under that perception, with Cleveland being viewed as “a toxic place” by some observers in the league because of the negativity those two men created, it’s not unreasonable to believe that signing free agents would have been extremely difficult, if not almost impossible. And if that had happened, then where would the Browns have been?
Most likely empty-handed or, at best, with bottom-of-the-barrel signees.
So with the fact the jury is still out on the work done by GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine, the Browns are further ahead, aren’t they?
After all, something – anything – at least mildly hopeful and promising is better than nothing at all, or at least a bunch of dead-end kids.