Rumors have already started flying about the Browns and their passel of salary-cap cash as NFL free agency approaches on Tuesday.
Fan wish lists are all over the board, with folks ready for the Browns to spend every penny.
The rumors are wide-ranging as well.
However … CEO Joe Banner did give a pretty good inkling how he would build a team — and by extension act in free agency — when he spoke to the media at the Scouting Combine.
There, Banner said a phrase he promised he’d use often: “We don’t want to solve the same problem twice.”
“If we use up the resources (cap room and draft picks) to solve something it should be solved,” he said.
That means solved for the long-term, not for a year or two as a stopgap. Banner said over and over he wants to build a team that is sustainable, and that shortcuts are not an option. It’s a familiar theme in Browns-land, but hope springs eternal with every new management group. Especially when it comes to free agency.
“We’ll go into the season right now, and I’ll tell you right now there will be positions at which we’ll be weak,” he said. “We could have probably gotten some stopgap solution for a year that may have used a draft pick up or some money, and we would have been little better for this year. I don’t know if it translates into the won-lost record but at least it’s a better team on the field.
“Or we can say, ‘Let’s wait until we can find the right person to play that position who will still be there two or three years from now when we’ll be really good.’”
Banner even admitted that the Browns may be weak at a position or two as it builds, but he added: “We’ll know that.” It doesn’t mean abandoning a position; it simply means not forcing a guy who’s not going to be around in two years.
Assuming he’s telling the truth — and you’d like to think the guy would be honest in his new job, and he did promise he wouldn’t play games — that leaves some serious markers.
James Harrison, the soon to be 35-year-old linebacker cut by the Steelers?
Cliff Avril, a 26-year-old pass-rusher?
Not a stopgap.
Banner’s emphasis seems very similar to the Carmen Policy Browns, who tried to focus on guys just reaching free agency for the first time, meaning they had four years in the league and were young enough to make an impact with their new team.
Their results, as everyone knows, were lacking, but that was the thinking.
And it sounds very similar to Banner’s.
“Do you pick up guy who will help for a year and an asset is gone and cap room is gone and you’re back trying to fill that position again?” he said. “Or do you take a chance on a young guy and if he doesn’t work out then next year you go and fill it?”
Clearly he’ll pass on the elder citizens. He even said he wants a younger team because a younger team is usually a healthier team.
“I got criticized for it in Philadelphia,” he said. “But I actually think it contributed to our success.”
It doesn’t mean the Browns would not add an older player here or there but it does mean the emphasis is on youth. And in free agency youth means 26 or 27.
“You’d like to get to the point where we have a lot of players on both units that are going to be on the team for two or three years together, and then you kind of keep supplementing them as opposed to starting from scratch,” Banner said.
Based on these criteria it’s not tough to come up with a list of possibles, especially because it’s no secret the Browns need a pass rusher, linebacker, cornerback and tight end.
Avril fits. He has 39 1/2 sacks the last five years in Detroit, and he’s 26.
Paul Kruger fits. He has 14 1/2 sacks the last two years in Baltimore, and he’s 26.
Dannell Ellerbe fits. He’s an active and energetic four-three linebacker the Ravens do not want to lose, and he’s 27.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis fits. He’s 26. So does cornerback Antoine Cason. He’s 27.
Tight end Jared Cook might fit, if the Browns want to spend a lot of money on a tight end. He’s 25.
Mike Wallace might fit age-wise, but his attitude and financial demands might not fit. But guys like Harrison and Arizona safety Adrian Wilson don’t fit, simply because of their age.
The Browns have dipped into the free-agent waters heavily in the past, and it usually led to frustration and disappointment. They won’t be able to sign every player they might target, and they might sign a guy who will be paid because of good fortune.
But if Banner is not playing games the focus should be clear.
“There is a conscious sense of how we’re trying to do this so we don’t just get good or we’re not just a flash,” he said, “but we get good in a sustainable way.”