The Cleveland Browns may be in the beginning stages of a massive rebuild, but they haven’t wasted any time getting to work in the 2017 offseason.
Everyone could recognize that the Cleveland Browns were a team lacking in talent during the 2016 season. The roster that was purged of high-dollar veterans the offseason before resembled something an expansion might put on the field in Year 1.
While the Browns might not have been the worst overall team to take an NFL field last season, they did finish with the league’s worst record. This is just fine, though, because Cleveland now has its pick of players from the upcoming draft, along with the 12th overall pick and two more picks in the second round.
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Even if the Browns are relatively quiet in free agency, they can conceivably add four new starters just in the draft. That’s pretty good, especially for a team that is looking to build through the draft and with young acquisitions.
Plenty of folks are going to mock the 1-15 Browns and their “moneyball” front office led by former baseball executive Paul DePodesta, at least until the team starts putting a quality product on the field. This is because many of the moves the Browns have made and are making aren’t going to make a splash. The one’s that do—like the recent four-year, $50 million extension for linebacker Jamie Collins—are going to have detractors pointing out the obvious. The Browns are going to have to overspend to get or keep top-tier players.
This appears to be part of Cleveland’s approach, though. The team isn’t going to mind overpaying for players it views as young, essential building blocks. The team also recently gave cornerback Jamar Taylor a three-year extension. If you count 2015 first-round pick Danny Shelton, the Browns now have a core player to build around at each level of the defense.
Making these types of moves are essential to what the Browns are trying to do with their roster, and the team is off to a solid start to the offseason. However, it’s the less-heralded moves that are going to really allow this building strategy to work.
Cleveland kicked off the offseason by claiming safety Tyvis Powell off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks. Powell has just eight games and three tackles under his belt as a pro, so his addition isn’t exactly going to make waves. However, there are two key components that make his addition an important one. He is young and has potential coming out of a quality Ohio State program. Powell also actually wants to be with the Browns. What’s more, Powell is an Ohio native and grew up a Cleveland fan. Now he gets to play for the franchise.
“You grow up watching your hometown team and you get to finally become part of your hometown team, it’s a blessing, ” Powell said, per Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com. “It doesn’t happen a lot and I’m going to be taking full advantage of this opportunity.”
Even if Powell is strictly a special-teamer, teams need those and he appears to be one who will play hard in the role. It’s an underrated move, sure, but it’s a smart one.
On Friday, the Browns also re-signed receiver Rannell Hall, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
#Browns have re-signed WR Rannell Hall, who missed all last season with a leg injury
This also doesn’t come across as a big move because Hall, a product of the 2015 draft, missed last year with an injury and has just one appearance as a pro. Yet, Hall is still a 6-0, 198-pound receiver with a lot of athletic potential.
“I was kind of hoping he wouldn’t look very good at the Senior Bowl so I can keep him under the radar,” one unnamed NFC scout told NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein heading into the 2015 draft.
Again, even if Hall is little more than a special-teams player, he’s young enough to stick around for the foreseeable future. So why does it matter that the Browns are moving quickly to add young developmental talents that others in the league might not care about? It’s important because this is exactly the type of player teams usually spend late-round draft picks on.
Even if Hall and Powell end up being little more than camp competition, Cleveland has essentially saved itself two late-round picks on their ilk. This means the Browns can throw that draft capital at other positions, such as a developmental pass-rusher or running back, or use it to move up and select someone in the earlier stages in the draft.
Then again, one of the two might end up becoming a starter in Cleveland for the next decade. When you add these moves alongside the long-term deal for Collins, it’s difficult to dislike Cleveland’s start to the 2017 offseason—even if few are taking notice.