Browns continue free agency remodeling

March 13, 2013

BEREA, Ohio -- The main entrance at the Browns facility can't be used because of remodeling on the building.

It's been a  regular occurrence in Berea since 1999 -- new regime comes in, the building gets remodeled.

Sort of like the team, which is again going through remodeling directed by a new regime.

The latest Browns incarnation came out of the gate quickly in free agency, and that had CEO Joe Banner near exultation on Wednesday.

Things had gone according to plan, he said.

Things had gone better than he expected, he added.

Which is what he should be expected to say, except in this case it seems that things did go according to plan. The Browns were able to add three players to the defense, and got their top target -- Paul Kruger of the Baltimore Ravens, who will line up at outside linebacker along with Jabaal Sheard.

The Browns shelled out $40 million in a five-year contract for Kruger, though Kruger admitted at his first appearance in Cleveland that returning to Baltimore was not really an option. The Ravens simply did not have the salary cap room to keep him.

"I was pretty aware that I was going to be somewhere else," Kruger said.

Baltimore opted to pay quarterback Joe Flacco, something every third-party observer said the team had to do. The price was losing guys like Kruger, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (free agent who joined Miami), wide receiver Anquan Boldin (traded to San Francisco) and safety Marcus Pollard (released). The reward is a franchise quarterback.

Kruger went from making $615,000 last season to new riches in Cleveland this season.
Now the outcry that Flacco took too much money -- even though a week ago the Ravens were credited for keeping the guy at the team's most important position.

Is there resentment toward Flacco?

"Depends who you talk to," said Kruger, before adding Flacco is a "class act" and deserves everything he got.

Kruger was a free agent beneficiary of NFL economics. That the Browns also benefitted is Baltimore's loss. Though there are concerns about the signing -- Kruger's not a great player but a good player, some say -- it still make sense for the Browns. And Kruger seems like a guy who could get better.

Coach Rob Chudzinski said Kruger will play standing up and with his hand down, and he can play both sides. Kruger said his goal is to prove he can play every down as opposed to just against the pass, and the way he spoke he sounded pretty determined to make it happen.

Adding Desmond Bryant to the defensive line gives the Browns numbers on the defensive front, and Banner said a trade is not on the burner.

"There's no reason to think we have an abundance at this point," Banner added. "That's a crucial area as we look at the team."

The Browns also added depth at linebacker in Quentin Groves, and a tight end in Gary Barnidge of Carolina. Groves had seven starts last season, Barnidge five.

The next step could go any number of ways, but if the Browns are going to be as aggressive a blitzing team as they say they need two cover corners. Teams that blitz may cut down the time a quarterback has to throw, but they also leave corners in man coverage.

Joe Haden is solid on one side, but on the other side Buster Skrine or the Browns need to get better.

Another pass rusher in the front seven could come via the draft, and the team still wants more competition at quarterback. A safety would help, as well as a guard.

The Browns were more active in the first day of free agency than they probably were in the last two free agencies combined.

The usual exultation followed -- and was reminiscent of the day when the Browns introduced LeCharles Bentley and Kevin Shaffer.

That team renovation cost many millions.

Just like the latest.

At some point, one of these building jobs should stick.