The Cleveland Browns have faced a fair amount of criticism for their 2016 NFL offseason thus far, as letting multiple Pro Bowlers walk in free agency tends to do that. But to say the Browns do not have a tried and true plan would be ill-advised. In the last few days, the vision of the Browns’ front office has come into view.
While neither are household names, both players are under 26-years old and have been largely untested in the National Football League. Many fans will recognize the name Tuggle, as Justin’s father Jesse “The Tarantula” earned five Pro Bowl berths as an undrafted free agent of the Atlanta Falcons over a decade ago.
Tuggle transitioned from quarterback at Kansas State to inside linebacker, essentially playing quarterback on the defensive side of the ball. Extremely intelligent, Tuggle faced little struggle changing over to linebacker, and he has evolved ever since, earning a role in the often-dominant Houston Texans’ defense. At 6’3″ and 244 pounds, he has prototypical size for an NFL linebacker, and his versatility will allow him to come in and compete for playing time in Ray Horton’s defense right away.
The other addition the Browns signed helps to cushion the blow of losing right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz. Adding Bailey to their stable of recently-signed young linemen, the signing gives the Browns a young tackle with starting experience on a Super Bowl-caliber offensive line in Seattle. He will compete with former Michigan State OL Dan France, Iowa OL Conor Boffeli and Arizona State OL Garth Gerhart, the brother of RB Toby Gerhart, for playing time in what appears to be a major Browns offensive line makeover.
While neither man can make up for the losses of Alex Mack, Schwartz, Tashaun Gipson and Travis Benjamin, who the Browns allowed to leave in free agency, they are pieces of a larger picture. This week, the Browns were awarded compensatory draft picks in the fourth and fifth round for the losses last offseason of CB Buster Skrine, DE Jabaal Sheard and QB Brian Hoyer in what will become part of a trend.
Allowing Mack, Gipson, Schwartz and Benjamin to leave should put the Browns in contention to be awarded potentially higher round compensatory picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, which could be key assets in rebuilding this franchise as the front office sees fit, especially given the fact these picks will be eligible to be traded next year. The strategy being employed here sheds expensive, older talent in the short run, but gives the possibility of acquiring inexpensive, young talent in the long-term plan. This is something perennial Super Bowl-contending teams like New England and Baltimore have made a living off of doing.
With head coach Hue Jackson in place for what should be multiple years, acquiring draft picks and young talent is key to building a legitimate contender. It would be very surprising to not see more young signings in the coming week, to help fill holes and rebuild the Browns foundation before the 2016 NFL Draft, where the team now owns picks at No. 2, No. 32, one 3rd round selection, two 4th round picks, three 5th round picks, a 6th and a 7th.
Previous regimes have done a lot of damage to this Browns roster, culminating in a dismal 3-13 performance last season, and it will not be fixed overnight. Missing on multiple first round picks in recent years sets a franchise back, but only through smart drafting in the future can you begin to climb back to the top. The writing is on the wall that this front office is not done acquiring draft capital, and you can expect to see trade downs for additional talent acquisition, in the vein of Ozzie Newsome and Bill Belichick.
This front office will be quiet for years to come in free agency, they will take as many swings as they can in the NFL Draft, and at the end of the day, fans around the country will have to just cross their fingers that Jimmy Haslam has finally gotten it right. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen quickly, but when it does, this city will finally have the smart, tough and exciting AFC North team they want and deserve.