Heading into the 2015 NFL offseason, two of the Cleveland Browns biggest needs were at the wide receiver and tight end positions. With Josh Gordon suspended yet again and the team expecting Jordan Cameron to bolt in free agency, simple math and statistics said general manager Ray Farmer would be targeting both positions heavily in free agency and the 2015 NFL Draft.
Simple math and statistics ended up being correct, as the Browns signed free agents Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline and Rob Housler in an attempt to bolster the positions. However, Farmer and company were not done there, adding Vince Mayle in the fourth round, Randall Telfer in the sixth round and E.J. Bibbs as an undrafted free agent in the 2015 NFL Draft to their growing stable of receivers and tight ends.
Though many were taken aback by guaranteeing Bowe $9 million over two seasons, some (this writer included) thought he could get back to the Bowe of old. After all, very few receivers have put up big numbers with Alex Smith at the helm, heck, his team (before Game 3) still has not had a wide receiver catch a touchdown pass between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. So, paying Bowe that much money just seemed like the going rate to bring a veteran wide receiver to a non-desirable location.
In fact, when you stacked up all of the additions to the roster and combined them with the receiving threats already there, it seemed as if things would at least be improved from a year ago.
Boy, were we wrong.
Bowe has been active for just one of the first three regular season games thus far in the 2015 season. This is after he missed the first three games of the preseason and was forced to play extended time in the fourth preseason game, which is something unheard of for vets. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, Bowe has taken the field for just eight snaps in the 2015 season.
At the tight end position, the man dubbed to replace Cameron has also found time on the field difficult to come by. Outperformed by Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray and the undrafted Bibbs in camp, Housler was seemingly MIA all preseason. Because of this, the team was forced to keep four tight ends on the active roster, though Bibbs has drawn the inactive spot in the group all three games. Meanwhile, Housler has played just 12 offensive snaps (according to Football Outsiders) through the first two games, and he drew just one target when he was on the field against the Oakland Raiders, which he could not haul in.
Between Bowe’s two-year deal worth $12.5 million total ($9 million guaranteed) and Housler’s one-year deal worth $1.76 million, the Browns have two “bigger” receiving threats just wasting away on their roster and sideline. And while it is not normally a good thing to just throw away over $10 million worth of guaranteed money on two players at positions of need, Farmer and the front office need to do what they did with Ben Tate last season, which is recognize a losing hand and move on from the two.
Aside from the obvious lack of production and seeing the field issues between them, Bowe and Housler are wasting roster spots that could be used on players who could actually make an impact on the team.
At the tight end position, Bibbs was making plays after the catch at an alarming rate during the preseason, leading all players (according to Pro Football Focus) in forcing missed tackles. While Barnidge did a nice job against the Raiders dismal tight end coverage this week, Bibbs would instantly provide a check-down heavy offense someone who could make plays after the catch and make people miss.
In regard to Bowe, while he isn’t taking playing time away from anyone being inactive, he is currently a waste of a roster spot that could go to potentially a front seven player who knows how to stop a running back, or a depth defensive back for a banged up secondary. Either that, or head coach Mike Pettine and the offensive staff need to force him out there and get something out of their current $9 million investment.
When the Bowe signing originally occurred and national media members laughed and said he was “collecting a check” in Cleveland, I scoffed at their assertions. Well, it looks like Bowe has proven them right and this writer the fool, so it is time to put up or shut up for a Browns organization which preaches “Play Like a Brown” and says that draft status or contract do not earn players a spot on the roster.
Just like the Cleveland Indians signaled when they traded Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn’s life-sucking, albatross contracts away a few months ago, the Cleveland Browns need to send a message to the rest of the players on their roster. That message is simple, you are here to compete and contribute to the football team, if you cannot do that, your roster spot is not safe.
Will Farmer and the front office be scrutinized for essentially handing two players $10-plus million to walk away? Absolutely. But the longer they allow players like that to not only collect a check but take up an active roster spot as well, the worse the scrutiny will be.
The time has come for the Browns organization to finally make a statement. And that statement is to cut ties with both Bowe and Housler.