If you took the word of the masses on social media, the end of the Cleveland Browns organization is happening due to a lack of movement in free agency. However, if you look at their recent pursuit of veterans Dwayne Bowe and Tramon Williams—quite the opposite is occurring.
Dwayne Bowe’s meeting with #Browns coaches and front office went very well, source said. Interest from player and team is clearly there.
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) March 15, 2015
Under Mike Pettine’s philosophy of “win-now” from his first season, year one under Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer boasted the organization’s highest win total since 2007. Finishing with a 7-9 record after a 7-4 start is certainly not viewed as a step in the right direction in the eyes of many fans, but after six consecutive seasons of four or five wins, it should be.
When you truly think about how the Browns went about winning seven football games last year, it is quite remarkable given their lack of playmakers on offense, mediocrity at the quarterback position, inability to stop opposing run games and below average play from rookie Justin Gilbert and ex-starting cornerback, Buster Skrine.
So why is it that when the front office is attempting to address two major areas of need, it is suddenly the end of the world?
For starters, the Browns signed veteran wide receiver Brian Hartline to a two-year deal to help add a proven commodity to their receiving corps. Despite this being an excellent value addition ($6 million over two seasons), many viewed it as a non-factor, even though Hartline is just one season removed from back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
With Hartline, 2014 leading receiver Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel as the team’s top three receivers currently, Farmer and company are now attempting to add Bowe to the mix. At 30-years old, many point to Bowe’s inability to find the endzone last season as a reason why the team shouldn’t sign him—but that is a narrow-minded view on the potential impact Bowe could have on this roster.
In eight years with Kansas City, Bowe caught 532 passes for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns—including a 15 touchdown campaign in 2010. He never caught fewer than three touchdowns in a season prior to 2014, and had been a virtual lock for at least five a season over the course of his career.
As with Hartline, you can easily point to a decline in targets for the reason his numbers declined the last two seasons—both with Alex Smith (a quarterback not known for pushing the ball vertically)—at the helm. Bowe went from seasons of 133 and 142 targets in 2010 and 2011 (1,162 yards and 1,159 yards) down to 114 in 2012, 103 in 2013 and 95 in 2014. When you take away nearly 50 opportunities (difference between 2011 and 2014) to catch the ball, you are obviously going to see a decline in overall production.
When you look at Bowe, his 2014 yards per reception of 12.6 is a positive sign that he can maintain very good production when targeted heavily in the Browns offense—if signed—in 2015.
Putting on my projection hat for a second, for his career, Bowe has maintained a 56 percent catch rate (532 catches on 947 targets). If you project him for 120 targets (not out of the question), his career average says he should catch 67 passes—which should yield 897 yards per his career yards per catch average of 13.4. With 44 touchdowns in 532 career receptions generating a ratio of one touchdown roughly every 12 catches, that would put Bowe on pace for 5.58 touchdowns (so five or six) next season.
With no No. 1 receivers currently available on the free agent market, the Browns could do a lot worse than adding 67 catches, 897 yards and five touchdowns to the mix in Bowe. Add in his experience and big frame (6’2” and 220 pounds), this signing should be a no-brainer for the Browns—not one we are questioning in social media.
Next up on what should be called the “duh” list at this point is Williams.
Now 32-years old, Williams was reportedly visiting the Browns on Sunday. Playing his entire career with the Green Bay Packers, Williams started 99-of-127 games in eight seasons—intercepting 28 passes in the process. With 114 passes defensed on his resume, Williams has proven time and time again to be an excellent cover corner throughout his career—not to mention one of the most dependable players in the game, missing just one game (in 2011) during his career.
After losing Skrine in free agency and the disappointing first year of Gilbert, the Browns need to add a proven commodity to their secondary. Adding Williams to start across from Haden would allow Gilbert and the rest of the youth at corner to develop without being rushed into action. On top of that, trotting out Haden, Williams, Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner as your starting secondary would give the Browns a secondary to be feared, if not one of the best groups in the league.
So let’s think about this rationally for a second. The Browns would be upgrading their receiving corps with a proven starter in Bowe, and would be significantly upgrading their secondary with one of the most dependable corners on the market. What is the problem here?
Sure, you may be disappointed the organization didn’t pony up big money for one of the top-tier players on the market. But that does not mean the Browns 2015 season is set for doom and gloom all of a sudden.
No, Pettine and Farmer are just continuing on with their “win-now” mentality in free agency. Sure, the quarterback position is in a state of flux (when hasn’t it been), but the team would be making a major step in the right direction with both of these signings if they happen. Add in the opportunity to hit a home run with six picks in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, and this team could be building something special—no matter how much you disagree.