With the NFL’s 2015 free agency period creeping closer to an official beginning, the Cleveland Browns were faced with a deadline in regard to what to do with a number of their restricted free agents. On Monday, the Browns finally tendered qualifying offers to these players, with two starters—Craig Robertson and Tashaun Gipson—receiving second-round tenders.
Usually, an undrafted free agent coming this far to receive a one-year offer of $2.35 million is a good thing. But in the case of Gipson, it is a major disappointment for a player who has literally come from nowhere to make a case of being one of the best at his position this past season.
Securing a Pro Bowl bid despite an injury that would cost him five games, Gipson finished the 2014 season with six interceptions, 52 combined tackles, one forced fumble and one touchdown. Since securing the starting free safety position in the 2013 season, Gipson’s “diamond in the rough” status has absolutely been confirmed—intercepting 11 passes, running back two touchdowns and combining for 147 total tackles in two seasons.
At just 24-years old, many fully expected Gipson to be rewarded for his emergence as one of the best at his position prior to the beginning of free agency. Combining his age and production, it is certainly disappointing that general manager Ray Farmer and Gipson’s camp could not come to an agreement as of year. But it is honestly not surprising to this writer.
Just one year removed from allowing the market to dictate the contractual value of center Alex Mack, it appears Farmer and the Browns front office has once again decided to do that with one of their young players. It may seem like a cutthroat business move for a player who has busted his butt to get where he is, but it is one fans should not be shocked the Browns are using.
When you look at the free safety market in free agency, it is hard to truly tell what players like Gipson will command. 27-year old free agent, Devin McCourty, just re-signed with the New England Patriots prior to hitting the open market—reportedly agreeing to a five-year, $47 million dollar deal with $28.5 million guaranteed.
After McCourty, the likes of Rahim Moore and Tyvon Branch will be next up at the top of the list—but their values are tough to really determine right now. Moore is 25-years old and has six interceptions over the course of the last two seasons, while Branch is 28-years old and has played in just five total games the last two years.
To put it simply, it is pretty difficult for the Browns to figure out what “market value” is for Gipson at this point in time.
The most recent “big-name” free safety signing to make a comparison to was last year, as Jairus Byrd signed a six-year, $54 million dollar deal with $26.3 million guaranteed (according to Spotrac.com). When you look at the McCourty and Byrd deals, you see the “average” of each deal is roughly $9 million per season (not the base amount or cap hit)—but both of those players had something on their resumes before the deal that Gipson doesn’t, time on job.
What may seem like an “excuse” of sorts in regard to Gipson, McCourty has started all 77 of the games that he has played in since being drafted by the Patriots in 2010. Meanwhile, Bryd had played in 73 games in five seasons before receiving his big contract from the Saints—which he followed up by getting injured and playing in just four games last season.
Now, I cannot attest to what Gipson’s team is asking from the Browns in terms of a dollar figure—but usually if you are being labeled among the “best at your position,” you want to get paid like them as well. But for the Browns, that would mean making a substantial financial commitment to a player who has only played in 37 games in his career—half as many as McCourty and Byrd before they got their big contracts.
Also, it would be doing this entire conversation a disservice if I did not mention the elephant in the room—Gipson is coming off a significant knee injury. According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, “Gipson, who leads the NFL with six interceptions, suffered a Grade 3 tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, which is a rupture of the ligament, a source told cleveland.com today. He also suffered some “very mild” damage to his posterior cruciate ligament.”
For a defensive back who needs to make quick cuts and changes of direction when in coverage, any type of knee injury is scary. And no matter how much the doctors say you will return at 100 percent, you never know until you see the player on the field again—see Baxter, Gary (fluke double knee injury, but you get the point).
Ultimately, I hope the entire situation works itself out and the team can come to an agreement on an extension with Gipson and his camp soon because embodies what it means to “Play Like a Brown.” But if you thought the Browns and Farmer were going to overpay or set the market without first seeing what actual market value is, you haven’t been paying attention to how Farmer has done things during his time here.