The Cleveland Browns, clearly concerned about losing the unstable limelight to the Cleveland Cavs, decided that after over 2 months have gone by since their season was over it was time for CEO Joe Banner to step down taking the seldom seen GM Mike Lombardi (there have actually been more Sasquatch sightings in Ohio that Lombardi in the past year) with him. Lombardi is being replaced with assistant GM Ray Farmer. Farmer was quite the hot GM name this year and supposedly was very close to landing in Miami. Now not quite sure what led to all this but some of it had to be the pressure of Farmer leaving. So now that the front office team that robbed the Colts for a 1st round pick (apparently Farmer favored the deal as well) and grabbed the only QB that didn’t immediately cause violent vomiting that rivaled drinking a bottle of Ipecac while watching him behind center (From reports, Farmer believes he can be a championship level QB) is now gone and in their place is Ray Farmer. The good news is Ray Farmer was already a part of this organization meaning he was likely involved in some of the moves made this past year and it shouldn’t be a complete overhaul. Which ones is tough to figure out. Adding even more haze to situation is figuring out what the catalyst was for these sudden moves. Did Farmer and Banner/Lombardi disagree on some big moves leaving Jimmy Haslam to think it was time to move on to Farmer (According to reports, Farmer is an outspoken person on matters)? All we know is Farmer’s past so from that we’ll take a look on how it affects the rest of the offseason. First we’ll start out with current players who could be free agents this season.
Farmer’s history at the Kansas City Chiefs indicates he likes to keep his players, especially his talented players unless something pops up. Now I know he wasn’t the GM at the Chiefs but that is really the only role he’s had outside of scouting for the Atlanta Falcons from 2002-2006 and last year as assistant GM. One situation pops up to me that indicated that neither Alex Mack or T.J. Ward will be leaving without something in return is the Jared Allen situation in Kansas City. Allen was supposed to be a free agent but Kansas City slapped a franchise tag on him and then traded him for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick to the Minnesota Vikings. The main reason they weren’t able to get Allen to stay, per reports, is the falling out between then GM and Allen. GM Carl Peterson apparently had some not so nice things to say about Allen after Allen had a DUI that put him in a very similar position to Josh Gordon, one more mess up and it’s a season long suspension. Based on this trend plus on a 4-12 team you don’t really have the luxury to let Pro Bowlers leave, I believe Ward and Mack will return. Ward will sign a multi-year deal and Mack will initially get hit with a franchise tag but then later sign a multi-year deal.
The rest of the free agents:
RB: Willis McGahee – Can’t see him staying when there is really no reason at this point. Was picked up during the season to give some sort of knowledge and hold down the position until the offseason after the unexpected trade of Trent Richardson. Dion Lewis will be back, plus either an early round pick (like Carlos Hyde, Ka’deem Carey or Andre Williams) or a late back with a free agent RB (Ben Tate? Chris Johnson?) will likely be the changes made here.
G: Shaun Lauvao –This is a toss-up. I think he stays. Hasn’t really done much to either keep him or dump him but again he’s still only 26 and started a lot of games for the Browns. A lot of this will have to do with how the rest of the offseason goes but I believe he’s back. The main determinant will be new Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s desire to bring in a zone blocking scheme, something he’s been a part of everywhere he’s been. In zone blocking the guards are generally supposed to be quicker something that Lauvao isn’t exactly. Look for this to be the main decision on whether he comes back or not.
G/T-Oniel Cousins-Cousins is 29, has never really made too much of an impact but can add great depth since he’s able to play almost anywhere on the offensive line. I think they move on from him because of his struggles this season.
K-Billy Cundiff-They’ll replace him if they think someone better is on the market or if he’s asking too much. I think he asks a reasonable price and is back as kicker.
The rest of the positions/team
QB: I think Brian Hoyer remains and Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell are gone. Farmer had high praise for Hoyer earlier in the season so it’ll be interesting to see what they do in the draft but Weeden and Campbell will probably both be released soon. Look for Hoyer to start the season unless the rookie QB impresses early.
WR: Josh Gordon, Davone Bess and Greg Little are all very interesting here. Gordon is in a similar position as Allen from Farmer’s KC days and if Farmer learned anything from that, it’s not to give up on a player. Bess will be an interesting decision, he’s topped his horrible season with an even worse offseason, but if Farmer was the one who really wanted to make the initial Bess trade, its possible he stays. I think they get Bess as far away from Gordon as possible though. Little I think gets another chance, he’s under contract till 2015 so there’s really no reason to release or get bottom dollar in a trade. I’m interested to see what Shanahan can do with him. Travis Benjamin will also be back. He really showed his special teams power last year until an injury cut the season short. Look for Shanahan to try and find some ways to get him in the open space on offense next year as well. I see Gordon, TBD (free agent like Hakeem Nicks or early round WR) Little and Benjamin as the 4 starters next season.
TE-I see Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge and Marqueis Gray (versatility) staying. The others could be cut depending on the offseason. Cameron is a star, Barnidge showed some potential last season and Gray offers solid versatility around the offense.
O-Line. Joe Thomas, John Greco, Jason Pinkston, Alex Mack, Garrett Gilkey and Mitchell Schwartz will all be back in my opinion. Schwartz might be pushed inside to take over the opening if Lauvao isn’t retained or if we grab a RT somewhere in the offseason. Greco and Gilkey are some versatility in depth for the line. Pinkston is still under contract, young and hasn’t has that much time to really prove himself with serious injuries costing him a lot of time. The others are question marks and like most things will be dependent on what else is available. At this point the only starters I have confidence in is Thomas will be starting LT, Mack at C and Schwartz starting somewhere on the line. Everything else has the opportunity to be replaced or moved.
D-Line. Desmond Bryant, John Hughes, Billy Wynn, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Armonty Bryant should all return. I don’t think too much change will be happening here unless the team falls in love with Clowney. D. Bryant, Taylor and Rubin should return again as the starters.
LBs-Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger are the only definites. Everyone else could go. Craig Robertson is still young and played okay at times but too often he was being abused in coverage. If new defensive minded head coach Mike Pettine feels like he can turn him around and use him properly he could have a big season or he’ll let Farmer know this isn’t the type of player that will fit well and he’ll be replaced in the draft. D’Qwell Jackson should return. Pettine knows importance of MLB and Jackson is one of the most dependable in the league. He’s not flashy but he gets the job done. Especially until the other MLB spot is figured out, Jackson stays. Quentin Groves was a Ray Horton pick and Horton is gone now so Groves probably will be as well. Look for this spot to be addressed in the draft to bring in some more depth especially inside. Starters look to be Sheard Jackson and Kruger. I think Robertson will be replaced as a starter unless Pettine see something he really likes in him. I would like to see some sets with Sheard, Jackson, Mingo and Kruger on the field together though.
DBs-Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gibson and Leon McFadden are the only ones I can expect back. Gibson and Skrine might be replaced as starters (doubtful) but not removed from the team. This is another spot I expect to be addressed in either free agency or more likely in the draft.
Overall I think the biggest changes will be how we address free agents both ours and who we go after. Farmer’s team history has shown they keep a lot of their own players so I would expect a lot of the same here.