Jan 30, 2014; New York, NY, USA; San Francisco safety Donte Whitner attends the Madden Bowl XX Red Carpet event at the USS Intrepid Mandatory. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns Cited As One Non-Playoff Team Most Improved


While the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have had some big name pickups the Cleveland Browns were just given credit for their off-season moves. SI noted 5 teams that “acquitted themselves the most” among the 20 non-playoff teams. Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Jacksonville and the New York Giants were noted as well in the column but it is good for Browns’ fans to finally see some positives attributed to the team. Lets take a look at some of the things said about the Orange and Brown squad:

5. Cleveland – First off, an admission: I had the Browns on this same list last season, so clearly I can’t be trusted to accurately read Cleveland’s state of competitiveness. What’s that saying: Fool me multiple times, shame on me?

The honesty is nice from Don Banks, the author. That he had the Browns on this list two years in a row could be a great sign to the long term success of the team after adding significant talent over two off-seasons. The Browns still have money to spend in free agency and 10 picks in the NFL Draft in May. The name of the game is talent acquisition, instead of drafting or signing for needs they have done that as well as add talent across the board.

When it comes to new Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine, I’m buying into what he’s selling, and that’s where the Browns offseason upgrade obviously starts for me. Pettine is a no-nonsense, straight-talker who knows his stuff and doesn’t seemed to be overwhelmed or awed by the size of the make-over project he has been handed. Ditto in the kudos department for Cleveland replacing the suspect Joe Banner-Mike Lombardi front office tandem with new general manager Ray Farmer, despite the typical ham-handedness of how the Browns executed both their coaching and front office moves. If they got it right this time, all will be forgiven in the long run.

One of the off-season moves that isn’t talked about in relation to the talent of the team but adding the football lifer of Pettine and a player in Farmer makes the Browns’ brain trust a huge upgrade. It may take some time but these two have a history in football and should put together a team that the city can be proud of.

But from what we have to go on now in terms of personnel moves, Cleveland acquitted itself well in free agency. Running back Ben Tate, late of Houston, is a legitimate No. 1 rusher if he can stay healthy, and he’d give the Browns an element of reliable ground threat they were solely lacking last season with Richardson, Willis McGahee and others. Stealing away slot receiver Andrew Hawkins from rival Cincinnati in restricted free agency gets another thumbs up, helping move Cleveland past its troubling Davone Bess mistake of a year ago. Hawkins joining Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron gives the Browns three quality receiving targets, and that’s going to make somebody a better quarterback.

The offense obviously needed upgraded and the team did a good job of making that happen by adding Tate and Watkins. Having 3 quality receiving targets means the team doesn’t have to force a draft of a receiver.

On defense, I’m not sure ex-49er strong safety Donte Whitner is an upgrade over the departed T.J. Ward (who signed with Denver), but acquiring the veteran leadership and play-making of linebacker Karlos Dansby looks like a shrewd move. He should serve to offset the locker-room loss of veteran inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Granted, Cleveland needs to get the Dansby of Arizona vintage (twice), and not the well-paid but underachieving Miami-era version.

Even though the Browns defense was very good last year they upgraded with the addition of Whitner and Dansby. Whitner has more range then Ward which is important for Pettine’s defense. Dansby’s time in Miami is concerning but hopefully he has learned from that experience and can bring a better play then Jackson who struggled greatly last year.

Does getting credit from a national analyst give you more hope for the Browns? Does the lack of huge big name signings make you less excited? Of the non-playoff teams who do you think had a better off-season?

Tags: Cleveland Browns

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