Friday, March 02, 2007

Gentlemen, Open Your Checkbooks!

The NFL's free agent signing period began at midnight last night. The Browns didn't make a big splash out of the gate, but they did re-sign center Hank Fraley, which was a pretty smart move. It's not that Fraley's an All-Pro, but he's serviceable and replacing him through free agency would likely be outrageously expensive. The market for centers is going to be off the charts this year in terms of cost, as reflected by the Cowboys' decision to sign Andre Gurode to a six-year, $30 million deal last month in order to keep him off the market.

It looks like isn't just centers who are going to make out like bandits this year. The Browns have $30 million in cap room, but with the increase in the salary cap under the new collective bargaining agreement, a lot of other teams are pretty flush as well. That means that a lot of money is going to be chasing what looks to be a fairly mediocre crop of free agents. Given that the Browns don't have the best track record when it comes to free agent signings, the thought of them throwing money around like Pacman Jones in a strip joint is a little unsettling.

A lot of fans are hoping to see the Browns make a big splash in the free agent market, and the team's apparently targeted two of this year's bigger fish, Bengals guard Eric Steinbach and Bills cornerback Nate Clements. (Steinbach has apparently decided to make Cleveland his first stop today, so at least the Browns are on his radar screen.) If they sign either of those guys, that's swell, but don't expect to see me jumping for joy. If we learned nothing else from last year's experience with the free agent market, it should be that not every big name, big money free agent has an on-field impact commensurate with his sticker price.

At this time in 2006, we were celebrating the signings of LeCharles Bentley, Bob Hallen, Kevin Shaffer, Ted Washington, Joe Jurevicius, and Dave Zastudil. Zastudil was great, and Jurevicius was solid if underused. I think it's fair to say that Shaffer was a disappointment and Mt. Washington was a waste of a roster spot. We all know about Bentley, and as for Hallen, I believe he was recently spotted playing golf with Keith Foulke.

I expect that the Browns are going to have a harder sell with players than they did last year. First, they aren't close to being a contender, which is going to disqualify them as far as certain players are concerned right off the bat. That's a familiar problem, but adding to it this season is the perception that Romeo Crennel is a lame duck. I think we saw that concern reflected in the less than stellar names added to the Browns' coaching staff earlier this off-season, and I expect we'll see it reflected in a less enthusiastic response among free agents then we saw last year.

That may not bode well for efforts to sign a hot commodity like Nate Clements. Sure, there's the fact that he's a home town guy, but that only goes so far. I mean, you don't see folks who grew up in Chernobyl scurrying to return there, do you? Still, maybe that's not such a bad thing. The team's proven that it can't rely on free agency to build a contender, and it wouldn't break my heart if some of the big fish got away. It would be fine with me if the Browns were just able to add some depth at key positions through the free agent market, and then look to build the team through the draft and through what everyone is saying is going to be the most robust trading market that's been seen in years. Under the circumstances, saving some cap room for players that might be on the trading block may not be such a bad idea.

1 comment:

Chocolate Starfish said...

The Chernobol analogy is a bit harsh, and I am disappointed that I can't click on "Pacman Jones" and watch $81k rain down on some hot strippers ... speaking of which, I'll be curious to see if the Browns try to throw money at Joey Porter ... maybe that would satisfy any desire to add a big name (ie, Quinn) and allow the Browns to focus on the offensive line.