Roster turnover already tops Banner era

Donte Whitner's services and $6.2 million salary are no longer part of the Browns' 2016 plans.

The release of starting strong safety Donte Whitner tells us that even in the month following free agency, the process of pruning the Browns roster of highly-paid players that don’t fit well into the long-term plans continues apace.

Whitner wishes that the move, if it was inevitable, would have been made earlier, so he’d be more likely to maximize his chances in the free agent marketplace.

The timing may indeed have cost the 30-year-old Cleveland native a million or two, but the Browns have paid him $15.5 million in the last two years, so my sympathies ally more with the new front office on that count.

But speaking of counts, let’s take stock of the incredible extent of the roster revamp. No fewer than ten players are gone who started at least six games for the Browns last year. Add up their combined games started in 2015, and it amounts to 37% of all the starts made on offense and defense during the Browns’ regular season:

130 games started by departing players / (22 positions x 16 games) = 0.369

Is that a lot? You betcha. And it’s probably not over yet. The odds that the remaining players pushing or past age 30 — particularly Josh McCown, Desmond Bryant, Paul Kruger and Tramon Williams — all make the opening day roster this year seems scant.

There’s no ready reference to compare how this rate of turnover compares to other teams over the years, so I did the same calculation for one recent Browns revamp that also seemed designed to shed high-paid veterans and plant the seed for success over the long term. That was the ill-fated Joe Banner-led overhaul of 2013.

Six off-season departures had started at least six games in 2012: DL Frostee Rucker, TE Ben Watson, CB Sheldon Brown, LB Kaluka Maiava, LB James-Michael Johnson, and S Usama Young. The total player-starts lost with them and others was 112 (32% of the total).

By this metric, that’s significantly less turnover than we’ve already witnessed this year. It’s also a bit misleading because it undervalues special-teamers, and the Browns got rid of KR/PR Josh Cribbs, K Phil Dawson, and P Reggie Hodges then compared to just Johnson Bademosi (gunner and backup DB) this year. It also doesn’t include the in-season trade of Trent Richardson, who started 15 games in 2012.

But there’s no doubting that this year’s losses are particularly acute. Two starting offensive linemen. Both starting safeties. The leading tackler on defense and the leading wideout on offense.

Perhaps we should take heart and buck up for the long haul. It’s only April 3, and we have ten draft picks to make by month’s end. A few strategic free agent signings wouldn’t be surprising either. The Browns’ roster today has only 66 players (including the still-banished Josh Gordon), and there’s room for 90 until the active roster cutdowns nearly five months from now.

So we’re speaking from ebb tide on the calendar. But still, the best posture for Browns fans may be to take note of all the youngsters. Watch how they develop into contributors and coalesce into a team. Witness the methods of the Moneyball crew and the experienced coaching staff as they sort the wheat from the chaff and instill a culture that can compete and improve and eventually, just maybe, inspire a new generation of fan fondness to follow the folly and failure of so many of their predecessors.