Revamped roster round-up: Happy New League Year!

The Browns expect new signee Kevin Zeitler to more than pull his weight along the fortified offensive line. (photo Sam Greene/cincinnati.com)

Dawn has now broken on the NFL’s 2017 league year, AKA the start of free agency. And we’ve sure seen suddenly just where the Browns are drawing the line.

Because that’s what it comes down to: where do you draw the line?

If Terrelle Pryor can’t meet you there, think a few steps ahead. They did.

If your in-house player evals came up short on the OL, and you ever hope for continuity at quarterback, open the purses for veteran blockers.

How much is a Day 2 draft pick next year worth at this stage? Apparently they’re OK with dead money eight figures long.

So let’s metabolize the news so far, reflected as always on the updated Browns roster page.

Up-front investment

Two new UFA arrivals, a waiver claim, and a contract extension all bolster the offensive line abundantly. A decade after Eric Steinbach came to Cleveland, another Bengal first-round guard, Kevin Zeitler, got the Browns’ biggest deal of the day, including over $31 million guaranteed. A three-year contract for Green Bay center J.C. Tretter confirms that the Browns brass was unhappy with incumbent options at that pivotal position. They underlined that point by claiming former 49er third-rounder Marcus Martin on waivers. The interior blocker has 24 NFL starts.

The Browns also used their surfeit of cap space to extend injured LG Joel Bitonio just as he entered the last year of his rookie contract. Including over $23 million in guaranteed money, the deal ensures that five projected starters are in the fold through at least the 2018 season, when Joe Thomas‘ contract ends.

Adios to Austin Pasztor, who started all 16 games at right tackle last year. The Browns showed little interest in stopping him from hitting unrestricted free agency. The interesting succession battle will be among Cameron Erving, Spencer Drango, and Shon Coleman. Veterans John Greco and Alvin Bailey remain on the roster, along with three other youngsters, to provide important depth options. Someone will step up.

The tremendous emphasis up front gives the Browns something they really haven’t had in a while: an unarguably strong positional unit to serve as a foundation for success. They will give the skill players time and space to demonstrate those skills right down the field.

QB carousel still a-spinnin’

The most curious move of the day was trading for Brock Osweiler, who quickly proved overpaid in Houston. The gist of the move is that the Browns maneuver into more draft value by taking on most or all of his $16 million guaranteed salary. They might cut him soon, in hopes that another team will bear some of the onus of paying him. They might try to trade him, whether sooner or later, to some other QB-desperate team. Least likely, it seems, is that they give him a bona fide chance to win the starting job for the Browns, and then cut him if he doesn’t stand out.

But the trade, while unusual and remarkable, is probably destined to be a footnote in Browns history, more of an accounting maneuver than anything. It’s just that we still don’t know who’s gonna be “The Guy.” Not for Game 1, or the 2017 season, or beyond. More developments to come.

In the meantime, RGIII is due $750,000 if he’s still on the roster tomorrow (March 11). The Browns have sent subtle signals that they’re most likely done with him, even if they pay the bonus as some form of insurance at the position into the pre-season. Perhaps Osweiler could serve as that insurance. It’s very hard to see both of them on the roster for very long at all.

That leaves Cody Kessler, who almost certainly tops out as a very affordable backup option, and Kevin Hogan, whose prospects seem even more limited. Obviously, the Browns need a quality quarterback. They will draft one (or even two) in hopes of finding an answer. The veteran options are largely lackluster, with the possible exception of the much-debated Jimmy Garoppolo.

My sense is that the Browns don’t want to sacrifice their 12th-overall pick for the final season of Tom Brady‘s backup’s rookie contract. Anointing him the franchise quarterback almost requires a trade-and-sign deal, and the substantial draft cost Bill Belichick likely demands weighs against taking on that much overall risk.

So even if another trade shocker comes along (Trevor Siemien?), expect Sashi and Hue to somehow settle on the best of the bunch in the draft and do whatever it takes to turn in that name on a card. The early odds:

  1. Watson 50%
  2. Trubisky 25%
  3. Kizer 13%
  4. Mahomes 7%
  5. Other or none 5%

Receivers: will it be And or Or?

Having already inked one of their top two impending UFAs in LB Jamie Collins, the Browns genuinely sought breakout WR Terrelle Pryor‘s signature on a multi-year deal that would’ve resulted in the highest single payday he’ll ever get.

Pryor’s agent is no dummy, and if his client wants to max out this opportunity, that means shopping him around to the whole league. But the market exists for both buyers and sellers, and buyers finding a price too high seek a substitute.

Hello Kenny Britt! He’s in the fold on a four-year deal worth $17 million guaranteed and $32.5 million total. A proven, productive veteran just nine months older than Pryor, Britt is a former first-rounder fresh off his first 1,000-yard season.

This was a shrewd signing that relieves the Browns of any pressure to move off their final figure to Pryor. Not that they won’t, but they’ve positioned themselves not to have to. I hope Pryor comes back, as the WR room looks pretty strong with him in it. But some other team will probably outbid us, and we’ll surely take a longer look at the wideouts in the draft, along with tight ends.

Secondary considerations

The last line of defense remains the highest priority for an influx of experienced talent. Scuttlebutt is that the Browns lost out to the Ravens on free agent safety Tony Jefferson despite offering more money. The top UFA cornerback, A.J. Bouye, signed with Jacksonville. The Bills signed former Brown Jordan Poyer as well as versatile DB Micah Hyde from Green Bay.

Granted, the draft class is supposedly strong in defensive backs, but a savvy, proven ball hawk, cover corner, or run supporter would be most welcome about now. The Rams’ T.J. McDonald could be facing a two-game suspension for a legal issue but remains the most viable safety still on the free agent board.

As a side note, I’m more and more intrigued about the notion of Joe Haden switching to free safety, as so many great corners have done in this stage of their careers. His ball skills and veteran leadership seem well-suited to that position, so we’ll see if Gregg Williams agrees.

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