Friday, November 27, 2015

Grading Ray Farmer's Free Agent Moves

      A big aspect of the General Manager's jobs is the signing of free agents.  How has Ray Farmer done with the Browns.   It's not an easy question to answer, especially in view of the salary cap.  You can't just sign All Pros at each position, and you are obliged to play several guys with low salaries.

    Moreover, if a player wants to leave, this may not be preventable.  The GM can try structure the right deal, but the player might reject it anyway.  That goes with the territory when a team has established a record of losing like the Browns have.     

    Nevertheless, let's take a look at what the Browns have done the past two years.  For a team that supposedly has no talent, some impressive players have gone on to have good careers elsewhere.  I've listed the average salary as a rough indicator of what they are worth, but of course in the NFL things are never simple. 

      S    T. J. Ward, Pro Bowler for the Broncos        $5.6 M
      LB  D Qwell Jackson, Pro Bowler for the Colts   $5.5 M
     DE  Jabal Sheard, starter for New England         $5.5 M
     CB  Buster Skrine, starter for the  New York Jets $6.2 M
     DT  Ahtyba Rubin, starter for the  Seahawks       $2.6 M
     QB  Brian Hoyer, starter for the Texans               $5.2 M
     WR  Willie Snead starter for the Saints                $0.5 M 
     RB Dion Lewis, starter for the Patriots (IR)           $1.3 M
     WR  Charles Johnson, 2014 starter for  Vikings   $0.5 M
     QB  Brandon Weeden, backup for the Texans     $0.6 M

A few players were signed and then cut or released:
     WR  Miles Austin, Eagles
     RB   Ben Tate
     TE   Rob Housler
      It can also be mentioned that Farmer has been able to use the free agent system to his advantage.  For example, he created a front loaded deal for Andrew Hawkins that the Bengals couldn't match, and also created a "transition tag" for Alex Mack that allowed the Browns to keep him after all the sportswriters were sure that he would not stay.   In general, Farmer does not use back loaded contracts that will mortgage the teams future.  I give him high marks for that.   

    OK, so let's take a look at the major players we signed and who are still on the roster:
    LB   Karlos Dansby   starter                                 $6.0 M
    S     Donte Whitner starter                                   $7.0 M
    QB  Josh McCown, starter (I think)                      $4.7 M
    DE  Desmond Bryant, starter                               $6.8 M
    DE  Randy Starks, starter                                    $3.3 M
    CB  Tramon Williams, starter                               $7.0 M
    WR Andrew Hawkins  starter                               $3.4 M
    WR Dwayne Bowe backup                                  $6.3 M
    WR Brian Hartline, backup                                  $3.0 M
    TE  Jim Dray, backup                                          $1.9 M
    QB  Austin Davis, backup                                    $1.8 M

      Here again, these guys are good players and appear to be hard workers and good teammates.  Of these seven free agent starters, four of them have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl, but not last year's.  So one crude metric is that ex-Browns Jackson and Ward are getting less than their replacements (Dansby and Whitner) who needless to say did not make the 2015 Pro Bowl.  

   The Browns are definitely paying higher 2015 salaries, although as noted previously the contracts are not back loaded.  We'll be able to keep these players a while.  

    A few players don't look great right now, notably Bowe, but overall I would say that the Browns have had reasonable success with free agents.  Overall, it seems to me that the lack of team success is not explainable by performance in signing the right free agents.   It has to be that there are flaws in the coaching of these players.   

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