AFC North: Cleveland Browns

Alex Mack's contract is a big win for the Cleveland Browns (insert "thank Jacksonville" crack here).

That's the word from an NFL Insider familiar with the workings of NFL contracts, a wise individual with no agenda who noticed Wednesday's post on Mack's contract that detailed the Browns can get out of the deal after three years, which the insider said is one year too late.

“The Browns can let him go after two years if they want,” said wise individual said. “There's nothing stopping them.”

[+] EnlargeAlex Mack
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsCenter Alex Mack will make $18 million guaranteed in the first two years of his new deal.
Why would the Browns do that? They wouldn't if Mack is healthy and playing well and they can afford him. But if he's slipped at all and the team's cap situation is tighter, Mack would be 30 and he'd have given the Browns seven good years.

At that point, the wise and unbiased individual said, it may be a good time to force a pay cut or cut ties.

Mack played his first five years on a rookie deal that paid him a reported $14.6 million, or an average of $2.92 million. The first two years of this new deal will pay him $10 million and $8 million guaranteed, which the wise individual said is way too high for a center.

But it means Mack will make $4.6 million per year for seven years, which the wise individual described as good for a center from a team standpoint.

Especially a Pro Bowl center.

Mack does have an injury protection guarantee for the third year, meaning if he's hurt in the second year and can't pass a physical for 2016 he is paid the $8 million.

But Mack has been healthy, so when the third year of the deal rolls around it may well come down to another negotiation. Mack may wish to stay in Cleveland, the Browns may wish to give him a pay cut. Mack may balk, or he may feel so good about the team at that point he may go along. The flip side is true as well; Mack may be playing so well the Browns may accept another year at $8 million. And Mack himself can void the final three years if he chooses to do so.

Bottom line: There will be another negotiation after the 2015 season.

The decision becomes the team's completely in the final two years, with roster bonuses of $2 million prior to 2017 and '18.

The Browns assured themselves of keeping Mack until he's 30, and Mack will become a wealthy young man.

But, as this insider said, it's a clear win for the Browns.
The three top quarterbacks are all on the board for the Cleveland Browns when they make their first first-round selection in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s Jr. Mock Draft 4.0 Insider.

It’s no surprise Kiper has the Browns taking one at that spot. Everyone and their cousin seems to believe the Browns absolutely have to have a quarterback with the No. 4 pick.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

It has been widely and accurately reported that Alex Mack can void the final three years of his contract and become a free agent after two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

Mack
But the Browns also can escape either of the final two years of his deal. So both sides have some leverage.

A close look shows that the Jacksonville Jaguars really gave the Browns little to consider about matching the offer. It pays Mack well for two years, but it has no signing bonus, and though Mack can leave after two years -- he'll be 30 at that point -- the team can also let him go after three and thus not pay the final two.

Mack did receive fully guaranteed salaries of $10 million and $8 million in 2014 and 2015, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System.

He then can choose to stay or become a free agent again. What does he want to see these next two years that would keep him a Brown? Wins, he said.

If he stays, the third-year salary of $8 million is also fully guaranteed, which means he’d receive $26 million guaranteed.

After that, though, it’s up to the team.

Mack is due a $2 million roster bonus in the offseason before 2016, and another $2 million before 2017.

If the Browns pay either roster bonus, they keep Mack and also pay him a $6 million salary, a relative pittance if they feel Mack’s play warrants the roster bonus. That makes his salary-cap cost in both seasons $8 million.

But if they choose not to pay the bonus, the final two years or year would be wiped out and Mack would then become a free agent.

So Mack’s deal could be five years, it could be three or four at the team’s discretion, or it could be two years at his.

Total value of the deal if he stays all five years with the Browns: $42 million.
Cleveland Browns fans complained the past few years as the team sat idly by while free agency raged. The Browns fiddled while free agents burned holes in owners’ pockets.

Or something like that.

Since the 2014 version of free agency began, the Browns have spent $55.8 million in guaranteed money.

That’s the highest total in the AFC North, and following the matching of Jacksonville’s offer to Alex Mack, ranks third in the league in guaranteed money spent since March 11.

Which means the Browns rank third to the Bucs and Broncos in guaranteed money, with most of it going to Mack ($18 million reported, though the number has not been confirmed), linebacker Karlos Dansby ($12 million) and safety Donte Whitner ($13 million). The Browns started free agency with a glut of cap space, and they’ve not been shy about using it.

And they’ve spend more than $50 million in guaranteed contracts without even addressing the quarterback position.

Second in the division in spending are the Baltimore Ravens at $36.3 million, though their total does not include re-signing Dennis Pitta just before free agency began. That signing brings the Ravens' guaranteed money total to $52.3 million -- still short of the Browns.

Most of Baltimore’s money went to Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe ($19 million).

Take away those two re-signings and Baltimore’s guaranteed total of $18 million is more like a team that feels good about itself.

Same for the Bengals, a team that has made the playoffs three years in a row and feels it’s close to something good. Cincinnati has spent just $7.3 million in guaranteed money, the fourth lowest total in the league.

Pittsburgh? The Steelers never go overboard in free-agent spending and this year is no different. Their total of $8.7 million is just ahead of Cincinnati.
Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, and Johnny Manziel USA Today Sports, Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are options the Cleveland Browns will consider with their top pick in May's NFL draft.
And then there was one.

The Cleveland Browns' busy offseason leaves them having addressed the possible loss of Alex Mack (he stayed) and the departures of T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson (Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby). They added a running back (Ben Tate) and they added depth at several spots, including the offensive line (Paul McQuistan), receiver (Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson), tight end (Jim Dray) and cornerback (Isaiah Trufant).

On Monday, they even added the long-lost fullback, a guy the team did not give Rob Chudzinski a year ago. Chris Pressley is coming off a missed season due to ACL surgery so he is not a lock to make the team, but if he can give anything at all it’s more than the Browns had a year ago.

All this does is set the Browns up to draft the way they want to draft, not the way they have to.

"[GM] Ray [Farmer] talked about that process of just stabilizing, leveling the ship," coach Mike Pettine told the gathered media at the NFL owners meetings.

Which basically leaves one spot to address: quarterback.

Yes, Virginia, there will be a new quarterback in Cleveland before training camp.

Probably two.

The team must add a veteran before the “voluntary” minicamp the end of the month. They can’t go into camp with only two guys, especially because Brian Hoyer will probably be limited as he comes off knee surgery. Given that the market of veterans left are the Rex Grossmans of the world, the Browns also will add a quarterback in the draft.

When is the million-dollar question.

If it’s fourth overall, the choices remain the same three: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. If it’s later, there is a bundle from which to pick.

"That's the position that needs to be addressed," Pettine said. "But we're not locked into, 'We're drafting a starter.'"

Which is good to hear.

Because if the Browns draft a guy to start and they force him in too quickly they'll be following the wash-rinse-repeat cycle that has contributed to so many problems since 1999. The challenge comes in managing the situation.

Because if the team selects a quarterback with the fourth pick, Hoyer will find out quickly what it’s really like to play for his hometown team. Assuming he starts, the first time he has a two-interception, one-touchdown game in a 23-14 loss, the clamor will start from fans and media about the guy drafted fourth.

If it’s Manziel, that clamor will be loud and ornery.

If it’s Bortles, folks might be a little more patient because the word on him is he will need a year or two.

If it’s Bridgewater, it’s anyone’s guess.

Then if the young guy plays the negativity will continue if he struggles.

This negativity has affected Browns quarterbacks since '99 – all the way back to Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. It’s unrealistic to think it didn’t, because quarterback is a confidence position. He who hesitates is lost. It may sound like an easy excuse, except it affects a player’s psyche.

The spiral is almost natural. Young guy has to learn, to grow, but because he’s learning he makes mistakes, which leads to criticism, which he says he doesn’t hear but he does. Which leads to self-doubt, which leads to tentative play, which leads to more mistakes and more questions and clamor – and soon enough, the environment to succeed is damaged, which only exacerbates the issue.

There is the Bruce Arians argument, which says a team needs to pass-protect and run the ball to help a young quarterback, but if the guy can play he can play. But Bill Walsh, the great quarterback guru and leader of the San Francisco 49ers, once talked about protecting a young quarterback from a damaging environment. He talked almost emotionally, as if the damage to the player was almost permanent.

The word he used: traumatic.

The Browns have to be aware of this, and if they’re not they need only look at their history since their return. The good thing is whoever plays will have a much fuller deck than many of his predecessors. That’s the result of the offseason work.

But the Browns have saved the most important position for last.

How they handle it not only in the next two months but also through the entire 2014 season could have as much impact on the team as the selection itself.
Center Alex Mack channeled The Turtles on Monday.

He and the Cleveland Browns are simply "happy together" now that the Browns matched Jacksonville Jaguars' five-year offer sheet to the Browns center.

"Imagine you and me ... "

Mack termed all the reports that he preferred to be in Jacksonville mere positioning.

"Business is business," he said. "All I can say is I'm happy to be here. I'm excited to play football. I'm ready to go to work."

Mack said all the usual things about the free agent experience. It was interesting. The uncertainty was wearing. He's happy how it worked out. And yes, he's happy to be the highest paid center in the league.

"I work hard," Mack said. "I'm going to continue to do that."

Mack is right about that. He is a hard worker, and a valuable member of the Browns offensive line.

And, thanks to the work of Marvin Demoff, he has a five-year contract that he can void after two years to again pursue free agency.

"It gives me a lot of power as a player, which is exciting," Mack said. "That's something that may happen or it may not happen."

Mack said when he received the transition tag -- which allowed the Browns to match any offer he received -- he was sent scurrying to Wikipedia to find out what it meant. He added that he knew when he signed with the Jaguars he could wind up there, so he had to be happy with the thought of the Browns or Jacksonville.

In the two years he will be in Cleveland, Mack said he wants one thing: "To win games."

"I think about you day and night, it's only right ... so happy together."
Kevin Costner has done some great sports-related movies.

"Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham" are both classics. (“He hit the bull. Guy gets a free steak.”)

"Draft Day", which was recently released and is largely based in and shot in Cleveland, is not. Oh, it’s an occasionally fun 109 minutes, with some laughs here and there and a very cool slide-screen way of showing two people talking on the phone. It also has some great shots of the town the Browns call home, which is always a boost to Clevelanders.

But from a football standpoint, it’s illogical and implausible. A movie can be a good movie with some implausible elements if it’s held together by a good story or great writing, which "Bull Durham" has (“A player on a streak has to respect the streak”). "Field of Dreams" has the implausible reality of folks flocking to a baseball diamond in a corn field and players from the Black Sox scandal appearing to play in said corn field, but it also has a great story built around the love of baseball and the relationship between a father and son.

[+] EnlargeKevin Costner
Donald Traill/Invision/APKevin Costner plays Browns GM Sonny Weaver in "Draft Day."
The story of "Draft Day" is flimsy at best. Though it ends with a touching moment, the story simply can't carry the illogical football tale (spoiler alert), which sees Browns GM Sonny Weaver (played by Costner) start the day of the draft by trading three of his future first-round picks and then seeing the team that acquired them trade them back.

Right.

Between, there’s an owner talking to his GM at a shutdown water park, a common site for football executives to meet. (Come to think of it for the Browns ... )

The owner -- perhaps the best character in the movie, played by Frank Langella -- never takes off his sunglasses, even when he's inside.

And Costner and his front office dalliance, played by Jennifer Garner, have several meetings in a supply closet at the Browns headquarters. As if they think hiding there won't go unnoticed, except the dopey intern who knows nothing always manages to find them.

For Clevelanders, the best parts of the film are those scenes shot in Cleveland. Picking out the spots and seeing some of the inner workings of the team's facility are fun. But when a quick background shot is a highlight of the film, the film is lacking.

Thing is, Costner does a fine job as the GM. He comes across as a guy dealing with the pressures of his job and family while trying to keep the team on the right path.

But when a movie contrives its story to make a team do basic preparation for the draft on the day of the draft, it’s a bit much. If Sonny Weaver had not done his homework on the star quarterback when he had the sixth pick in the draft, he probably shouldn’t have been around to make trades on the day of the draft. Or if he'd had made a "splash" trade without being sure of the guy he traded for, well ...

The serious sports fan will notice all kinds of oddities like that, like the team allowing a player to march into the GM’s office to trash it. No player could get away with that without the cleaning crew from "Monsters Inc." taking him away for disinfecting.

Maybe this movie is made for the not-so-serious sports fan, who will find the interplay, give-and-take and banter more informative. Maybe.

Costner took batting practice with the Indians last summer while he was in Cleveland to shoot the film. He very graciously stopped to meet the media and was more than cordial, engaging and fun. But in discussing "Draft Day," he said he wouldn’t be doing a football movie, he’d be doing a love story with football around it. It was the same theme he adopted for "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham."

Except it didn’t turn out that way. This movie is primarily about football, with small elements of a love story sprinkled in. The football stuff just doesn’t add up.

On the star scale, "Draft Day" gets two.

On the when-to-view-it scale, it's definitely a "wait for Netflix" kind of film.
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That was quick.

The Cleveland Browns didn’t need to think much at all about matching the offer sheet the Jacksonville Jaguars gave center Alex Mack.

They decided before the end of Friday to keep Mack with the Browns. Apparently, owner Jimmy Haslam meant it when he said the team had no intention of losing Mack. So the center will stay in Cleveland on a five-year deal, which he can void after two years, that will pay him $10 million, $8 million and $8 million the next three seasons -- all guaranteed.

Mack was either going to wake up rich in Cleveland or Jacksonville. As it turns out, he’s going to be rich with the team that drafted him.

He becomes the league’s highest-paid center, which the Browns accept. And they accept it because he’s been a good player for them for years, and because it continues a trend of keeping or adding players so the Browns can address the draft with the mindset of taking the best available player.

The Browns earned the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft by being a bad team in 2013.

They didn’t need to create more needs. They clearly believe they can swallow Mack’s cost and still extend the contracts of veterans like Joe Haden and Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. As long as that’s true, there’s no reason not to keep a player if they like him. And the Browns clearly like Mack.

A week of talk and chatter simply went in a circle and wound up where it started, with Mack as the Browns starting center in 2014.
Ten random thoughts on Alex Mack's expected signing of his offer sheet from the Jacksonville Jaguars today, which would make this an "Alex Mack First and 10":

  1. A lot of contract numbers have been leaked. While the numbers are all consistently close, I'm waiting to pass judgment on the deal until the actual numbers are known. I've seen too many contracts reported as worth $50 million when the last year of the $50 million was a $24 million salary that was never expected to be paid in the first place and only put in the deal to make the player and agent feel good about getting $50 million.
  2. [+] EnlargeAlex Mack
    Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsRegardless of which team veteran Alex Mack plays for in the 2014 season, he's poised to be the NFL's highest-paid center.
    That being said, there are nine more items to fill here so ... If the deal is as reported -- five years, $42 million, $18 million guaranteed the first two years -- it's a bit of a head-scratcher. Why Jacksonville would think that would scare the Browns into not matching is puzzling.
  3. This is why I want to see the actual numbers. Because as reported, it's kind of a "Huh?" offer to a transition player.
  4. Mack made the system work. Or his agent did. Regardless of where he plays, Mack will be the league's highest-paid center. That's a good offseason.
  5. Which reminds me of one of my favorite stories about contracts, way back when baseball's arbitration system first began. Pitcher Dave Stewart was one of the first cases, and he lost. His comment after: "No problem. I was either going to wake up rich, or richer."
  6. I'm not convinced Mack prefers to play in Cleveland anymore. The fact that he will sign with an organization that has struggled as much as the Jaguars have indicates he's ready to move on. That being said, if Mack returns I would not expect him to sulk. He's been a pro since he arrived, and if it turned out he'd be rich in Cleveland as opposed to Jacksonville, there would be no reason to wonder about his commitment or effort. He'd remain a pro.
  7. If the Browns do choose to match, they'll have the core of their line for the next few years with Joe Thomas, Mack and Mitchell Schwartz in the fold. Yes, I said Schwartz. He's better than he's given credit for. Perhaps the Browns might wish to send the Jaguars a box of candy and a thank-you note.
  8. Mack also becomes the second-highest-paid player on the team, behind Thomas. This is the argument against matching. With guys like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron ready to be extended, and with Joe Haden at the head of the line, making the center that wealthy goes against the grain. Former NFL lineman Ross Tucker summed it up this way for the Sporting News: "It's not a difference-making position that has a huge impact on wins and losses." (LeCharles Bentley would no doubt disagree.) Consider that Mack's transition cost is more than $10 million. A respectable-to-good center or guard (with John Greco sliding to center) would cost half that much. Mack is a good player, but the sky won't fall if he's not a Brown this season and beyond.
  9. Ask most anyone about building a team and they'll say the most important position is the guy who throws the ball, followed by the guy who stops the guy from having the ball caught, followed by the guy who can get to the guy throwing the ball, followed by the guy who protects the blind side of the guy throwing the ball, followed by the guy who catches the ball. The order may change from team to team depending on talent, but that's the general list. That's a roundabout way of saying the list does not include a center.
  10. So the Browns have to ask: Does it make sense to pay a center that much when they have so many of the "prime" positions lined up for extensions or deals in the future? Imagine, too, if Brian Hoyer proves to be the real deal. He is on the second of a two-year contract.
With two picks in the first round, most pundits have the Cleveland Browns taking some combination of quarterback, receiver and/or cornerback with the fourth and 26th picks.

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's mock draft 4.0 Insider makes a lot of sense for the Browns.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ESPN's AFC North team reporters -- Jamison Hensley (Ravens), Coley Harvey (Bengals), Pat McManamon (Browns) and Scott Brown (Steelers) -- take a look at the remaining free agents in the division:

BALTIMORE RAVENS

TE Dallas Clark: He looked like a tight end playing in his final season, catching 31 passes for the Ravens (his fewest in a season since 2006). It wouldn't be a surprise if Clark retired. He turns 35 in June.

TE Ed Dickson: The signing of Owen Daniels rules out a return for Dickson. He'll be playing in the NFL in 2014, and it will likely be for about the league minimum. Dickson needs a fresh start elsewhere, and he's visiting the Carolina Panthers.

RB Bernard Scott: The Ravens opted to sign Justin Forsett instead of Scott to be their third running back. Scott could have trouble catching on with another team. This offseason, Scott turned 30, which is not a kind number for running backs.

WR Brandon Stokley: He said after the season that he plans to retire after suffering another concussion. Stokley was the last active player from the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl championship team.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

LB Michael Boley: Signed to a one-year deal early last season, Boley has been seen as little more than a stop-gap for last season's team. His return is unlikely.

DB Chris Crocker: Danieal Manning's signing last week might have been enough to prevent the Bengals from re-signing Crocker. The two play similar positions and serve similar purposes as older players. Crocker still hasn’t announced -- for a third time -- if he’s retiring.

P Zoltan Mesko: Much like Boley, Mesko was a stop-gap solution while punter Kevin Huber was out injured. When OTAs and minicamps resume, Huber is expected to be near full health from a broken jaw.

OT Dennis Roland: Though the Bengals signed former Packers tackle Marshall Newhouse this offseason, they still could re-sign Roland for depth, and to give them a tackle who can be a good short-yardage edge blocker.

TE Alex Smith: There is still a chance the Bengals could bring Smith back, considering H-back Orson Charles was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment March 31 in Richmond, Ky., the result of what police believe was a road rage incident involving a handgun.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

C Alex Mack: His only visit has been to Jacksonville, where the Jaguars are expected to sign him to an offer sheet. The Browns then will have five days to decide if they want to match the offer.

RB Willis McGahee: Not surprising there has been so little interest. His age and the poor running back market make him a tough sign.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

OT Levi Brown: Suffered a season-ending triceps injury before playing a down for the Steelers last season; would have to accept a non-guaranteed contract to return and try to make the team in 2014.

WR Plaxico Burress: Wants to play in 2014, but is 36 and coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him all of last season; does not appear to be in Steelers' plans.

RB Felix Jones: Didn't show enough last season as a change-of-pace back or a kickoff returner to warrant serious consideration for the Steelers to bring him back.

DE Brett Keisel: Re-signing the 12th-year veteran is still an option for the Steelers, who are thin along the defensive line, though nothing will happen until after the draft.

P Mat McBriar: McBriar did OK after the Steelers signed him in October, but it looks like they will go with a younger leg at the position in 2014.

C/G David Snow: Didn't dress in final four games after signing with Pittsburgh last December, and the Steelers have added depth to their offensive line.

RB LaRod Stephens-Howling: Another player coming off an injury (torn ACL) the Steelers might consider re-signing once he is healthy or close to full strength.

LB Stevenson Sylvester: Is a core special teams player and a depth guy the Steelers would probably have interest in bringing back at the right price.

C Fernando Velasco: The Steelers are likely to re-sign one of their most unsung players in 2013 once he has fully recovered from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in November.

LB Jamaal Westerman: Played in the regular-season finale after signing with the Steelers last December, but is not not in the team's plans.
 

Things are about to turn serious for the Cleveland Browns.

By Friday, the Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to sign center Alex Mack to a five-year offer sheet, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Browns will have five days to match the offer, but the fact it's happening indicates it will not be simple. Too, the fact it's happening drives home one point louder than loud and clear: Mack no longer wants to be in Cleveland.

Jacksonville’s offer will make Mack the NFL’s highest paid center by a wide margin, Schefter reported, and he has decided he’d rather earn that money in North Florida than North Ohio.

[+] EnlargeAlex Mack
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns have the salary-cap space to match likely any offer for standout center Alex Mack.
The Browns have said all along that they want Mack to be in Cleveland for years. Owner Jimmy Haslam told reporters just that on Tuesday night at a pre-screening of Kevin Costner’s new Cleveland-based movie “Draft Day,” but the devil (as always) will be in the details.

The Browns took a calculated gamble when they decided to save $1.6 million and not make Mack the franchise player. That would have taken him off the market. By making Mack their transition player, they can match -- but they also gave one of the shrewdest agents working, Marvin Demoff, the chance to see what he could do for his client.

The main key will be how the five-year offer is structured, and whether Mack tells the Browns he simply does not want to be with them anymore.

As of April 7, the Browns had the cap space to match almost any offer. ESPN’s Roster Management System had them with $31 million in cap space, with the Jaguars sitting with $25 million.

The Browns entered free agency with more than $49 million, which clearly indicates they intended to match any offer Mack received. Jacksonville -- and probably Demoff -- waited for the spending spree to take place before securing their offer, complicating things a tiny bit.

Now the Browns must weigh the offer sheet with several other needs, among them the desire to extend contracts of other key players, including cornerback Joe Haden, tight end Jordan Cameron, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, linebacker Jabaal Sheard and, perhaps most important, receiver Josh Gordon. They also have 10 draft picks to pay -- including two first-rounders -- and if Brian Hoyer works out as the team’s quarterback, the Browns also would have to address his future; he is on the second season of a two-year deal.

Prior to seeing the offer for Mack, matching would be the strongest likelihood. But if the contract is beyond what the Browns want to pay their center, they will have a decision to make. One factor in using the transition tag and not the franchise tag was because the Browns felt the franchise number was well out of the range of the top paid center. Presumably this offer will be worth more than the transition tag figure. Another question is whether Mack wants to be a Brown. If he doesn’t, is it worth making him the league’s highest paid center?

Mack’s transition tender would have paid him $10.039 million. Another $1.6 million and the team could have secured him at least for this season.

The Browns chose not to do so.

Their next choice will depend on the details they will soon receive.
Nate Burleson AP Photo/Duane BurlesonNate Burleson's contributions on and off the field could be an asset in Cleveland.
The newest version of the Cleveland Browns recognizes the importance of responsible veterans.

The team that used to be one of the youngest in the league added another 30-something player when it agreed to terms on a one-year deal with wide receiver Nate Burleson, who last played for Detroit.

In Burleson, the Browns add a respected veteran who has played for three other teams. He can provide a locker room presence, as well as contribute on the field -- provided he stays healthy.

Burleson missed 17 games the past two seasons to a broken leg and arm, but prior to those two seasons, he caught 73, 55 and 63 passes in 2011, 2010 and 2009 in Detroit (two years) and Seattle.

After returning from a broken arm in 2013, Burleson played nine games and caught 39 passes. He clearly still can be productive, and he still can be a leader. But whether he's a full-time player at the age of 33 remains to be seen.

Put him with Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins and perhaps a young receiver taken in the draft and the Browns have upgraded the position considerably since they were throwing to Brian Tyms at the end of last season.

Even if Burleson simply fills a role as the third or fourth wideout, his addition could help.
The Browns apparently weren’t among the teams that inquired about running back Chris Johnson before the Titans released the sixth-year veteran.

Johnson
They would be wise to keep their distance now that the three-time Pro Bowler is on the open market.

Sure, Johnson won't be nearly as expensive as he would have been were the Titans able to trade him. And yes, Johnson, who was due to make $8 million in 2014, would be intriguing at the right price for a team that needs to add more skill players.

Unfortunately for the Browns -- and whoever signs Johnson -- they cannot turn back the clock a couple of years. And the reality is Johnson is nowhere near the same player who blazed his way to a 2,000-yard rushing season and averaged an eye-popping 5.6 yards per carry in 2009.

That was five seasons ago, which is an eternity for the NFL and especially running backs, and one statistic in particular clearly shows a player who is in decline.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Johnson’s runs of at least 20 yards dropped from 22 in 2009 to just 11 in 2011. The number slipped to five last season, a strong indication that the hits Johnson has accumulated while racking up six consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons have caught up with him.

Johnson may still belong on a short list of the NFL’s fastest players, and maybe he just needs a fresh start to rejuvenate his career. Even if that is the case, the Browns are still smart to stay away from Johnson unless they want their running backs room to be a potentially unhappy place.

The Browns signed Ben Tate early in free agency, and he is going to want to do anything but share time at running back after patiently biding his time behind Arian Foster in Houston.

Similarly, Johnson might balk at a reduced role.

Consider that he has accounted for 68 percent of the Titans’ rushing yards since 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No running back during that span has rushed for a higher percentage of his team’s rushing yards -- not even the otherworldly Adrian Peterson.

Johnson has become so accustomed to the role of No. 1 back that he needs to sign with a team that will at least give him an opportunity to start. The Browns, meanwhile, need to maximize the investment they made in Tate and see what he can do with a steady of diet of carries.

That is why they will watch from afar as Johnson tries to re-establish himself as a premier back.

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