Cleveland Browns: Fact or Fiction with the Latest News Before Free Agency
As the Cleveland Browns prepare to enter free agency, their fans must wade through a sea of rumors and conjecture. It is the nature of the beast this time of year. Between the NFL Scouting Combine and agents back-channeling with organizations before free agency begins, a ton of information is exchanged.
Some of that information is fact and some is smoke screen. That is what makes this time of year so exciting.
It seems that every time you check Bleacher Report or log into Twitter, there is a new rumor. So how do you decide what to believe and what to ignore?
Let me be your guide as we analyze some chatter surrounding the Browns as they head into free agency.
Ahtyba Rubin Is in Danger of Being Cut
Once the Browns parted ways with longtime defensive leader D’Qwell Jackson, it was only a matter of time before the rumors of other players being in danger began. The first name floated was defensive end Ahtyba Rubin.
The 27-year-old is entering the last year of his contract and is due $6.6 million. According to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, a league source said Rubin could be the next on the chopping block.
On Sunday, however, Mary Kay Cabot of the Northeast Ohio Media Group said that Rubin’s agent met with the Browns and his status with the team is solid:
‘I met with (Executive Vice President) Sashi Brown at the combine,’ said Herman. ‘There will be no modifications to the contract and (coach) Mike Pettine is excited to have him. Who wouldn't be?’
Obviously, agents are paid to be positive in this situation. So which side is telling the truth?
The Browns probably did tell Rubin that his contract will not be modified and that they are excited to have him on the team. That does not mean Rubin is a sure thing to make the roster this year, however. If they can find a cheaper alternative to give similar production, Rubin could end up as one of the many cap casualties suffered during training camp.
Cleveland Wanted Bart Scott Bad
When Mike Pettine took the job as head coach of the Browns, it was inevitable that some changes would be made to the roster. Every coach brings in his own leaders and locker-room monitors. Coaches cannot micromanage their roster, so they rely on trusted players to be their eyes and ears.
Free-agent linebacker Bart Scott, who played under Pettine for 11 seasons with the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens, was apparently going to be those eyes and ears. According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today (via NFL.com), Cleveland “wanted him badly”:
USA Today’s Tom Pelissero reported Monday that the free-agent inside linebacker had workouts set up with multiple teams before taking ‘The NFL Today’ gig. The Browns ‘wanted him badly,’ Pelissero was told, but Scott's lingering toe injury prevented any serious movement on a deal.
Not only is this most likely true, but it also won’t be the Browns’ only veteran free-agent target with ties to their new coach. Pettine will go after players he is familiar with. Remember when former head coach Eric Mangini took over the team and he brought in all his former Jets players? How about Pat Shurmur bringing in Sheldon Brown? Rinse and repeat.
Re-Signing Alex Mack Is Priority No. 1
When the Browns had a changing of the guard and Ray Farmer took over as general manager, philosophy changed within the organization as well. By every indication, the old regime did not place center Alex Mack in very high regard.
Farmer, on the other hand, seemed to make it his top priority instantly. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that the Browns had moved his contract to the top of their offseason “to do” list:
With the quarterback position unsettled in Cleveland, retaining the Pro Bowl center is important for whoever takes the snaps. Mack’s experience would be especially helpful if the Browns use the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on a quarterback.
With the franchise-tag number estimated at over $11 million for offensive linemen, the only choice the Browns have to bring Mack back is a long-term deal.
The Browns have far too much money to let Mack walk out the door at this point. He has never missed a game since entering the NFL, and he will automatically be a “Farmer” guy if they reach a deal. After all, it was the old guard who was going to let Mack walk. Farmer is the guy who righted that ship.
The Browns Don’t Like Manziel; They Like Carr
For most of the season, it seemed as though the Browns were keying in on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan even went as far as to tell 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland (via Cleveland.com) that he likes what he has seen from Manziel.
Shanahan said, “Who wouldn’t like him?”
Once again, that was before Farmer took over as general manager. Now there are differing reports starting to surface.
NFL.com writer Daniel Jeremiah told The Dan Patrick Show (via NFL.com) that the Browns are not interested in Manziel with the fourth overall pick. In fact, they are not interested in Manziel at all:
‘The one thing about the combine is, you get there, you’re around all your contacts, a lot of different NFL people,’ Jeremiah told ‘The Dan Patrick Show’ on Wednesday. ‘And it had been so out there that the Browns loved Manziel under the previous regime, and I talked to enough people that firmly believe that that was a total smokescreen.’
Said Jeremiah: ‘Their guy is (Fresno State quarterback) Derek Carr and they’re going to take a different player with the fourth pick and they want to take Derek Carr with their second one (at No. 26). ... I heard that from several different places.’
If the Browns really like Carr, it is risky to wait until the 26th pick to get him. It also sounds awfully similar to the 2012 draft when they selected Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden in the first round. That did not work out so well.
I’m not exactly sure which part of this report is false, but I have a sneaking suspicion at least some of it is. This is the time of year when general managers try to throw everyone off of their trail. That does not mean the Browns like Manziel, but it seems very far-fetched to believe they love Carr and would risk waiting until the 26th pick to select him.
Browns to Be Chief Suitor for Sam Shields
The Browns have over $50 million in projected salary-cap space this offseason, according to Spotrac.com. Even after they sign all of their draft picks, they will still have over $45 million to play with. That is a lot of cash.
The first free agent the Browns have been speculated to covet is Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields. According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Browns could be a main suitor for his services if he hits the free-agent market:
With Packers having difficulty locking up CB Sam Shields prior to market opening, I'd expect the Browns to be among his chief suitors— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 1, 2014
The 26-year old corner has 13 interceptions through four years in the NFL and had a career-high 51 tackles in 2013. The Browns would be bidding against quite a few teams if the Packers cannot figure out a way to keep him.
If this is not true, then it should be. The Browns need a corner to play opposite Pro Bowler Joe Haden, and Shields could be the guy. It would allow them to move Buster Skrine back to nickel corner where he belongs and solidify one of the best young defensive backfields in the NFL. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco said the pairing of Haden and Shields would be like that of former Browns legends:
If Browns get Sam Shields, he will be Frank Minnifield to Haden's Hanford Dixon.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) March 1, 2014