The NFL free agency season started on Tuesday and already Browns fans are excited about training camp starting in July.
Yes, the Browns have improved, getting ILB Karlos Dansby to replace D’Qwell Jackson, Donte Whitner to replace T. J. Ward, and bringing in running back Ben Tate, formerly of the Houston Texans.
However, note that Jackson was released by new GM Ray Farmer, so that hole was created by the Browns. We say this realizing that Dansby is a much better player than the guy he replaced, although Jackson was a class act during his time in Cleveland.
Ward made the Pro Bowl last season, as did Whitner (who has made two trips to Hawaii in his career), so the gain there is minimal. Both are very good players, and we like the aspect of a local guy playing here because they understand what the Browns are in this city.
Certainly, the Browns needed Tate, who although he has had injury issues in his career, has also gained 1992 yards in three seasons backing up Arian Foster, averaging 4.7 yards per attempt.
He also has experience running the ball in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking running game.
Since the Browns’ leading rusher last season was Willis McGahee with 377 yards, there is no question that if Tate is healthy, he is definitely an upgrade at the running back position.
However, let’s hold off on potential Super Bowl appearances.
We even had some yesterday on Twitter proposing that Dansby, Whitner, and Tate should throw out the first pitch at the Indians home opener. Our question was why?
Look, the Browns improved themselves in free agency. Still, the bigger chance to improve this football team will come in May when the draft occurs. Farmer and his scouting staff have 10 picks in all to work with, and half of those are in the first three rounds.
They should come away with at least three new starters after those picks are made.
And remember, Cleveland was one of the NFL’s youngest teams in 2013, and those players who were added in the past couple of years should do nothing but get better.
The real reason for optimism if you are a Browns’ fan is that finally, the team wants to win right now.
The last few years under Mike Holmgren tenure and the early years of the Haslam ownership were all about rebuilding and adding talent to a roster that was devoid of it.
We remember a comment from Eric Mangini’s last season as head coach, when it was noted the Browns were good on special teams. A football pundit said that they should be, their entire roster was made up of special team players.
Finally, it appears the days of accumulating salary cap space and draft picks are over. Haslam has given Farmer and his staff a directive that this football has to start showing progress in the only area where it counts: The win-loss column.
The owner is tired of the Browns being a laughing-stock around the league, and going to game week in and week out and seeing his team losing in a variety of interesting ways.
This new concept of winning being important should excite Browns’ fans. Especially in a league where at least one team goes from 5-11 to a playoff spot pretty much every year.
Haslam is telling his executives and his fans, why can’t that team be us?
Finally, this organization is taking steps in that direction.