Cleveland Browns: Top 10 Offseason Acquisitions

After a successful offseason, the Cleveland Browns are set to start training camp. Fans are hopeful that this will be the season that ends the 17 year playoff drought and the start of a dynasty. With all that being said, here are my top 10 additions to the team roster:

10. K Austin Seibert

Last season was possibly the worst season for kickers in NFL history. More extra points and field goals were missed than in previous seasons, and there were more kickers consistently on the injury list. That in itself showed the importance and value of a good kicker in the game.

Browns have not had an established starting kicker since they let Phil Dawson (who is currently a free agent) go in 2013. Four of the Browns losses last season were by 3 points or less. Obviously, the Browns entered the offseason trying to find a long term answer for the position.

Austin Seibert had much success at Oklahoma, but just because the Browns used a draft pick on him does not hand him the job. He will have to battle it out against last season’s starter Greg Joseph, who came in mid-season after Zane Gonzalez was cut. Seibert has great kicking accuracy, and holds the college football record for most extra points and field goal attempts. Only time will tell if Seibert can be a new fan favorite in Cleveland.

9. S Morgan Burnett

Browns had a hole at safety after trading Jabrill Peppers to the Giants. Since then they have added plenty of options. They traded for Eric Murray from the Cheifs, they drafted Sheldrick Redwine out of Miami, and Jermaine Whitehead turned some heads at mini camp. But let’s not forget about a key veteran they added in free agency in Morgan Burnett.

In case you don’t know the story, Burnett started for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season and decided he didn’t want to deal with the team’s locker room issues any longer. He demanded a trade but ended up getting waived instead. As a result, he signed a three year deal with the good guys in Cleveland! Mainly because he was familiar with the front office that drafted him in Green Bay.

As of right now, it is a toss up who starts opposite of Damarius Randall. But Burnett brings experience and leadership that can help the Browns on the defensive side of the ball. If he does indeed make the week 1 roster, he may have an important role on the team.

8. DT Sheldon Richardson

Browns needed to add some power next to Larry Ogunjobi, and they did just that. Richardson is joining the Browns after a solid season with the Minnesota Vikings where he registered 48 total tackles including 4.5 sacks. Browns defensive line was inconsistent blocking up the middle last season. Hopefully adding Richardson will change that.

7. LB Mack Wilson

I must warn you, I’m being very bias with this one. Wilson was one of my favorite players in the draft. When the Browns selected Sione Takitaki in the 3rd round, I thought for sure Wilson was not in the Browns’ plans. As luck would have it, he slipped to the 5th round where Cleveland selected him.

Wilson may not do much early in the regular season but in due time he will be a fan favorite. Above average speed and field awareness for a linebacker his size. He stood out among rookies in minicamp. Hopefully my expectations are right and fans get to see what I’ve been preaching about since the draft.

6. TE Demetrius Harris

Possibly the most underrated acquisition this offseason. Browns hands down have one of the best receiving groups in the league, and Harris could be a secret weapon for Baker. In Kansas City, he was mainly used for the red zone where he caught 3 touchdowns last season. But in Freddie Kitchens offensive scheme it will be easy to assume he could take on a bigger role. Possibly similar to what Darren Fells did last season. At 6’7 with better speed and hands than most tight ends, it’s obvious why Harris would be favorable target down the stretch.

5. CB Greedy Williams

Browns 1st pick in the draft did not come until the 2nd round due to the Odell Beckham trade. John Dorsey hit a home run drafting Denzel Ward with the 4th overall pick in the 2018 draft. He was determined to find a long term starter on the opposite end of Ward. With many cornerbacks already taken in the first 2 rounds, Williams somehow slipped to the Browns on the 46th overall pick.

Williams was an All-SEC player with 71 tackles, 8 interceptions, and 28 pass deflections in the 2 seasons he started in LSU. He played all 24 games.

It is still up in the air if Williams earns a starting spot right out of the gate. With Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie also in the mix, coaching staff may lean towards starting the season off with more experienced players. However, if he has fantastic camp and preseason, he could convince the team to start him week one just like Ward did last season.

4. DE Oliver Vernon

Browns needed to give Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi some more help on the defensive line. They gave them a big boost adding Vernon in the mix. He is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he had 23 tackles 7 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.

Vernon was overshadowed by the Odell Beckham hype, but provides an extremely important part to the team’s success. Browns defense was inconsistent pressuring opposing quarterbacks last season. They’re coverage squad was worn down as a result. With Vernon on the opposite side of Garrett, it should create a nightmare for offensive lines.

3. RB Kareem Hunt

Even though Browns fell short of making the playoffs, they made headlines last January when they signed troubled running back Kareem Hunt. Every football fan knows the story. Hunt was having a memorable season with the Kansas City Chiefs, when videos surfaced of him committing violent actions towards a woman. As a result, Chiefs decided to part ways with their young star leaving his career in question. Lucky for him, the guy who drafted him was willing to give him a second chance with his new team.

Hunt will start the season off with an 8 game suspension due to his actions. That will make it about a full year since he last took the field. Since his signing he has pushed himself to better himself. One more bad slip could cost him his career.

This is a low risk, high reward situation for Cleveland. They’re not paying him money players of his caliber get and they have another star studded back in Nick Chubb. Best case scenario, after the suspension Hunt helps lead his hometown team to a playoff run. Worst case scenario, he is rusty and not to his peak in ability in which Chubb would take over. There is also a chance it could be Josh Gordon all over again and another fine player destroys everything he worked for.

But I would like a happy ending here and I believe in grace. The organization has his back and there is no doubt he wants to join the hype with his city. The positives are he is working hard on himself and he’s healthy. Any team in the league would benefit to have his talent.

2. WR Odell Beckham Jr.

I know, you’re probably shocked he’s not number 1, but I’ll get to that. A few seasons ago the Browns didn’t have a consistent realiable wide receiver. The first trade John Dorsey did as general manager was trade for Jarvis Laundry. He then drafted Antonio Callaway and the team continued to use Rashard Higgins as the second receiver. Even though things looked better on the field, Dorsey knew Baker Mayfield would need more weapons if the offense was going to succeed. Last March, Dorsey put all his chips in and acquired one of the top receivers in the league.

Along with all the hype, there are also plenty of questions surrounding Beckham’s new situation. Here are things football fans have to remember:

1. He knows his teammates. Landry is a close friend and he has been hanging around Mayfield since before he was traded. Before he was a Cleveland Brown he was aware that the team was building something special. The new leadership and direction will help him mentally, on and off the field.

2. Despite some of the drama in New York, he did not give up. We have seen superstars before when things get messy in an organization. They refuse to play, they whine to the media, and they demand trades. Beckham was the exact opposite. He tried to make it work. The hustle on every play, trying to connect with players and coaches, and do whatever he could to improve the direction of the team. He signed long term to be a Giant for his career and lead the team to their next super bowl victory. Fortunately for the Browns, Giants had other ideas.

3. Beckham is about winning and only winning! This is a guy who still hasn’t let go of the junior high basketball championship he lost. It’s win or go home, which is the attitude every successful NFL franchise has to have. The only thing on his mind is winning Cleveland a super bowl. The biggest star athlete since LeBron James returned in 2014. Can OBJ do the same thing James did in 2016?!

1. Coach Freddie Kitchens

I know he isn’t technically a acquisition and he doesn’t play on the field. But given the circumstances, this team needed a head coach more than anything else. Look at every successful winning team in the history of pro football. What did they all have in common? A leader on the sidelines.

A former All-Pro Browns player once told me that the team’s main problem for over a decade was that there were no “football guys” running the team. He was exactly right. They had tried business executives, men knowledgeable about the game, but never anyone who breathed it. When Jimmy Haslam hired John Dorsey, not only was it his first good move but that was the first time since 2002 the team had a front office run by a football guy.

Dorsey had played the game and was head of scouting and player personnel on successful teams. Bottomline, he is a football guy. He knows talent when he sees it and he knows what it takes to create a winning organization.

It took the Browns 30 different starting quarterbacks to find their franchise quarterback. Why? There are many reasons, but what made Baker Mayfield different from all the others? His accuracy? His throws outside the pocket? His vision? All of those really do stand out compared to the others, but there is one thing in particular: he’s a football guy.

Mayfield isn’t just good at throwing a football and reading defenses. He is a leader that helps improve his teammates around him along with himself. He knows the game and what it takes to win. There are skilled quarterbacks that can win you games and lose focus when it matters the most. Then there are quarterbacks that lead dynasties.

Browns are on their 6th new head coach the past decade and 9th since the 1999 revival (not including interims). That is a terrible stretch. No stability. Even though those men loved the game, they were not cut out to be head coaches. Pat Shurmur is the only one out of that group that is currently a head coach somewhere else, but is only entering his second season with the team. Romeo Crennel did get a second chance at head coaching with the Kansas City Chiefs but it was worse than his stint with the Browns.

Freddie Kitchens successful coaching career goes beyond his offensive coordinator duties from last season. He learned under the likes of Nick Saban, Bill Parcel, and Bruce Arians. He worked with many successful assistant coaches as well. When the Browns hired him they were the only team that did not struggle to fill their coaching staff. Many coaches left great situations to join Kitchens. Why? They know him and believe in him. They were also on board with the direction of the front office.

Browns needed a football guy on the sidelines and in the locker room. They got that with hiring Freddie Kitchens. One step closer to bringing back a winning football franchise in Cleveland.

It is time to give Terry Francona and the front office the credit they deserve.

Imagine if you will, traveling back in time to February when the Indians arrive in Goodyear, Arizona. You sit a bunch of anxious Cleveland Indians fans down and begin talking about the upcoming season. You reveal to them you’re from the future and you are going to tell them how the first half of the season panned out for their beloved Tribe. They don’t question a single thing you just told them. Again, we’re just using our imagination here.

You start by telling them how the starting pitching rotation is doing, which the fans think are the best in baseball. You mention Kluber fractured his arm, Carrasco has leukemia (get well, brother), Bauer is NOT an All-Star, Clevinger has missed most of the season due to injury, and Shane Bieber is the lone All-Star in the group. You tell them Indians sign former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez and Carlos Gonzalez, but later release them along with Leonys Martin. You make them more concerned by mentioning Jose Ramirez goes on a 2 month slump, while Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor miss the first few weeks of the season.

The look of horror on their faces. They start debating in their heads if they should start selling their tickets. The season hasn’t even started and they are slowly starting to move on to the Browns (who they didn’t know would get OBJ at that time). A complete disappointment.

That’s when you tell them the Tribe sits 5.5 games out of first place in the divison, and currently hold position of one of the wild card spots. They also have 4 All-Stars and one of the best bullpens in the game.

For the first time in that conversation with those fans, they did not believe you.

Let’s be honest. How many teams would have the kind of success the Indians are having after all those problems? Very few. With all the struggles and turmoil early in the season, it takes true baseball professionals to get a team refocused. Tito Francona’s leadership in the clubhouse and the job Chris Antonetti has done to keep major league talent in the organization has much to do with the team’s current position. Here are some factors that have helped the Cleveland Indians this season:

Drafting consistently well

The MLB draft is not as hyped up like the other sports. In professional baseball a prospect will typically be in the minor leagues for at least 3 seasons before they make their major league debut. Much of the players drafted may never make it to the show. One of the few things that has changed in the past 20 years is that we’re seeing more 1st round picks pan out in the major league level. That wasn’t always the case.

During the Francona era the Indians have done well with drafting and developing players. Since Francona took the job back in 2013, he has never asked more from the younger players than he asked of them this season. Back in 2016, the Cleveland Indians drafted 3 pitchers that helped save the rotation this season. All-Star Shane Bieber (8-3, 3.45 ERA), Zach Plesac (3-3, 4.00 ERA), and Aaron Civale (1-0, 0.00 ERA). Cleveland didn’t plan on bringing either of them up at this point in their careers, but thankfully they were ready. Bieber proved himself last year in his rookie year and continues to improve during his successful sophomore campaign.

Rookie first basemen Bobby Bradley has had a slow start but is showing signs he could be a big part of the Indians future. Bradley was a 3rd round pick in 2014. The everyday lineup consisting of Roberto Perez, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Tyler Naquin were all developed within the organization.

These players have grown and played with each other for several seasons. This is critical when building a winning team. They build chemistry and communication skills that will help on the field. You draft a bunch of duds then they won’t see the major league level and you’re not building the proper relationships. It is important for Cleveland to keep the mold and add to it.

Winning recent trades

Starting last season, some fans were concerned with some of the trade decisions the front office has made. Some time has passed and we can see the Indians front office made the better end of the deals. Let’s look back at last trade deadline where Indians sent top prospect Francisco Mejia to the San Diego Padres for Adam Cimber and closer Brad Hand. Cody Allen and Andrew Miller signed elsewhere in the offseason making Hand the permanent closer. He has been one if not the best closer in the league and is one of the four All-Stars on the team. Cimber has had his ups and downs but continues to be an important part of a strong bullpen. Mejia is the back up catcher and is hitting .211, 2 HRs, and 6 RBIs this season for San Diego.

Another trade the Indians made before the deadline was acquiring Oscar Mercado from the St. Louis Cardinals. After Leonys Martin didn’t work out in center field, Mercado became the savior. A new fan favorite and one of the top rookies in the league.

Fast forward to the offseason. Indians trade back up shortstop Erik Gonzalez to the Pirates for infielder Max Moroff and outfielder Jordan Luplow. Moroff started the season with Cleveland but was later sent down to Columbus. Luplow has become the team’s secret weapon against left handed pitchers hitting .313, 8 HRs, and 17 RBIs. Gonzalez has struggled in Pittsburgh just hitting .216 with 2 RBIs.

Tribe decided it was time to move on from Yan Gomes and make Roberto Perez the starter. Gomes went the Nationals for starting pitcher Jefry Rodriguez and outfielder Daniel Johnson. Rodriguez joined the Indians rotation after Mike Clevinger’s was injured earlier in the season. Unfortunately, Rodriguez sustained an injury himself in June. He has a 1-5 record with a 4.74 ERA this season. Some of his best outings happened when the offense was still struggling. Johnson started out in Double-A Akron and moved up to Triple-A Columbus. He was one of two representatives at the Futures Game for the Indians.

So did the Indians do the right thing moving on from Gomes? Let’s compare the statistics:

Yan Gomes: .211, 3 HRs, 20 RBIs

Roberto Perez: .256, 16 HRs, 36 RBIs

I think it’s clear. Tribe robbed the Nationals.

Indians would then make a 3 way trade with the Mariners and Rays which would send Jake Bauers and Carlos Santana to Cleveland. Edwin Encarnacion was sent to Seattle and was then traded to the Yankees in June. Even though he continues to be one of the better home run hitters in the league, he has struggled since being traded to New York only batting .127. Yandy Diaz was sent to Tampa Bay in the deal. Interesting enough, Diaz and Bauers are having similar seasons:

Yandy Diaz: .277, 11 HR, 32 RBI

Jake Bauers: .245, 11 HR, 36 RBI

It will be interesting to see how their seasons play out. The biggest acquisition of the trade was the return of Carlos Santana. The reunion has helped in the clubhouse and on the field. He was awarded to start first base for the American League in the All-Star Game and a participant in the Home Run Derby. His first ever All-Star selection is coming off the best half of hitting in his career.

The last trade the Indians made before spring training was a bigger deal than many anticipated. They made a trade with the Miami Marlins for relief pitcher Nick Wittgren. He did not make the team in the beginning of the season but eventually found his way to be a setup option in a strong bullpen. Wittgren is 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA.

You breakdown each of these trades and you can see the Indians front office made some critical moves that were overlooked. Fans often complain about the odd offseason, but these trades prove the Indians set themselves up better making these deals.

Turning Lindor into a leader

There was plenty of commotion in the offseason concerning large contracts. Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout signed deals of over $300 million dollars. This set up for other stars to ask for a similar contract. Unfortunately for the Indians, shortstop Francisco Lindor is expected to ask for such a deal. When Indians owner Paul Dolan was asked about signing Lindor to a similar extension his response was, “Enjoy him”. One of the worst quotes in Cleveland sports history if you ask me. How an owner of a sports franchise can respond that way and think it was smart is beyond me. If you want fans to come to the games you have to secure your best talent. Otherwise, they’ll spend their hard earned money elsewhere.

Indians President Chris Antonetti made an interesting comment during the offseason. He said that if they want to sign a player to a long term contract they have to perform on the field and contribute to the locker room. Lindor is one of the best shortstops in the game but was known as a fun, chill kid in the clubhouse. It is possible that comment from the team president was hint of concern with Lindor’s status with the team.

The season didn’t start well for the Cleveland star. A calf injury kept him out of spring training, and just as he was progressing an ankle injury set him back. He rejoined the team on April 20th and was still able to make the All-Star team. Not only did he bounce back on the field, he became the biggest voice on the team. He helped bring his teammates up when they were struggling early in the season and continued to become a spark in critical moments. Camera’s have caught Lindor lecturing teammates that weren’t giving their all on every play. Somewhere down the line the kid became the captain. Hopefully this will help him stay in Cleveland.

A team full of young talent that want to show the league they belong here

Indians lost much of their veteran support in the offseason. Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Edwin Encarnacion, Micheal Brantley, Yan Gomes, Josh Donaldson, Melky Cabrera, Josh Tomlin, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Raja Davis are all wearing different uniforms. Brantley is the only one in the group that made the All-Star team. Encarnacion is one of the home run leaders with 25 dingers. The rest have been decent at best.

Many baseball fans would look at this list and assume the Indians were in rebuild mode, but that is not the case. With the exception of a few rookies, most of this team has at least 3 seasons under their belt. In other professional sports, such as basketball and football, younger teams tend to be the worst in their leagues. Not so in baseball. You can be a winning team with a mix of veterans and young players.

Most of the Indians everyday lineup consist of players trying to make their mark in the game. They got a lot to prove and are willing to do anything it takes to get the job done. You can teach many things in life, but you can’t teach determination and hustle. If someone wants something bad enough they’ll do what it takes.

Jake Bauers, Tyler Naquin, Oscar Mercado, Kevin Plawecki, Mike Freeman, Jordan Luplow, Greg Allen, and Bobby Bradley will all be critical to the team’s success the rest of the season. Every winning team needs those role players who will embrace the spotlight and come through in the clutch. Roberto Perez in 2016 is a perfect example. Yan Gomes goes down with injury just before the playoffs and Perez has to be the man behind the plate. He came up huge in that World Series run.

Last season, the Indians relied on power hitting veterans to take them to the promise land and it didn’t end well. Those players knew no matter what there was a good contract waiting for them somewhere. This time around, the team has faster, younger players that are eager for their turn on the diamond. Nothing is guaranteed. How they respond will help determine if we’ll have October baseball in Cleveland. So far, this young group has done a heck of a job.