The Cleveland Browns never cease to amaze.
On Thursday, the football team that hired a baseball executive to help run the front office pulled off a trade you only see in the NBA: eat cap space and cash for an asset in the hopes that asset can be spun into something bigger.
Cavaliers general manager David Griffin has done this at least a half dozen times over the last 4 years and it paid off in an NBA Championship in 2016, the first in team history and first for Cleveland in 52 years.
Suffice it to say, the Browns are praying for identical results.
The Browns shook the NFL to its core when they took Brock Osweiler’s $16 million 2017 salary and $10 million cap hit off the Houston Texans’ hands just so they could add a 2018 second round pick. Cleveland gave up their 2017 compensatory fourth round pick in the deal, which netted a sixth rounder from Houston too.
The shortsighted view is, what on earth are Paul DePodesta and Sashi Brown thinking?
The big picture view is that it might become one of the more ingenious moves made in league history, depending on the final outcome and maybe these guys now residing on the second floor in Berea actually know what they are doing.
The trade with Houston, which seems to have DePodesta’s fingerprints all over it, capped off a spectacular start to free agency for the Browns. You know, the laughingstock of the NFL. The team that no matter what they seem to do, or how hard they try, can’t do anything right.
That narrative just may now begin to die a slow joyful death.
The Browns, sitting on $104 million in cap space, entered the new league year and free agency Thursday with a plan and they executed it with near flawless precision.
First, they landed veteran receiver Kenny Britt, 28, from the Rams for 4 years and $32.5 million with $17 million guaranteed before Packers center JC Tretter agreed to leave Green Bay for 3 years and $16.75 million.
Next, a nice 5-year, $51.2 million extension with $23.7 million guaranteed to keep guard Joel Bitonio through 2022.
The Browns landed their top free agent target by out-bidding the New Orleans Saints for Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler to the tune of 5 years and $60 million – $31.5 million guaranteed – to make him the highest paid (for now) in the league at his position.
With a total of $127.95 million – $65.2 million of that guaranteed – committed to the interior of the offensive line, the quarterback’s jersey should have fewer grass stains on them in 2017.
Then came the big one.
Osweiler acquired from the Texans. And he may never wear a Browns jersey.
What a day.
And they aren’t done yet.
Following the trade with Houston came the realization of the embarrassment of riches the Browns have now assembled in the draft over the next 2 years. Cleveland now has a ridiculous amount of picks – 22, including 8 in the first 2 rounds, combined for the 2017 and 2018 drafts.
With Nos. 1, 12, 33 and 52 overall this year plus a first- and 3 second-rounders in 2018, they are positioned to land the biggest fish of them all: Jimmy Garoppolo.
Kudos to the Patriots for their “We’re not trading Jimmy” posturing. That will change come mid-to-late April when the Browns, assuming they bother to wait that long, make them the offer they won’t be able to refuse.
Last week at the NFL Combine, several executives around the league privately expressed their belief that Garoppolo would be a Brown sooner rather than later. Not because Cleveland is the only team interested, but because no one, and I mean no one, can come close to what the Browns are capable of offering and thus the rest of the league has conceded.
That is what all this wheeling and dealing by DePodesta and Brown the last 14 months has been about.
They now have enough assets to burn without having to compromise their normal stockpile of picks so they can get the piece that has been missing for 18 years and that they believe can finally turn this thing around.
The chips have been assembled. The time has come to push them to the center of the table and like the Cavs did, go all in.