The Browns are banking D'Qwell Jackson is past his injury problems, signing the middle linebacker to a five-year, $42.5 million deal that includes $19 million in guaranteed money and roster bonuses, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.
This could be a calculated risk, depending on how the Browns protected themselves in the contract in light of Jackson's medical history. But it's a risk, nonetheless. The Browns gave a five-year contract to a player who got on the field for a total of six games in 2009 and 2010 because of two separate pectoral injuries.
The smart play would have been to use the franchise tag on Jackson. Cleveland couldn't let Jackson get away, because it has no one on the roster who could replace his 158 tackles from last season. It would have been pricey to use the tag on him ($8.8 million), but the Browns could have bought another year to see if he could stay healthy for another full season before giving him a multiyear deal.
Jackson, who turns 29 in the first month of the 2012 season, was the runner-up for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. After missing the 26 games previous to last season, he finished second in the NFL in tackles -- 58 more than anyone else in the AFC North.
There has been speculation that the Browns are considering putting the franchise tag on either running back Peyton Hillis or kicker Phil Dawson. I could understand Dawson, not Hillis. Why put the $7.7 million franchise tag on Hillis when you could get him at half that price in free agency?
The Browns used the tag on Dawson last season, and it didn't affect his production. He converted 24 of 29 field goal attempts, and two of those misses were the result of bad snaps. He also hit seven field goals of 50 yards or longer, and no one in the NFL had more from that distance this past season. The Browns could find another strong-legged kicker, but it will be hard to find one as adept in tough, lakefront conditions late in the season.