John Dorsey needs another productive transaction season to push the Browns into the playoffs

Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.

It’s been a while since the Browns embarked on an offseason – or, transaction season – like the one soon to begin, amid high spirits and higher expectations.

They were on the precipice of something in 2008. Phil Savage was the general manager in charge.

The Browns were coming off a 10-6 season. Quarterback Derek Anderson made the Pro Bowl as an alternate after leading the No. 8-ranked offense in the NFL. Savage felt the team needed just a few key acquisitions on defense to take it into the playoffs.

Savage had traded his No. 1 draft choice in the 2007 draft to move up and take quarterback Brady Quinn. Then he acquired a pair of defensive linemen – Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers – for his second- and third-round picks.

Savage’s wheeling-dealing didn’t pay off. Injuries hit the team early in training camp, decimating the offense. The defense wasn’t appreciably better than the year before. The team crashed to 4-12 and everybody lost their job.

As GM John Dorsey approaches his second transaction season, the lesson learned is that one good season does not automatically lead to another.

Mistakes in the transaction season can undo all the progress of a year before. And bad luck can derail everything.

Dorsey’s second offseason is about to begin. Here is a look at the important dates ahead.

Feb. 12: First day to designate franchise and transition players.

This won’t apply to the Browns. They don’t have any players with expiring contracts worthy of tagging.

Feb. 26-March 3: NFL combine in Indianapolis.

For the first time in a decade, the Browns won’t have to consume themselves with finding a future starting quarterback. Now, Dorsey might look in the middle rounds for a developmental No. 3, but the energy in the early rounds can be devoted to pass rusher, defensive tackle, linebacker or cornerback.

March 11-13: Clubs permitted to negotiate with unrestricted free agents.

Dorsey took advantage of this period a year ago and struck quickly when deals were able to be made.

March 13, 4 p.m.: Free agent signing and trades begin.

Last year, Dorsey made seven trades and signed 10 free agents prior to the draft. It’s doubtful he would be that active this year, but he won’t be a wallflower, that’s for sure. Look for quality over quantity.

March 24-27: NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, AZ.

The Haslams have yet to respond to the damning article by Seth Wickersham in ESPN The Magazine on past organization dysfunction. Perhaps the serene setting of the historic Arizona Biltmore will inspire them to comment.

April 1: Browns offseason conditioning program begins.

Because he is a newly hired coach, Freddie Kitchens gets a two-week jumpstart on teams that did not make a coaching change. This will be the first time for him to address the whole team.

April 15-18: Estimated dates of release of 2019 schedule.

This may be the most anticipated event of the offseason for Browns fans. How many prime-time and national TV games will the Browns receive? Whom will they open the season against? Speculation for the opener is coming down to two possibilities – at New England against the Super Bowl champion Patriots on Sunday night, or at the New York Jets in a Baker Mayfield v. Sam Darnold rematch on Monday night, with ex-Browns interim coach Gregg Williams plotting against Mayfield as Jets defensive coordinator.

April 19: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.

Receiver Rashard Higgins is the only restricted free agent of note. If the Browns give Higgins the lowest tender, a team could sign him for the price tag of a fifth-round draft pick – how he entered the league – in compensation. More likely, the Browns would give him the second-round tender, which would make it hard for another team to sign him to an offer sheet. It’s probable that the Browns and Higgins will arrive at a multi-year deal. Or he could sign the one-year tender and be unrestricted in 2020.

April 25-27: NFL draft in Nashville, TN.

The Browns currently own 11 picks – their own in Rounds 1 through 6, the Patriots’ in Round 3, the Jaguars’ and Patriots’ in Round 5, the Jaguars’ and 49ers’ in Round 7.