Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Take care of your own: The new regime of the Browns can change the culture of the organization without waiting for the draft or coach Hue Jackson’s first offseason program.
It can do something previous regimes have stupidly failed to do -- re-sign its best unrestricted free agents.
Retaining your own free agents is one of the tenets of prudent team-building. The Browns never do this because they are always changing regimes. The new regimes callously dismiss eligible free agents as “failed” draft picks of their predecessors or misfits in their new “systems.”
This practice is not only the height of arrogance but also counter-productive. It’s also preposterous when you consider the Browns have been in the top five of salary cap room for five years running. They have had much spending room, yet no consistent philosophy of how to maximize it.
One difference this time is Sashi Brown. The newly appointed executive vice president of football operations has been on board with the organization since 2013 as the team’s chief contract negotiator and salary cap expert. He should have an understanding of the value of the potential free agents whose contracts expired after the 2015 season.
In December, Brown negotiated a new three-year deal with tight end Gary Barnidge. That was a good start. At the same time, he also was “75 to 80 percent” on the way to a new deal with Travis Benjamin, according to the wide receiver.
Since then, Brown has been given full authority over football operations, with final say of all player transactions and the draft. So he doesn’t really have to defer to anyone.
Free agency begins on March 9. Until then, teams can lock up their own free agents with new deals.
But Brown said Friday on the Golden Boyz on ESPN 850 WKNR that he wants to allow Jackson and his newly created coaching staff to first evaluate the roster before deciding on which potential free agents to re-sign.
“I would not say we’re close to an agreement,” Brown said. “In fairness to Hue and his staff, we definitely want to get them up to speed on evaluating the players on our roster, but also making sure that organizationally we in the personnel department understand exactly the schemes that we’re going to be running and how these players are going to fit into those schemes.
“We have been in contact with the agents of all our unrestricted free agents and have had some significant conversations. I think some of that was reported on with respect to Travis. So we look forward to continuing those in the coming weeks.”
Now that Jackson has filled out the bulk of his assistant coaching staff, decisions on key Browns’ potential unrestricted free agents may change.
Johnson Bademosi, defensive back/special teams core player: The retention of special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, whose contract expired and was expected to leave, now has survived four Browns head coaches. Tabor should help get a new deal done for Bademosi, who has led the Browns in special teams tackles four years in a row.
Travis Benjamin, wide receiver/return specialist: Second on the team in receptions (68), yards (966) and touchdowns (5), the 5-foot-10, 172-pounder blossomed into a fairly complete receiver, reclaimed his stature as one of the fastest players in the league, and proved his durability. He was also fourth in the NFL with an 11.6-yard punt return average with one touchdown return.
Tank Carder, inside linebacker/special teams core player: Another favorite of Tabor on special teams, his experience on defense is limited.
Tashaun Gipson, free safety: A contract dispute, nagging injuries and a role change from ball-hawking center fielder to cornerback-helper due to other injuries resulted into essentially a lost year. But the return of Ray Horton as defensive coordinator may make him a renewed priority. Gipson had a breakout year under Horton in 2013, during which Horton called Gipson the defense’s MVP.
Alex Mack, center: Per terms of the offer sheet negotiated by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014 and matched by the Browns when they utilized the seldom-used transition tag on Mack -- with Brown’s approval -- Mack can opt out of the remaining two years of the deal and become a free agent. His scheduled 2016 base salary of $8 million presumably would be the starting point for a new deal. Not many teams consider a center worth that price tag, but Mack probably will find a suitor -- perhaps Jacksonville.
Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver/quarterback: He joined the Oakland Raiders via the supplemental draft in 2011 while Jackson was taking over the team as head coach. Jackson then had something to do with Pryor getting a look-see at backup quarterback with the Cincinnati Bengals in June of 2015 before Pryor eventually joined the Browns as a converted receiver. They could reunite a third time in Cleveland if Jackson gives the nod. Why not? Jackson exploited multi-role receiver Mohamed Sanu in Cincinnati.
Craig Robertson, inside linebacker: In 2013, Horton called Robertson “my ace in the hole” and made him a starter. Truth is, Horton may have over-burdened Robertson and he suffered in pass coverage. Under Mike Pettine, however, Robertson had a resurgence, and Horton might be inclined to play that hole card a second time.
Mitchell Schwartz, offensive right tackle: Initial negotiations for a new deal reportedly did not go well, as Schwartz could be one of the most coveted offensive tackles on the market. He has not missed an offensive snap in his four seasons and has gotten better each year. Schwartz’s finest game may have been against Denver in 2015, when he yielded only one quarterback pressure and no sacks pitted primarily against heralded Broncos pass rusher Von Miller.