Browns Day 1: Step forward, or to the side?

Upgrades, replacement parts or both?

Did the Cleveland Browns take a step forward on the first day of free agency with their three signings, or did they merely bring in replacements for guys who left?

Maybe it depends on point of view.

The Browns lost an inside linebacker and receiver this offseason when they released D'Qwell Jackson and Davone Bess. They lost a safety when T.J. Ward signed with Denver as a free agent.

In free agency, they agreed with an inside linebacker in Karlos Dansby, agreed to an offer sheet with receiver Andrew Hawkins and agreed with safety Donte Whitner.

Out goes one, in comes another.

All the new guys are good players. Whitner and Dansby are aggressive guys who are not afraid to lead. Both are older than the guys they replaced, but both can play. Hawkins is younger than Bess, and (assuming the Bengals do not match the offer) is faster, more explosive and more dependable than Bess, who developed a good case of the dropsies in Cleveland.

Are the Browns better than they were on Tuesday? The team would say yes, that they have added explosive, aggressive players who can make impact plays on defense, in the passing game and on special teams. Too, the players signed -- while not "big-ticket" guys -- are good, dependable players. They are far better than just "guys" who fill the roster. They can play, and that's good.

But the argument can be made that because the Browns lost players at each of the positions, the team merely has filled holes. The players may be better, but it's not like upgrading from a college backup to Tom Brady. The two defensive guys lost contributed to the Browns the past few years. The new guys may be better, but they are better by degrees, not leaps and bounds. Still, by that measurement, the Browns improved. But they won't make significant steps forward until they add players to the mix, not remake the mix.

If the Browns take what they've done and add another good player or two, they will have taken a step forward. The draft awaits, and the Browns have more picks than some teams do in two years.

The first day of free agency was a start. It wasn't merely treading water. But it also wasn't a huge splash. It was a start.

But for a team that has a bunch of false starts the past few years, a start is something.