Losing four starters makes for tough start to free agency in Cleveland

Schwartz the latest to leave Browns for new team (0:32)

Adam Schefter reacts to former Browns OT Mitchell Schwartz leaving for the Chiefs, and how the Browns have a lost a multitude of their key offensive pieces. (0:32)

The rest of the NFL let the Cleveland Browns know what it thought of four of the team's players from the 2015 roster who became free agents on Wednesday.

In doing so, the other teams in the NFL shaped what, from the outside at least, looks like a pretty rough first day of free agency in Cleveland.

Four starters signed new deals on the first day they could.

Four other teams felt these players were good enough that the teams wanted them signed immediately, before anyone else could get a crack at them.

Kansas City, Atlanta, San Diego and Jacksonville all believed Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin and Tashaun Gipson made them better.

The Browns saw them go.

Schwartz's brother Geoff even tweeted that Mitchell "went through some nonsense" on Wednesday. That likely refers to an NFL Network report that the Browns withdrew an offer to Schwartz.

Combine that with the fact that the Browns did not sign anyone, retained Johnny Manziel for another day, still have Dwayne Bowe and did not add receiver Marvin Jones (who chose Detroit) and the Browns had a tortoise-like start to the opening of free agency. It's hard to remember a team losing four starters on the first day, two of whom were offensive linemen who played every down. Suddenly, a team that won three games a year ago has more needs.

The Browns negotiated with at least three of the four players, and by one account offered Mack more money than Atlanta did. But all three chose to go elsewhere.


Perhaps because of this: Mack played for four coaches and had four general managers in his seven years in Cleveland. Benjamin and Schwartz had three coaches and three GMs in four years. Add in the change this offseason and the total is higher.

Then there's Gipson, who felt he was undervalued by the Browns. He now has a $35.5 million contract to say that his feelings were right.

Constant turmoil leads to change, which leads to struggle, which leads to losing. Every time a new regime takes over, it seems to discount what some of the old regime's players did.

There is no one single reason that the Browns have not won. But it does not help when their own players, the ones they drafted, signed and grew, leave via free agency. There is time to bring in more players, and perhaps the Browns -- as the team has said -- are pointing toward the draft, all drafts.

Still, in the past two offseasons, the Browns have lost a first-round pick (Mack), two second round picks (Schwartz and Jabaal Sheard), and fourth-round (Benjamin) and a fifth-round pick (Buster Skrine). They also have lost one of their best undrafted free agents (Gipson).

Every one of those players can play.

Coach Hue Jackson said in an interview on ESPN Cleveland last week that he felt it important that the team draft, grow and keep their own. Vice presdient of football operations Sashi Brown said at the combine that signing your own sends the right message to the locker room.

The question now becomes what losing your own says not only to the locker room but to the long-suffering fans.

The four might bring compensatory draft picks in 2017, but they leave behind holes in the roster now.

A 3-13 team simply does not get better when some of its good players walk away.