Browns banking on big payoff from high-priced additions

The three contracts reportedly add up to $115 million.

But is that enough to make the Cleveland Browns serious contenders?

That is the question facing new additions Donte' Stallworth, Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, who all made their debut last week during Cleveland's organized team activities. The veterans were brought in to take last year's surprising 10-6 team to the next level.

The Browns, despite last season's success, joined the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets as two of the most aggressive teams in free agency. Cleveland retained their two biggest free agents, running back Jamal Lewis and quarterback Derek Anderson, while patching up three glaring needs by signing a No. 2 receiver (Stallworth) and trading for a starting defensive tackle (Rogers) and defensive end (Williams).

The league certainly took notice of the Browns' proactive approach and gave the team five prime-time games this season, including three on Monday night. Cleveland didn't have any prime-time games last year.

"One thing about being in the NFL or any professional sports is that you want people to watch you,'' Browns receiver Braylon Edwards said. "You want to be on a team that people are interested in seeing and want to see on TV. So now that press is here and people want to see us, we're excited.''

Cleveland's 2007 season can be viewed in two ways.

Browns supporters can say the team put together double-digit wins, and with a young core that includes five Pro Bowlers, they appear primed to make a run the next few years. Browns detractors can point to big December losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals, no playoff berth or AFC North title, and say the team has yet to prove anything.

Both theories are what make the Browns one of the most intriguing teams to watch in 2008. People are curious to see if Cleveland can do it again versus the NFL's ninth-toughest schedule and with a starting quarterback (Anderson) who sneaked up on the entire league last season.

That is where veterans such as Stallworth, Rogers and Williams come in. They will be expected to add stability and production.

Stallworth and Williams played in big games last season as members of the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, respectively. Including playoffs, their two teams went 32-5 last season. Rogers hasn't had much team success with the Detroit Lions but has the most impressive individual credentials as a former two-time Pro Bowler (2004-2005).

Corey Williams


Shaun Rogers


This is only the second team Rogers has played for in his eight-year career. He's had weight problems in the past but last week looked rejuvenated and in great shape during Cleveland's OTAs.

"I thought it would be a lot harder than it is,'' Rogers said of fitting in with the Browns. "These guys have welcomed me with open arms. I knew a few of these guys prior to this and it's been real fun. It hasn't been a problem at all."

Cleveland acquired Rogers after a trade fell through between the Lions and
Bengals on March 1. The Browns offered cornerback Leigh Bodden and this year's third-round pick to get Rogers, then quickly re-did his contract to make it a six-year deal worth $42 million.

Rogers' contract with Detroit already was a sizable. So according to Browns general manager Phil Savage, the team increased the guaranteed money and added three years on the back end of the deal.

"Nothing was going to occur unless you do something with the contract,'' Savage said recently. "I know people will say, 'How can you give him that much money when he's never been with the Browns?' But in order for him to get with the Browns, you had to do something.''

Williams recorded 14 sacks the past two seasons with Green Bay and should help Cleveland in that category. Opponents often double-teamed the Browns' most dynamic pass-rusher, Kamerion Wimbley, who had just five sacks last year. The Browns as a team recorded just 28 sacks, which was tied for No. 26 in the NFL.

Stallworth will be an added threat to take some of the pressure off Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Cleveland's coaching staff likes that Stallworth has the potential to bring more big-play capability to its offense. The seven-year veteran has averaged 15.1 yards per catch for his career.

The Browns certainly have a talented team on paper. But whether they can deliver this season amid the high expectations remains to be seen.

"We're all starting from scratch,'' Stallworth said. "So all the predictions and all that, we leave it up to you guys [the media]. Our job is to come out here and get better. Last year was last year, for me personally and this team.''

James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com.