Defensive Acquisitions for the Cleveland Browns: Free Agents
As expected, the Browns quickly signed a few free agents as the time to do so began. With a defensive-minded head coach, the team collected two athletes that should bolster the unit while the other is a remote possibility. Personally I like the signings, as the Browns did not go “all-out” and spend exorbitant amounts on guys who may not be on the roster in a few seasons. Following a couple of releases, the front office realized that spots needed to be filled and eyed a couple athletes to fill those voids. Some playmakers ought to be added to the defense in May, but for now let’s take a look at the members currently on the team.
Karlos Dansby – Linebacker
The interior leader of the defense transitioned from veteran D’Qwell Jackson to long-time Arizona Cardinal Karlos Dansby. The team is getting a guy who is coming off an extremely strong season – one with 113 tackles, six-and-a-half sacks, four interceptions, and a pair of touchdowns. It’s difficult to believe that this type of production will sustain in 2014, but if the linebacker can deliver relatively similar output the signing will be warranted. Jackson was solid in stopping opponents but was limited in getting to the quarterback and creating turnovers; the Browns hope to have solved those problems here.
Donte Whitner – Safety
Another difference between the 2013 defense and the 2014 one is the man holding the starting strong safety spot. T.J. Ward is now a member of the Denver Broncos, while Cleveland native Donte Whitner is coming home to play for the Browns. As is the case with Dansby, the team replaced a departed defender with a guy who is slightly older. However, both additions have been more productive; especially as of late. Last year, the number of interceptions, tackles, and fumbles recovered were relatively even between Whitner and Ward – however the former graded out better in pass coverage (i.e. 52.1 completion percentage vs. 58.0, 2.8 yards-after-catch per reception vs. 4.6, and 6 passes defended to 2) per Pro Football Focus. Also, I do not deny Ward’s leadership, but listening to Whitner speak gives me chills – he can dominate a locker room in a way that his predecessor cannot.
Isaiah Trufant – Cornerback
As a former New York Jet, coach Pettine likely influenced the signing of the reserve cornerback (as they worked together in 2010 and 2011). The player has only one start in his career but averaged nearly a tackle on special teams in 2013. His salary is rather modest (under a million dollars per season for two years), so expectations should be held into check. The Browns had an up-and-down season in their special teams last season; Travis Benjamin will be the reason why the return game is better than most but perhaps Trufant could be a main cog in the coverage units.
Conclusion: General manager Ray Farmer realizes this is a passing league and is putting a premium on implementing players with better coverage abilities. Dansby and Whitner are definitely upgrades in that area; assuming status quo over the past few campaigns. Trufant is a wildcard; if he can help out the defense in any way that would be huge. However, a reliable special teams athlete is nothing to sneeze at. I think these signings are a good start to free agency – securing solid members is what fans should expect at this point in time.