Upgrading a haphazard offensive line was a crucial part of Cleveland’s free agency game plan in 2017, and they have thrown some serious money around on Day 1.
The Browns took care of their own first, re-signing 2014 second-round pick Joel Bitonio jersey to a hefty five-year, $51.2 million extension, keeping him in Cleveland for the next six years, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. That amount includes $23.7 million in guarantees. While Bitonio is still a short distance away from needing a new deal, Cleveland has a significant amount of money to spend — more than $100 million — and are interested in taking care of the players they believe can make up their core.
Cleveland also agreed to terms with former Packers center JC Tretter on Thursday, the team confirmed.
While that move may have flown a bit under the radar in year’s past, it could be a sign that the Browns are looking to seriously upgrade their offensive line in order to facilitate — and not destroy — a rookie quarterback. The team was intent on developing young prospects like Bitonio and 2015 first-round pick Cam Erving jersey but desperately needed a sheen of professionalism to bridge the gap between those young players and Pro Bowler Joe Thomas.
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“Obviously, Robert is on our roster right now,” he said. “I think there’s some things he did well, some things he needs to improve at and we’re going to keep working with him until we don’t. He’s one of the three quarterbacks on our team right now and I’m very fortunate we have some guys under contract right now to work with. But we have to continue to get him better as he moves forward.”
The day before, executive vice president Sashi Brown said he could envision a scenario where the team heads into the season with Griffin, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan jersey as their quarterbacks. Jackson echoed those sentiments, but did hint toward a possible shakeup to come (he would not entertain a question about trading for a veteran quarterback).
“I think we have to feel that way because that could potentially happen,” Jackson said. “It depends on how this all unfolds. But I know we’re doing anything and everything we can to improve that position. I think that’s really important. I think that’s where Sashi was coming from. It can happen that way. It can be that way. But at the same time that’s a reality too. We’re going to do everything we can to find a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.”
Reading the tea leaves, it’s hard not to imagine Jackson standing on a table to get his way and get a new quarterback. While Brown is typically more reserved and measured in his comments, Jackson seems to be itching for the chance to see this year’s prospects again. He talked about how pleased he was that North Carolina prospect Mitch Trubisky measured in above his 6-foot-2 threshold for quarterbacks. He talked about what he’s looking for this week during private interviews and, later, workouts.
“Most importantly, guys have to have arm talent,” Jackson said. “And, can a guy process football at the rate you need him to do it? Is he a guy who can lead an organization? Because I think we all know the quarterback becomes the face of the organization. That’s really important. And a lot of pressure comes with that, so you gotta be able to handle that.”
“I don’t want to say it was my first priority because at the end of the day you want to be wanted,” Pryor told reporters in D.C. Monday, via comments distributed by the team. “You want to be with a team that wants you to be on the team. In Washington, they were very aggressive in terms of wanting me to be on the team. I played with six quarterbacks last year. I don’t think it could get that bad. Obviously, I would like to play with Kirk (Cousins); I would be an idiot if I didn’t believe that. I think he’s a great quarterback and hopefully that’s what happens.”
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Pryor was among a horde of talented young players who are inking one-year prove-it deals in free agency. Initially a lock to return to Cleveland, Pryor gave himself a chance to test the market. While he did not come out and say it, Cleveland did not seem to show him the love.
“I don’t want to come off rude or anything, but at the end of the day now, it doesn’t really matter,” Pryor said. “I’m here and a lot of things that people do is back track. I can’t really go back now and all I can think of is the future with the Redskins this year and being the best teammate and the best player that I can for them. That’s all I can really talk about in terms of free agency.”
At the end of the day, this might be the best move for Pryor. While it would have been nice to come full circle and remain with the Browns, he’s looking to maximize his market for 2017-18 and it might be tough to do so with Cleveland’s current setup. Should Hue Jackson jersey end up nabbing a Jimmy Garoppolo-type, then Pryor might regret his choice, but in Washington he is paired with a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who is looking to do exactly the same thing.
With the organization going through some changes, it seems clear Cousins’ heart is elsewhere, too. Both now find themselves with no other option than to make the best of a bad situation and cash in a year from now. Come next March, both could be feeling very wanted.