“That’s a surprising move, but I guess I get it.”
I’ve found myself uttering these words a lot this offseason, all referring to roster moves made by the Cleveland Browns.
I said it when they cut veterans like Karlos Dansby and (to a lesser extent) Donte Whitner. I said it when free agents Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and Tashaun Gipson all walked for nothing. Each was a head-scratching moment at first, but relatively easy to explain once you broke it all down. This new regime running the show in Cleveland has been less than subtle about its desire to remove older veterans to make way for an influx of youth.
Today, yet another move was made as a part of this initiative.
The Browns surprised more than a few this morning when they announced the cut of linebacker Paul Kruger. Though coming off a rough season, it seemed as though he had a place on Cleveland’s roster this year. At 30 years old, he wasn’t past his prime and could still contribute to the defense.
However, saving roster spots for vets just isn’t a priority for this front office. While cutting Kruger seems crazy to some, the move makes sense when considering everything else the Browns have done to shape this roster.
I will admit to being more thrown off by Kruger’s release than I was with some of the other cuts. His sack numbers took a steep decline last year, dropping from 11 to 2.5. However, much of this was due to then-defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil inexplicably dropping Kruger into pass coverage for the majority of the 2015 season.
One had to think new DC Ray Horton, who loves sending pressure often, would’ve made Kruger a preferred weapon for the defense. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find an impact moment from the linebacker this preseason.
Cleveland’s defense has been bad at best through three exhibition games. No, that’s not all on Kruger. Still, if the Browns needed a reason to keep him despite their purging of vets, he had to provide one. Frankly, nothing Kruger did in any of his preseason appearances made you think he was someone the team had to hang on to.
So, when you break it down that simply – an off year followed by an off preseason – cutting Kruger makes sense. The only reason it’s seen as alarming is the fact the Browns are so devoid of talent, especially on defense, and removing someone who’s been productive in the past seems strange.
You can certainly argue that such a talent-depleted team should’ve held on to anyone who can produce. This isn’t wrong by any matter, until you consider what this front office is doing.
We’re not watching a typical Cleveland rebuild here, where the new regime claims this is what’s happening, but throws large contracts at aged players in attempt to convince fans wins are on the way. Hue Jackson and company are starting from the bottom up, collecting draft picks by the bushel to build with youth. Because of this, Kruger was indeed expendable.
The Browns used a ton of draft picks this past spring, and have another pile they’re adding to for next year. They intend to give these rookies as much playing time as possible to speed up their development. As a result, spending large amounts of cap space on players who simply aren’t crucial pieces to the future of this team doesn’t make sense.
If Cleveland would rather give younger guys like Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard the bulk of snaps (and everything from camp points to this being the case), there’s no need to keep Kruger around.
I can’t argue with the fact the timing of the move is cruel. Had the Browns felt Kruger wasn’t in their future plans, they should’ve cut him with Dansby and Whitner earlier this year. Many teams are cap-strapped right now, so Kruger is likely not going to get market value on his next contract.
However, that’s really the only gripe Cleveland fans should have about this release.
This front office is hell-bent on infusing as much youth into the starting lineup as possible, a process which would’ve been hindered had Kruger made the final cut. With that in mind, this release needed to be made if only to keep the Browns’ youth movement alive and well.