For Cleveland Browns players and fans, an incredibly difficult season finally came to an end this past Sunday. However, the same can’t be said for the front office. In fact, the jobs of Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta are only going to get more difficult from here on out.
The Browns are in dire need of improvements, with holes at almost every position. The team will have to work tirelessly in the coming months to add the right parts to the roster either through free agency or the draft.
The most difficult task facing Cleveland, though, will be retaining a couple marquee free agents.
Wideout Terrelle Pryor and linebacker Jamie Collins both stood out as two of the Browns’ best players this year. They are also a couple months away from hitting the open market, and will likely have plenty of interested teams hoping Cleveland lets them get that far.
For what it’s worth, Brown said the team plans on getting extensions done for both Collins and Pryor without using a franchise tag. As noble as this all sounds, it’s tough to believe either negotiation will go so easily. In fact, the Browns are sure to find out soon that trying to keep both Collins and Pryor could be quite an uphill battle.
It goes without saying the price tag for each player is going to be high. There’s no doubt Pryor is going to demand a lot after collecting 1,000 yards in his first season as a receiver. Collins, on the other hand, is a proven linebacker hitting his prime.
Saying the Browns will have to pony up for each is an obvious statement. Whether they’ll actually do it is another issue.
We all remember last offseason when Cleveland let every one of its marquee free agents find new homes. Initial rumors indicated the Browns were low-balling far more often than they should.
If this is the game-plan for Pryor and Collins, expect it to backfire immediately. The team is working with about $50 million in cap space, so there’s zero excuse for trying to retain two talented players on the cheap. This is hardly the time for the front office to penny-pinch.
On the surface, Pryor would seem like the easier of the two to re-sign. He’s noted how much he enjoys playing for Jackson numerous times, and likely has a little loyalty to the team which finally gave him a chance at wideout.
As mentioned, though, a solid first season at receiver means Pryor is going to swing for the fences in negotiations. Though he still has room for improvement and needs to show this success is sustainable, I find it hard to believe he’ll hold these facts against himself during contract talks.
Collins has stated he has no problem committing to a rebuilding project, but money will obviously be a factor. He was traded from the New England Patriots in part because of an inability to agree on a contract extension, and it’s tough to believe he’ll lower his demands to stay with a worse team in the Browns.
If you ask me, while I think it’s smart to head into these talks hoping the franchise tag won’t be necessary, odds favor the team having to use it if it wants to keep both guys.
When it comes to who the franchise tag should be used on if things get to that point, the smart choice would be Pryor. Would it be a little more money than he’s worth? Perhaps. At the same time, this wouldn’t put Cleveland on the hook for a big contract should he have difficulty replicating his 2016 numbers.
Likewise, Collins has four productive seasons and a Pro Bowl appearance on his resume. If forced to extend one player and franchise tag the other, it makes far more sense to give the bigger contract to the more proven commodity.
Whatever happens, the undeniable worst case scenario is letting Pryor or Collins hit the open market. It won’t take long for either to receive big offers, nor will it be too difficult to find a team in better shape than Cleveland.
So, while the Browns’ initial plan is to lock up both free agents without a franchise tag, they better know how difficult such an approach will be.
Can it be done? Sure. That is, of course, if the team is willing to be flexible in negotiations and can be open to franchising one of the players as a last-ditch effort. Otherwise, either Pryor, Collins or both might end up wearing a different jersey next fall.