The Cleveland Browns came into the offseason with two priority free agents they needed to retain. They’ve already locked one of them down. Reports say they’re now ramping up negotiations with the other.
Cleveland surprised many with the speed at which it was able to re-sign linebacker Jamie Collins. Seen by many as someone who might explore the market, the former Pro Bowler instead re-upped with the Browns just three weeks after the season ended. Though they overpaid Collins, it was a necessary move in order to ensure they didn’t let talent walk out the door again.
With a defensive cornerstone under contract, Cleveland is now shifting its focus to the other side of the ball. Wideout Terrelle Pryor remains unsigned as the opening of free agency nears. However, the Browns are reportedly meeting with his agents this week to get the ball rolling on a potential new deal.
One thing working in Cleveland’s favor is a message Pryor relayed to his representatives. Per Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he told his agents he wants to remain with the Browns.
Hearing this hammers two things home right off the bat. First of all, Pryor making it known he wants to stay with the Browns is a significant bit of leverage for the team. As a follow up, it’s an advantage the team better not abuse.
I’d like to think it comes as a surprise any time Cleveland hears a player say he wants to stay. This is especially true when you consider how miserable the one-win 2016 campaign was. That said, Pryor realizes the Browns were the first club to give him a chance at receiver and is handing them the edge in negotiations as a reward for this.
That said, while this loyalty is significantly helpful for Cleveland coming into contract talks, it’s not something it should take for granted. Having a player declare he wants to stick around doesn’t mean you can try and force him to accept an aggressive discount.
This isn’t to say Pryor deserves elite receiver money. While he showed far more promise than anyone initially expected when he transitioned from quarterback to wideout, there’s still plenty of work he can do to continue developing his skills.
That said, you also can’t ignore the fact he just completed a 1,000-yard season in his first year as a receiver. Despite there still being areas in his game which need some improvement, Cleveland can’t deny the fact Pryor was a standout on an offense which sputtered more often than not last year.
As a result, while the Browns and Pryor’s team will likely start negotiations with two very different numbers, there’s certainly a middle ground to be found.
Of course, this will be true provided Cleveland doesn’t try to exploit Pryor’s loyalty. If the Browns attempt to consistently low-ball, knowing they’re trying to re-sign a player who instructed his agents to make sure a deal gets done, things could get ugly in a hurry.
It’d be easy for Cleveland to continually reject offers it deems too rich, doing so with the confidence of knowing Pryor wants to stay. However, if such a scenario kept occurring, it could easily sour the relationship between player and team. Suddenly, the allegiance Pryor displayed before these talks started could begin to wear thin.
The Browns are in a good spot knowing they’re trying to re-sign a player who’s devoted to Cleveland. At the same time, this shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip. The second team reps begin displaying any sort of “we’ve got the edge because Pryor told you he wants to be a Brown” level of confidence, talks could get unnecessarily heated.
At the end of the day, I expect this deal to be made before free agency opens up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Browns overpay a bit, but that’s the situation they find themselves in. You can’t go 1-15 and expect free agents to accept market value or less to join your roster.
Still, I would encourage Cleveland to see Pryor’s desire to stay as respectable devotion, nothing more, nothing less. The team is still in dire need of talent, so it can’t afford to lose one the offense’s biggest weapons by coming into these negotiations over-confident.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook