The Browns took a breather Friday.
For the first time in a week, they went 15 minutes without making news.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. But it felt that way as general manager John Dorsey never let off the throttle and began a major roster upgrade that will continue through the draft at the end of April.
He executed five trades, signed seven free agents and cut nine bottom-of-the-roster players. If the 10 players he targeted and landed make the 53-man roster in September, as expected, he would’ve turned over 19 percent of the roster.
The respite after the rush allowed for the opportunity to reset.
The Browns no longer look like an 0-16 team. They have a quarterback in Tyrod Taylor, who’s won 22 games in 43 career starts. They have a receiver in Jarvis Landry, who’s averaged 100 catches in four seasons. They have a free safety in Damarious Randall, who should be a significant upgrade and allow Jabrill Peppers to move to his natural position of strong safety.
Those were just the trades.
Carlos Hyde will start at running back, TJ Carrie at cornerback and Chris Hubbard at right tackle. The other free agent signings — defensive end Chris Smith, tight end Darren Fells, cornerback Terrance Mitchell and tackle Donald Stephenson — add depth and experience, two valuable commodities missing during Sashi Brown’s teardown tenure.
Reasonable minds can disagree whether Brown’s extreme measures were necessary and beneficial. What can’t be debated is that Dorsey would never have gone that route.
From the minute he took over in December he’s stressed the commitment to start winning. He believes the Browns should contend in the AFC North every year and 2018 isn’t an exception.
“We picked up a lot of guys that we felt are going to help get this organization get to winning as fast as possible,” said coach Hue Jackson, who’s relieved to have a veteran quarterback and more talent but will be under pressure to make a drastic jump in the win column.
Dorsey moved quickly to rectify what he diagnosed as a problem in the secondary by adding Randall, Carrie and Mitchell.
“I thought that we could use a little bit more speed,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey isn’t done, saying he’d huddle with the personnel staff, discuss the second phase of free agency and turn his attention to the draft, where he has five picks in the first 64 — Nos. 1, 4, 33, 35 and 64.
He said another free agent or two could be added. A receiver (Terrelle Pryor) with size to challenge Corey Coleman for playing time and line up opposite Josh Gordon would help, as would a proven pass rusher (Vinny Curry) to supplement Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah.
Regardless of further moves, Dorsey achieved one of the goals of free agency: flexibility entering the draft.
He can easily address quarterback and cornerback with the first two picks and doesn’t have to force a position at any selection. He can be true to his board and take the best player available, or the player with the greatest value. (Penn State running back Saquon Barkley might be the best player at No. 4, but that’s too high for a running back, especially if it’s not a roster need).
Dorsey put himself in great position to control the draft. He can take his favorite quarterback at No. 1, his top-rated cornerback — Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick vs. Ohio State’s Denzel Ward is a debate that will pick up steam — at No. 4, then decide if there’s a player worth trading back into the first round to select.
The league-high $113 million in salary cap space allowed Dorsey to be aggressive. The room and the stockpile of draft picks he inherited removed any regret from possibly overpaying for Taylor — giving Buffalo the No. 65 pick and committing to pay him $16 million this year.
“We had great assets in place, so why not take advantage of that?” Dorsey said.
Jackson has wanted a capable veteran like Taylor throughout his two years in Cleveland. His relief was obvious when he named Taylor the unquestioned starter four months before training camp and nearly six months before the season.
While some in the national media chuckled at the idea of guaranteeing Taylor the starting job this early, especially with the likelihood Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield will be the pick at No. 1, it’s an accurate reflection of what Jackson and the Browns have been through the last two years.
Jackson was burned by rookie quarterbacks and doesn’t want to take another chance playing one before he’s ready — even if he is the headliner of the draft and the future face of the franchise. Jackson and the team are desperate for victories, which are a safer bet with a veteran.
And the goal for 2018. That much was made clear in the frenzy of the last week.