Browns start fresh with flurry of trades, free agent deals
CLEVELAND (AP) — Following four trades and a flurry of free-agent deals, the Cleveland Browns are looking better.
Maybe even good enough to win a game next season.
On the day one-of-a-kind left tackle Joe Thomas said goodbye after 11 stellar seasons, the Browns took the first steps without their perennial Pro Bowler, a player who might be replaced but never duplicated.
Hours after Thomas announced he’s retiring, the Browns confirmed the acquisition of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and cornerback Damarious Randall in three separate deals pulled off last week by new general manager John Dorsey, who also shipped quarterback DeShone Kizer to Green Bay and defensive tackle Danny Shelton to New England.
Dorsey stayed just as aggressive in free agency, reaching contract agreements with seven players, including offensive tackles Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson, who can help offset the loss of Thomas. Running back Carlos Hyde also is leaving San Francisco for Cleveland.
The Browns didn’t confirm their haul of free agents, but a person with direct knowledge of the deals told The Associated Press that the team has contract agreements with Hubbard, Stephenson, Hyde, tight end Darren Fells, defensive end Chris Smith and cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie. Those deals are expected to be finalized Thursday, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contracts are not yet signed.
And while Dorsey acquired needed talent to a team coming off a 0-16 season, he hung on to all five of Cleveland’s picks in the first two rounds of this year’s draft. The Browns have the No. 1 and No. 4 picks and three in the second round.
“Anytime you can have a chance to acquire three good football players right off the bat in the trades, you’ve got to do it,” said Dorsey, hired in December after five years in Kansas City. “I give a lot of credit to everyone in football operations because we sat there for two months. We made some plans and laid some plans in regard to free agency and how we were going to attack it. We identified certain players we thought would help this organization moving forward who had the qualities we were looking for with regard to do they love football? Are they leaders at their position? Are they guys that are going to be good in the locker room?
“I thought the three guys in the trades fit everything we were looking for.”
Taylor could be the team’s long-sought answer at quarterback. He led the Buffalo Bills to their first playoff appearance in 17 years last season and has the ability to move the chains through the air or on the ground.
“He’s a great kid. Great leader, smart as a whip,” said Dorsey, who sent the Bills a third-round draft pick for Taylor. “He has the physical abilities to extend the play. He’s got more than enough arm talent and he doesn’t turn the ball over.”
Kizer led the league with 22 interceptions as a rookie and his turnovers in key situations sabotaged the Browns’ chances to win.
Taylor is expected to start next season as the Browns groom a young quarterback, and the team is doing its diligence to decide which one to take. On Wednesday, Alonzo Highsmith, the team’s vice president of player personnel, attended Baker Mayfield’s pro day at Oklahoma.
“We view Tyrod as a perfect fit to lead our team,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “He possesses the qualities we want of a starting quarterback. He’s smart, a leader, and an efficient passer that doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s a winner and has been very productive as a starting quarterback in this league. The expectation is for Tyrod to come in and be our quarterback, get himself acclimated to our offense and help us get to winning as quickly as possible.”
Landry will help that happen.
The three-time Pro Bowler, who has caught 400 passes in his first four seasons, gives the Browns a downfield threat to pair with wide receiver Josh Gordon. Landry had a league-leading 112 receptions last season for the Miami Dolphins, who received a fourth-round pick this year and a seventh-rounder in 2019 from Cleveland.
“It’s really exciting that we had the opportunity to put him on our team,” Jackson said. “He’s going to bring a fire and competitive energy to our team that will make us better. He’s a playmaker and a difference maker that we expect to make our offense go.”
Landry is set to make $16 million under the franchise tag he signed with Miami — or more than $15 million more than Gordon, who received a qualifying offer for $790,000 in 2018 as an exclusive rights free agent.
The 25-year-old Randall played cornerback for three years with the Packers, but the Browns intend to move him to free safety.
“Demarious is very versatile,” Dorsey said. “I’ve long admired him when he was playing safety back at Arizona State. He’s a first-round pick a couple of years ago, which shows you what his skill set is. He’s proven his versatility where he can play corner, he can play safety. I’m glad we got all three of those guys.”
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