The Cleveland Browns not only have been the most active AFC North team in the free-agent market, but they’ve also sent a message to the rest of the division – and the NFL, for that matter – about the priority they place on experience.
The Browns continue to show a commitment to building a core of players who are above what is typically viewed as the preferred top end of the NFL age scale, 27.
The latest to fall into that category is 32-year-old wide receiver Nate Burleson, with whom the Browns agreed to terms on a contract Sunday night.
Since last month’s start of the free-agent signing period, the Browns have acquired 32-year-old linebacker
It’s reasonable to expect that all six will make a significant contribution, along with
Burleson and Hawkins give the Browns a pair of established receivers to go along with their No. 1 player at the position,
Hawkins figures to make his impact from the slot, while Burleson should be a factor in competition for the No. 2 role. During 11 NFL seasons with three teams (Minnesota, Seattle, and Detroit), the 6-foot, 198-pound Burleson has caught 457 passes for 5,630 yards (averaging 12.3 yards per catch) and 39 touchdowns. Like Dansby, McQuistan, Whitner, Hawkins, and Tate, Burleson also has playoff experience, having reached the postseason four times.
The addition of Burleson is not expected to dissuade the Browns from pursuing a receiver in May’s draft, which is considered exceptionally deep with players at the position. And his presence, along with that of Hawkins, should provide strong leadership to the younger members of the group.
"We added Nate because we believe he can play like a Brown, with the added veteran presence that can help young players reach their potential," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said. "He's a pro's pro. He’s the quality-character person that understands the NFL from all angles and sides.
"He can play, which is evident in his beginning to last season prior to missing time, with production and value. He will improve our roster and overall competition at the wide-receiver position."
RAMS RECEIVING ‘FLIRTATIOUS CALLS’ FOR SECOND OVERALL PICK
The player the Browns are targeting with the fourth pick of the draft is anyone’s guess.
But the same mystery holds for what will happen with the three choices before theirs.
Among the predictions for what the Houston Texans will do with the top overall pick are Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (that’s from long-time NFL beat writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle), and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
After that, it gets even more interesting. The St. Louis Rams own the second overall pick, and their general manager, Les Snead, told SI.com that he has fielded “flirtatious calls” from teams inquiring the price to move to that spot to land a particular player.
The list of players whose availability could potentially prompt such a trade is fairly lengthy. Besides Clowney, Bortles, and Manziel, there are offensive tackles Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) and Greg Robinson (Auburn), linebacker Khalil Mack (Buffalo), and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (Clemson).
For what it’s worth, Jim Thomas, long-time NFL beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, predicts the Rams will choose Matthews on the assumption that the Texans will go with Clowney.
“At the top, maybe there’s four or five players who were one step or one notch ahead of the very good and sometimes a team might say we need to get that guy,” Snead said. “You don’t know the value of what people would be willing to give. The fact that there could be multiple teams eyeing one of those guys could drive up the price a little bit.”
And add to the intrigue over what will happen with the selections that follow, including the Browns’ (on the assumption they aren’t among the clubs placing those “flirtatious calls”).
MIKE TOMLIN EXPECTS MORE FROM WIDE RECEIVER MARKUS WHEATON
Markus Wheaton had a rough rookie season for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year.
After joining them as a third-round draft pick from Oregon State, he caught a mere six passes, thanks largely to a broken finger that would require surgery after the season.
As far as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is concerned, a healthier Wheaton should have a far greater impact in his second season.
“I look forward to him taking a significant step for us,” the coach told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I know that we need him to.”
The Steelers lost some production at receiver with the free-agent departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Although they’ve added a pair of receivers in free agency, Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and also have wide out Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller, they are looking for Wheaton to be an ascending talent and big-play contributor.
LESEAN MCCOY WELCOMES EAGLES’ ADDITION OF DARREN SPROLES
One might wonder whether the addition of another explosive, difference-making player to the Philadelphia Eagles’ backfield would be viewed as a threat by the team’s explosive, difference-making incumbent.
Far from it.
LeSean McCoy, who led the NFL with 314 rushing attempts and 1,607 rushing yards last season, sounds thrilled with the Eagles’ free-agent addition of Darren Sproles. As far as McCoy is concerned, it should do plenty to enhance his effectiveness because he has someone with whom he can share the rushing and receiving load that led to his having 366 touches in 2013.
“I can go in a game even more fresh because I’m getting less carries and less attempts,” McCoy told FOXSports.com. “I had 366 touches, which is a lot. I think me having less attempts can help me be more productive and more deadly. Being fresh in the fourth quarter, things that you don’t think matter really do make a big difference.
“Now, defenses have another guy that they have to prepare for. They have to watch out for so many different things, and it’s hard. They only get a week to prepare for us.”
BRANDON WEEDEN REFLECTS ON WHAT WENT WRONG WHILE WITH BROWNS
Brandon Weeden is getting a second chance in the NFL, hoping to secure a spot as a backup quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys.
Meanwhile, he is looking back at all that went wrong with his first chance, as a starter with the Browns.
The three front-office and coaching changes since Weeden joined the Browns as a first-round draft pick in 2011 certainly didn’t help his cause, but he admits that he also could have done more to help himself.
“You never know the plans the group coming in has,” Weeden told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I think, as a player, as much as you try not to do too much, try not to put too much pressure on yourself to perform and show you can be the guy for the long haul, sometimes you get caught up in it. You try to do too much as a player.
“That’s one thing, if I could change about myself, I wouldn’t try to do too much every Sunday. Just let the game kind of come to you and be more patient.”
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