Clockwise, from upper left, Andrew Hawkins, Karlos Dansby, Paul McQuistan and Donte Whitner
Talent is first -- and probably second, third, fourth and fifth -- on the list of qualities the Cleveland Browns seek in a player they pursue in free agency.
Without that ingredient, nothing else really matters.
In the case of most of the seven free agents the Browns have acquired in the last few weeks, however, there is another crucial trait: postseason experience. And it is no coincidence that so many of the newest members of the team share it.
"Getting guys who had played in the postseason was important to us," Browns coach Mike Pettine told reporters Tuesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla.
The Browns demonstrated as much with the signings of offensive guard Paul McQuistan, who helped the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl last month and who has played in multiple playoff games with them; strong safety Donte Whitner, who played in a Super Bowl and three NFC championship games in the last three years with the San Francisco 49ers; linebacker Karlos Dansby, who played in a Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals; wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who made playoff appearances in each of the last three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, and running back Ben Tate, who played in the postseason with the Houston Texans.
"This team last year really only had two starters still with us who had postseason experience, (linebacker Paul) Kruger and (quarterback Brian) Hoyer," Pettine pointed out.
It should be noted that kicker Billy Cundiff, tight end Gary Barnidge, running back Willis McGahee, and three players who have left the Browns since the end of the season (wide receiver Davone Bess, quarterback Jason Campbell, and offensive guard Oneil Cousins) also fell into that category.
But in an effort to create a winning culture within the locker room, Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer saw a clear need for an infusion of players who have been a part of the kind of success the Browns haven't experienced in a long time. They saw tremendous value in their ability to make impact off the field as well as in games.
"Coaches can only provide so much leadership," Pettine said. "Players have to set the standard, too. If they set a high standard, like we believe Dansby and Whitner will, they push each other, they hold each other accountable for taking care of their bodies. Players have to take over that leadership torch.
"When your best leaders are your best players, you have something special."
McQuistan was part of something incredible in Seattle. The Seahawks finished last season with a 13-3 record.
Then, after defeating the New Orleans Saints and 49ers in the playoffs, they pounded the Denver Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XXVIII.
"It's fun when you're winning," McQuistan said. "It's great to have that feeling in the locker room and hopefully we can get that going in Cleveland."
He spent part of the 2010 season with the Browns, and returns to Cleveland with an entirely different perspective – one he looks forward to sharing with his new teammates.
"It's going to be neat to come back in there after a Super Bowl win to kind of have that feeling of knowing what it takes and trying to help guys along," McQuistan said. "It's always great when you win, but you've got to remember it's the NFL, that it takes every week. (Being part of a Super Bowl victory) gives you confidence going in, but it obviously it comes down to each Sunday and leaving each Sunday with a win."
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