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Compensatory picks at center of Browns' biggest transactions

On Dec. 2, 2015, NFL owners agreed to a rule change that didn't make the biggest headlines but helped set the foundation for some of the biggest Browns transactions over the past year.

Upon the conclusion of a relatively quiet free agency period last season, Cleveland knew it'd be in a position to receive multiple, high-placed compensatory picks, which fall anywhere from late third round to late seventh round. Even without knowing exactly where the picks would fall, the Browns were able to use them in arguably their three biggest trades of the past year.

Cleveland ultimately received four compensatory picks, a total that tied them with a handful of other teams for the most in the 2017 draft. After Thursday's trade with the Texans, which resulted in the acquisition of a 2018 second-round pick and quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Browns hold just one of them -- a fifth-rounder that is set at 181st overall.

"Draft picks are extremely important to our approach in building a championship caliber football team," Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said Thursday.

The vast majority of the picks accumulated, of course, are used on players coming out of college. The Browns picked a whopping 14 last year and currently hold 11 selections in this year's draft. After Thursday's trade, the Browns boast a combined eight picks in the first and second rounds of the 2017 and 2018 drafts.

"We have positioned ourselves well," Brown said in January. "We can add some talent in the draft, and we look forward to exploring what is available to us when we see what is out there in free agency, as well. We do hope to transform our roster to an extent toward a positive and add a lot of young talent."

Those picks, of course, can be used on more than just draftable talent, and that's how the Browns used their best compensatory pick to improve the roster.

In late October, the Browns traded a conditional draft pick to New England for Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins. In late January, Cleveland signed Collins, who was one of the Browns' leading tacklers during the second half of the season, to a four-year extension. When the compensatory picks were distributed last month, the teams confirmed New England would receive Cleveland's third-round compensatory pick, which is slated at 103 overall.

The Browns' next-best compensatory pick was sent to Philadelphia in what served as the final payoff in the team's blockbuster trade before last year's draft. The Browns swapped first-round picks with the Eagles, moving Cleveland from No. 2 to No. 8, and a future fourth-round pick in exchange for third- and fourth-round picks in the 2016 draft, Philadelphia's 2017 first-round pick, and a 2018 second-round pick. The Eagles ultimately received the 139th overall pick in this year's draft.

In Thursday's trade with the Texans, Cleveland parted with its other, fourth-round compensatory pick (slated at 142 overall) in exchange for Houston's second-round pick in 2018, Osweiler and the Texans' sixth-rounder in this year's draft.

And as it stands today, the Browns still hold all of their own picks in the first six rounds, five of the top 65 and 11 total.

"It's an opportunity for us to impact our football team," Browns coach Hue Jackson said, "to put some talented players on our team, on our roster and that's what we're looking forward to doing."

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