Even at the NFL Combine, the players of tomorrow took a backseat to the players of today.
Every general manager and coach who stepped to the podium at last month's scouting extravaganza in Indianapolis fielded a slew of questions about the players who may or may not be on their respective rosters at the beginning of offseason workouts. Browns coach Hue Jackson and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown certainly were included in that group.
"We'd love to have them all back," Jackson said. "But we also know it's got to be the right fit for us and if for some reason they decide not to come back it's going to open up another opportunity for someone to come in. And again, we have to build this football team the right way as we move forward. As I said earlier, we want to make sure that we have a sustainable football team, one that can be really good not just this year but for years to come.
"There's no quick fixes in the National Football League, so how it all unfolds as we move forward, it's going to unfold, but I promise you this, we're going to put a football team out there that will compete and play hard and I think that's what's important."
This time of year can get a little confusing because there are a lot of terms thrown around and a lot of ambiguity about a player's status with his respective team. We're going to do our best to explain it all when it pertains to the Browns in the following breakdown.
The 3 kinds of free agents
There are three categories in which players considered to be free agents are placed.
An unrestricted free agent is just that: unrestricted. When the new league year begins, an unrestricted free agent can sign with any team he wants when the new league year starts. Teams can negotiate with their prospective free agents at any time but lose exclusivity in the days leading up to the new league year.
A player becomes a restricted free agent when his contract has expired and has three accrued seasons, but not four. Teams can tender four types of offers to these players - first-round, second-round, a pick commensurate with where the player was drafted or the basic offer that provides no compensation if a player opts to sign elsewhere. For example: If a player who is offered a second-round tender signs elsewhere, his former team receives a second-round pick from his new team.
An exclusive rights free agent is a player whose contract has expired but has only two years of NFL experience. If the team offers him the veteran-minimum salary for a third-year player, he must sign with the franchise or not play at all.
Here are the categories where Cleveland's free agents fall.
Unrestricted free agents
RT Mitchell Schwartz
C Alex Mack*
WR Travis Benjamin
LB Craig Robertson
FS Tashaun Gipson
LB Tank Carder
FS Johnson Bademosi
Restricted free agents
FS Don Jones
LB Scott Solomon
WR Terrelle Pryor
OL Austin Pasztor
Exclusive rights restricted free agents
DL Jamie Meder
K Travis Coons
OL Kaleb Johnson
OL Darrian Miller
WR Darius Jennings
QB Pat Devlin
RS Raheem Mostert
- Mack recently opted out of his contract to become a free agent
Dates to know
March 7, noon - Agents of prospective unrestricted free agents can begin negotiating with other teams. Contracts can not be finalized until the new league year. For more on this process, click here.
Before 4 p.m., March 9 - Teams must exercise options for the 2016 season on players whose contracts have option clauses. This is also the deadline for teams to submit offers to players who are restricted free agents or exclusive rights free agents. Teams must be under the 2016 salary cap by this time.
March 9, 4 p.m. - The new league year begins and unrestricted free agents are free to sign with whomever they choose.
"We won't be panicked on any one player but there's some guys we feel like can contribute for us in the fall," Brown said. "We absolutely want to do everything we can, see if we can reach a deal that works for them and us and keep them as Cleveland Browns."