The Browns entered the 2017 NFL offseason with a pile of money (north of $100 million in cap space) and not much talent on the roster. Cleveland has taken immediate steps to curb the latter by using the former, unleashing a firehose of money in the direction of some quality offensive linemen.
No one is going to guarantee that spending in free agency equates to quality spending, but the Browns’ moves -- signing guard Kevin Zeitler and interior lineman JC Tretter while giving guard Joel Bitonio a huge extension -- certainly appears like Cleveland is trending upward in the trenches.
The Zeitler deal is a massive one, with Cleveland making the young free agent, who was surprisingly not retained by the Bengals this offseason, the highest-paid guard in NFL history. According to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, the Browns handed Zeitler a deal that will average $12 million per year ($60 million over five years).
Earlier in the day, the Browns also re-upped on Bitino, giving him a five-year extension that keeps him under contract through 2022.
Joel Bitonio Browns deal: $51.164 million, $23.664M gtd, salaries $3.164M, $5.5M, $6.5M, $8M, $8.5M, $8.5M; has $ 8.5M roster bonus 2017— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 9, 2017
And just to slap a big, old cherry on top of the situation, the Browns also inked Tretter, the former Packers center. The terms on Tretter have yet to be reported, but the important lesson here is that the Browns are doing the smart thing and investing in the offensive line. Tretter is a massive upgrade over Cameron Erving, who looks like a bust early in his career (as with many first-round picks).
Now the Browns have an offensive line of Joe Thomas, Zeitler, Tretter, Bitino and whoever you want to slap at right tackle.
They have invested in an area that is difficult to acquire and develop through the draft. That’s called a market inefficiency, which is sometimes known as Moneyball, which is not really a nerdy baseball thing but actually an economic thing. And the Browns are wisely taking advantage of it.
The additional protection for young quarterbacks will provide a benefit, and the Browns’ running game should immediately improve.
This looks like a set of pretty smart and swift moves to open free agency by the Browns front office. It feels somewhat like a “Twilight Zone” situation, but is certainly optimistic, especially when you consider the possibilities of what they could add in the draft.