Team Report - CLEVELAND BROWNS

The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

After the Jacksonville Jaguars officially signed center Alex Mack to an offer sheet Friday afternoon (April 11), the Cleveland Browns responded virtually immediately by announcing they had matched it.

The contract is for five years and $42 million that includes potentially $26 million in guaranteed money.

Mack will be paid $10 million this year and $8 million in each of the final four seasons of the deal. There is also a stipulation that Mack can void the final three years of the deal and the timing precludes the Browns from placing the franchise or transition tag on him after the 2015 season. There is also a no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract.

The Browns' decision was not a surprise. Owner Jimmy Haslam said earlier the team would match any offer "in a second" and that Mack would be a core element in a rebuilt offense.

"We have talked about keeping our own players and this is a positive for us," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said in a statement. "Alex is a quality person and player that truly brings to life what playing like a Brown means. The ending is positive for everyone. Keeping our young, good nucleus of players is vital for clubs and specifically the Browns, and therefore this is a good step."

The Browns placed the transition tag on Mack -- not the franchise tag -- giving the team the chance to match any offer sheet he signs. The transition tag would have guaranteed Mack the average of the 10 highest-paid offensive linemen, or $10.039 million. He will actually be paid $39,000 less in 2014 than the transition tag.

The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Mack was drafted by the Browns in the first round in 2009. He has not missed one offensive play in five years, a run of 4,998 consecutive snaps.

There had been persistent reports in the days leading up to the offer that Mack did not want to play for the Browns. He denied that in an interview with the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

"It's been a long, hard road, but I'm here and I'm happy,'' Mack said. "I'm excited. I'm fired up. There's no bad blood. Now that it's done, I'm happy. I don't believe I ever said that (I was unhappy in Cleveland). Seeing the options and trying to test free agency and see what else was out there was something that we wanted to do and we had a small opportunity to kind of get a little bit of that.'

"Contracts are tough. It's the business side of things and as a player my job is to play football, something I'm good at. I have agents to do the business side of things, and it's not always easy, but I'm happy with where I'm at.''

Asked what has to happen for him to remain with the Browns for more than two seasons, mack said. "I'm 100 percent dedicated to working my absolute hardest to win games and that's what everyone wants. That's what I'd like to see, but that's two years from now.''

--Backing up the words of owner Jimmy Haslam, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine said Tuesday that the franchise isn't set on taking a quarterback with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft.

After Haslam said the Browns aren't "compelled" to take a passer in the first round, even with the 26th pick acquired from the Indianapolis Colts for running back Trent Richardson, Pettine offered a similar assessment of Cleveland's pre-draft approach.

"It's a position that's important for us, so we are putting a lot of work into it," Pettine said. "The fourth pick, I think there's going to be some outstanding players available. But I also think that we are in a position, given where the roster is right now, that if that best player there is a quarterback, we're in a position to take him. And if it's not, I think it's a deep enough quarterback class that we can pursue that option later in the draft."

General manager Ray Farmer attended Pro-Day workouts for Central Florida's Blake Bortles and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, but the front office has largely kept its distance from high-profile Pro-Day workouts, preferring instead to host prospects at the Berea, Ohio, facility. That includes the much-anticipated workout Thursday for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Pettine said the Browns aren't going to get a first-hand glimpse of Manziel. They didn't host the trio of top-ranked passers for interviews at the Scouting Combine, either.

In contrast, the Houston Texans will send at least three representatives to College Station, Tex., and have attended Pro Days for all three prospects in addition to face-to-face meetings in Indianapolis and upcoming visits to Houston.

Pettine said part of that thinking is there is more value in hosting the players on the team's terms.

"We didn't interview quarterbacks formally in Indianapolis, but we spoke to all of them informally," he said.

With 10 picks, including No. 35 overall, Cleveland sits in good position to find a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer without feeling forced to pull the trigger with the fourth overall pick. One option late in the first round or at the top of the second is Fresno State's Derek Carr, who Pettine dubbed the best natural thrower in the draft.

"That's a position that needs to get addressed, but we're not locked into, 'We're drafting a starter,'" Pettine said. "I don't think you want to force it. If that guy's not there at that pick, I don't think you take one and force the issue, say, 'This is the quarterback of the future.'"

Pettine, who watched rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel start when healthy last season with the Buffalo Bills, said he is not opposed to starting a rookie quarterback. He also indicated there could be more than one rookie on the roster.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did both in Washington. He started Robert Griffin III as a rookie, when the team also drafted a second quarterback -- Kirk Cousins -- in the same draft.

--The Cleveland Browns closed a deal with free-agent strong safety Donte Whitner after T.J. Ward agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos hours after becoming an unrestricted free agent Tuesday.

The Browns are looking to solidify a secondary that was one of the strengths of the league's ninth-ranked pass defense in 2013.

Whitner, 28, could prove a precursor for an even bigger move, with the Browns showing significant interest in signing cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to NFL.com. Revis was acquired by the Bucs from the New York Jets last offseason, but Tampa Bay is under a new direction with general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith, who reportedly are wary of paying Revis' $16 million salary for 2014.

The Bucs released Revis Wednesday when he was due a $1.5 million roster bonus. The Oakland Raiders were also reportedly in the Revis chase as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Browns have one of the league's better cornerbacks in Joe Haden, but the other side of the field was vulnerable last season with teams regularly targeting Buster Skrine.

The Browns sent the Jets their first-round pick last year and a conditional fourth-round pick this year that becomes a third-round selection if Revis is on the roster March 13.

Revis was a Pro Bowl selection in 2013, but there were reports that he wasn't pleased with his role in the defensive system. The Bucs will have a new defense under Smith and coordinator Leslie Frazier, but the Browns would offer the same scheme as Revis played with the Jets.

In addition to Whitner, the Browns also signed linebacker Karlos Dansy in the opening minutes of the league year.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The NFL announced each team's preseason schedule without precise dates or times, except for national TV games and the final preseason week in which all games will be on Thurs. Aug. 28. Week 1 games are Aug. 7-10, Week 2 Aug. 14-18 and Week 3 Aug. 21-24.

The Browns will play at home against St. Louis in Week 3 and Chicago in Week 4, while going on the road to play Detroit in Week 1 and Washington in Week 2. The game against the Redskins will be at 8 p.m. Eastern time Monday, Aug. 18 on ESPN.

--The Bengals decided against matching the Browns' offer to restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins, clearing the way for the wide receiver to move a few hours up the road to an AFC North and in-state rival.

The Bengals made an official announcement on Tuesday that they elected not to bring back Hawkins, who received a four-year, $13.6 million offer sheet from the Browns. Hawkins will be paid $10.8 million in the first two years of the deal, according to NFL.com.

Cincinnati tendered Hawkins at the lowest level ($1.431 million) and because he entered the NFL undrafted, there is no compensation. Had they given him a $2.187 million tender, there would have been compensation of a second-round if the Browns had still given him an offer sheet.

The 5-foot-7 Hawkins could move into the starting lineup as a slot receiver for Cleveland. He would replace troubled wide receiver Davone Bess, who was recently released.

After missing the first eight games of 2013 while on injured reserve with an ankle problem, Hawkins finished the regular season with 12 catches for 199 yards and no touchdowns. In three seasons with the Bengals, the 28-year-old Hawkins had 86 receptions for 995 yards and four touchdowns.

Hawkins said of the Browns, "They're trying to win, they're trying to win now, they're trying to (assemble) an incredible roster and I think they've done great in free agency. Not even including myself, [but] the players they've been able to bring in just shows where their mind's at and I feel good about where the program is going."

--The Browns used the transition tag for the first time in franchise history when they used it on center Alex Mack. They used the franchise tag twice before, both times on kicker Phil Dawson. They tagged Dawson in 2011 and 2012. He left when he hit free agency in 2013.

--Quarterback Brian Hoyer's rehab from knee surgery is coming along so well in his mind he is no longer rehabbing. He says he is "working out" and vows to be ready for the beginning of the offseason program on April 7.

Hoyer is running five days a week, lifting three days a week and throwing to trainers as stationary targets three days a week. Recently he drove to the University of Akron to take advantage of their indoor facility and threw passes to Cecil Shorts III, a wide receiver from the Jacksonville Jaguars and a product of Mt. Union.

"It was good to throw to a moving target and an NFL caliber receiver," Hoyer said. "I'm going to try to hook up with some of the other guys. Maybe we can find somewhere inside to throw. It's going well."

--Wide receiver Davone Bess was released last week. The Browns were able to void a guaranteed portion of Bess' contract because he finished 2013 on the non-football illness list with personal issues.

A picture of Bess smoking what appeared to be a marijuana cigarette was posted on his twitter account in late December. Bess was arrested for displaying erratic behavior in Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in January.

--The Browns have no restricted free agents. Eight players that completed their third year in 2013 are all under contract.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me he flashed brilliance. He flashed that he can be a quality starter in the NFL." - Browns first-year coach Mike Pettine on quarterback Brian Hoyer going 2-0 in the two games he started and finished last year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--The Browns agreed to terms on a one-year contract with wide receiver Nate Burleson.

Burleson, 33, missed 17 games the past two seasons with the Detroit Lions to a broken leg and arm. After returning from a broken arm in 2013, Burleson played nine games and caught 39 passes.

Burleson (6-foot, 198 pounds) is entering his 12th NFL season. He has played in 135 regular-season games, with 103 starts. He has 457 career receptions for 5,630 yards (12.3 average) with 39 touchdowns.

Initially Minnesota's third-round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft, Burleson joins his fourth NFL team. After three seasons with the Vikings (2003-05), he signed with the Seattle Seahawks (2006-09). He played the past four years (2010-13) with the Lions.

--The Browns agreed to contract terms with unrestricted free agent offensive lineman Paul McQuistan.

McQuistan started 14 games last year for the Seattle Seahawks. He started eight times at left tackle and six at left guard. He rotated at left guard in the playoffs in which the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.

"He has versatility," Browns general manager Ray Farmer said. "The guy played a lot of tackle last year. He's played guard. The versatility is definitely intriguing and positive for us, and it can make our minds rest easy in a lot of respects where he can possibly contribute. So that versatility is what we're more focused on than any one specific spot saying he's going to be this."

McQuistan was originally a third-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2006. He played 35 games with the Raiders from 2006-09. He also spent time on the active rosters of the Jacksonville Jaguars (2009) and Browns (2010) but did not play in a game. He then played 48 games over three seasons with the Seahawks, including 40 starts.

Over his nine-year NFL career, McQuistan has played 83 games with 52 starts.

--The Browns reached a contract agreement with free-agent cornerback Isaiah Trufant.

Trufant, 31, played in all 16 regular-season games for the New York Jets last season as a backup. He spent the last three seasons in New York and worked with Browns coach Mike Pettine there when Pettine served as the defensive coordinator under coach Rex Ryan.

Trufant made 20 tackles last season for the Jets. He was scheduled to be a restricted free agent, but the Jets elected not to tender him at the minimum level of $1.431 million.

--The Browns were able to scratch kicker off their list of needs when they re-signed Billy Cundiff to a one-year contract for $1.02 million last week.

Last season Cundiff revived his stalled NFL career by converting 21 of 26 field goal attempts. He was seven of nine between 40 and 49 yards and two of four from 50 yards and beyond. One his long-range misses was from 58 yards in the 27-26 loss to the Patriots on the road on Dec. 8.

TEAM NEEDS

--INSIDE LINEBACKER: The Browns might have to wait until the draft to address this, but they have a hole in the middle because they lost their leading tackler of each of the last three years when they cut D'Qwell Jackson. Craig Robertson, a starter in the 3-4 last year, was tendered as an exclusive rights free agent even though Pro Football Focus ranked him 52nd of 55 inside linebackers. The Browns added Karlos Dansby, but still could be looking for youth.

--SAFETY: Coach Mike Pettine needs a starter because T.J. Ward left in free agency. It was resolved quickly by signing Donte Whitner.

--GUARD: The Browns might take a quarterback with their first draft pick on May 8, but they at least have a starter in Brian Hoyer. Their starting right guard, Shawn Lauvao, signed with Washington and the possibility exists they could lose center Alex Mack even though he was hit with the transition tag. Starting left guard John Greco can play center. They signed Paul McQuistan, who can also play tackle.

PERSONNEL TRACKER

TRANSITION PLAYER: C Alex Mack (tendered at $10.039M; Browns matched Jaguars offer April 11).

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--RB Willis McGahee was signed out of desperation in September after Trent Richardson was traded to the Colts. He started six games and averaged 2.7 yards a try on 138 carries. He will not be re-signed.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHT FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--K Billy Cundiff: Potential UFA; $1.02M/1 yr.

--C Alex Mack: Transition FA (Browns matched Jaguars offer); $42M/5 yrs, $26M guaranteed.

--LB Craig Robertson: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--WR Nate Burleson: FA Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--LB Karlos Dansby: UFA Cardinals; $24M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.

--TE Jim Dray: UFA Cardinals; $5.625M/3 yrs, $2.25M guaranteed.

--WR Andrew Hawkins: RFA Bengals (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); Bengals didn't match offer of $13.6M/4 yrs.

--CB Brandon Hughes: FA; $1.39M/2 yrs.

--T/G Paul McQuistan: UFA Seahawks; $3M/2 yrs, $750,000 guaranteed.

--FB Chris Pressley: FA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--RB Ben Tate: UFA Texans; $4.7M/2 yrs, $1.5M SB/$2.5M guaranteed ($1.5M total potential per-game RB).

--CB Isaiah Trufant: Not tendered as RFA by Jets; $1.54M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed.

--S Donte Whitner: UFA 49ers; $28M/4 yrs, $13M guaranteed.

PLAYERS LOST

--WR Davone Bess (released).

--QB Jason Campbell (released).

--G/T Oneil Cousins: UFA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--LB D'Qwell Jackson (released).

--G Shawn Lauvao: UFA Redskins; $17M/4 yrs.

--S T.J. Ward: UFA Broncos; $22.5M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.

--QB Brandon Weeden (released).

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