The Browns are undoubtedly making the right move by signing Tate on Saturday to a two-year deal worth up to $7 million. He's the best available in an underwhelming free-agent running back class, and the Browns need a starting running back.
Still, when the Browns hand the ball off to Tate, you just never know whether he's going to break a long run or a bone. Two of his four NFL seasons have ended on injured reserve. A second-round pick in 2010, Tate broke his ankle in the preseason opener and was out for the season. Last season, he was put on IR in December with a rib injury.
"When I'm healthy, I think I'm an elite running back in this league," Tate said this week.
Tate isn't soft. He's known for playing through injuries. Last season, he battled through four cracked ribs much of the season to rush for 771 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games, including seven starts.
But Tate won't live up to his potential if he can't stay healthy. His injury history is as long as anyone else's in the NFL over the past three seasons:
2011: Eight weeks on the injury report (quadriceps, back, hip, groin, ankle, foot and shoulder)
2012: 15 weeks on the injury report (head, toe, hamstring and foot)
2013: 13 weeks on the injury report (shoulder, elbow, ribs, ankle and toe)
Tate will have to prove himself in Cleveland, where the bad-luck Browns have had their share of misfortune with running backs. Jamal Lewis' career ended because of concussions. Second-round pick Montario Hardesty was never healthy because of knee and calf problems. And Trent Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2012 draft, was limited throughout his 17-game run with the Browns due to knee and rib injuries.
All of these injuries have led to one of the most consistently bad rushing attacks in the NFL. These are the Browns' rankings in run offense since 2010: 20th, 28th, 24th and 27th. Last season, the patchwork ground game was so awful that seven different Browns players led the team in rushing in a game last season. Among that group were wide receivers Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, and even defensive back Josh Aubrey.
But, like it seems every year in Cleveland, it's a new coach, a new play-caller and a new hope. It was a no-brainer to sign Tate over the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Knowshon Moreno and LeGarrette Blount.
Tate is exactly the type of young power runner that the Browns need. That is, if he can stay healthy.
Terms were not disclosed, but a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that Tate agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $7 million.
Cleveland announced the deal on the team's official Twitter account, posting a photo of Tate wearing a Browns cap.
- Cleveland Browns (@Browns) March 15, 2014
Tate, 25, spent the first three seasons of his career with the Houston Texans. He rushed for a career high 942 yards in 2011, but was hampered by injuries in the next two seasons.
Considered one of the top running backs on the open market, Tate rushed for 771 yards and four touchdowns this past season.
Though the Texans' running game struggled in 2013, Tate tied a franchise record with three rushing touchdowns against New England in Week 13. He took over as the starter in Week 7 in Kansas City, a game during which Tate broke four ribs.
Tate played with the injury for eight games, but said he re-aggravated a previously cracked rib in Week 15 against the Indianapolis Colts. Tate said it didn't make sense for him to continue playing and went on injured reserve.
There was nothing official announced, and Twitter isn't a guaranteed source.
But when an NFL player like Tate posts some of the things he posted late Friday, it indicated two things: He is still in Cleveland on a visit that started Thursday evening, and he seems, at a minimum, intrigued enough to keep fans on the hook about his plans.
The most telling tweet was a picture Tate posted at about 11:30 p.m. that showed the lit up peak of the Terminal Tower, one of Cleveland's better-known buildings. Tate earlier promised a fan he could break the story on Twitter if he signed with Cleveland, and he also posted he was "sooo ready" to be a No. 1 back. Browns guard Jason Pinkston even tweeted to Tate earlier Friday "sign them papers!!"
Nothing is done until it's actually agreed to and signed, but usually a player and his representatives do not spend this much time and energy in a city without deciding to sign with the team involved. The Browns need a back, Tate seems interested, and it may be a match.
If he tweets a photo of the Art Museum or the Cleveland Orchestra on Saturday, things will be progressing.
The team confirmed several reports Thursday night that running back Ben Tate was in town to visit with the team and would be in the team’s facility on Friday. Tate wants to be a feature back; the Browns lack one. Tate has been considered one of the best fits on the market for the Browns; he averaged 4.7 yards per carry in his career.
Tate is a big back with ability and for a couple years he and Arian Foster formed one of the best tandems in the league in Houston. But Foster was the No. 1 guy, and Tate wants to be.
The Browns can give him that opportunity, but of course any contract signing comes down to money.
As highly regarded as Tate is, ESPN’s Bill Polian gave him a C grade on his free-agent tracking chart, same as he gave Peyton Hillis.
Polian calls Tate a “confrontational runner” with a physical style that can lead to injury. He has never played a full, 16-game season, missing time to ankle, hamstring, foot and rib injuries.
“He is a little bit of a teaser because you are always looking for him to have a breakout year but he never quite lives up to his potential,” Polian opined.
Earlier in the day the Browns signed tight end Jim Dray, whose reputation is as a blocking tight end. He showed pass-catching ability, but Dray played last season in Arizona, where coach Bruce Arians makes no secret he wants his tight ends to be blockers first.
That could mesh well with Jordan Cameron, who is more of a receiver first -- though Cameron did work on and improve his blocking as last season progressed.
The Browns also signed Cincinnati receiver Andrew Hawkins to an offer sheet, and the Bengals are not expected to match.
If all goes well, the Browns could conceivably add a starting linebacker and safety, a backup cornerback, a backup tight end, a slot receiver with speed and a starting running back in the first week of free agency.
And the draft planning has barely begun.
Not only does Hawkins replace Davone Bess, he brings an entirely different skill set to the slot receiver position. Bess was a possession receiver. Hawkins is a sparkplug. Bess averaged 8.6 yards per catch last season. Hawkins averaged 9.5 yards after the catch.
In three seasons with the Bengals, Hawkins proved he was a big play waiting to happen. He could take a pass on a screen or a shallow crossing pattern and turn it into a 20-yard play. Hawkins' size makes him elusive. His speed makes him dangerous.
In 2012, 57.2 percent of his yards gained came after the catch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only four receivers in the league that year had more yards after the catch while playing in the slot.
Why would the Bengals let him go? The Bengals have so much depth at wide receiver that Hawkins' opportunities were going to be limited. This is why it's a good move for Hawkins as well as the Browns.
Joining the Browns means Hawkins has come full circle in his career. A three-year starter at the University of Toledo, Hawkins wasn't drafted but he received a tryout for the Browns rookie minicamp. He did well enough that he was told he would be signed. But the Browns later told him they were going in a different direction.
Hawkins' journey took him to the CFL's Montreal Alouettes for two seasons before he got another shot at the NFL in 2011. But he was cut by the St. Louis Rams at the start of training camp. The Bengals picked him up, and Hawkins went on to catch 86 passes for 995 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons.
He'll be a good fit to a Browns passing game that already has talent with two Pro Bowl targets in wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. But Hawkins represents just a small piece of the Browns' puzzle, which still has major question marks at quarterback and running back.
Cleveland has extended the third-year receiver a four-year, $13.6 million deal, of which $10.8 million would be paid in the first two years. Hawkins signed the offer sheet earlier this week. The Bengals received it Thursday, meaning they have five days to match the deal if they want to hold on to him. They have not yet announced their plans.
By not matching the offer sheet, the Bengals won't lose anything other than the player himself. They will keep the $1.4 million they set aside for him as a tender last week.
Hawkins was one of three Cincinnati restricted free agents who received low-round tenders. Because all three were undrafted players, the Bengals won't be owed any draft-pick compensation if the team doesn't match Cleveland's offer.
A former standout at Toledo, the 28-year-old Hawkins would be returning to northern Ohio after spending the first three years of his NFL career in Cincinnati. Prior to coming to the Bengals, he played in the CFL under current Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman.
Hawkins missed half of the 2013 regular season with an ankle injury suffered while diving for a ball during a preseason practice. Through eight games, he had just 12 receptions for 199 yards and no touchdowns. Of his yards receiving, 127 came after the catch.
The speedy slot receiver had a better year in 2012, finishing with 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Only Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green
According to Kiper's most recent mock, all three of the top passers -- Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel -- are there for the Browns when the fourth selection rolls around.
And the quarterback picked by Kiper is ... Bortles, the tall, strong-armed, humble guy from South Florida. This would have been a (to quote Kobe Bryant) Bikram yoga stretch a year ago, but at this point it makes sense. Bortles has the size that teams love in quarterbacks these days and the arm strength. The Browns might have to give him a year or two to grow, but his attitude and his skills are plenty appealing.
With the second first-round pick, the 26th overall, Kiper has the Browns taking big target Kelvin Benjamin out of Florida State. Again, it makes sense, though it's believed the Steelers also are interested in Benjamin. Benjamin is not the fastest, but at 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds he's a big target and would be a solid pickup.
Kiper's picks are logical and sensible, and it would be tough to argue with them.
But he's not making me back off my choice. I stand steady and strong with Clemson's Sammy Watkins at the fourth spot, and Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde at some point. The Browns can figure out the rest.
The Browns released two quarterbacks in 34 minutes on Wednesday and have Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney on the roster. That puts quarterback as a need. But it was a need before Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell were released. It has been a need for the Browns since the team returned to Cleveland in 1999.
The problem for the Browns is the top three quarterbacks in the draft -- Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater -- are not considered among the top 10 players. So if the Browns take one, they’ll be going against their stated philosophy of “best available player.”
If they go best available player, they could build around the quarterback, take one later in the draft and let him grow while Hoyer plays. Guessing which way the Browns go is guessing their entire approach to the draft.
“You really have to change the culture,” Whitner said. “You have to change the mindset and you have to change the feel within the locker room.”
Dansby, an inside linebacker, said his forte is “raising the play of the guys around me.”
“That’s what I’ve been able to do everywhere I’ve been over my career,” he added. “That’s what I am known for. ... If I’m able to do that, then I have a lot of success as well.”
Dansby said he’s on a mission to be the best player in the league, and he came close last season. He added all he knows “how to do is win” and he believes he can double his numbers from 2013, which he called the best season of his career.
“Playing at the toughest position in the NFL, and you get a chance to dominate at that position, it says a lot about you as a person, as character, and as a player,” Dansby said.
Whitner talked about coming home; he played at Glenville High School in inner city Cleveland, and has family and two children in town. He also talked about his high hopes for the 2014 Browns, saying he and Dansby believe they can contribute to a dominant defense.
“That’s what we believe,” Whitner said. “That’s why we teamed up together.”
He said the key to defense is understanding the scheme, then playing physical. As he said, “Somebody is going to get hit.”
“Are you a defense that is feared by offenses around the National Football League?” he asked.
Dan Murphy said the list is compiled by the team’s internet video employees and comes from rumors and reports about players the team might be interested in signing.
The video folks keep the list to be prepared in case any sign; they then can post video immediately.
The board was in the team’s dot-com video room, which players and team officials walk through to get to the media room. As General Manager Ray Farmer walked into the media room to introduce free agent signees Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner and Isaiah Trufant, the white board was visible behind him. Twitter user @DawgsByNature posted a screen shot of Farmer and the board.
It included names like Darrelle Revis of the Bucs, Rex Grossman of Washington, Andrew Hawkins of Cincinnati and Ben Tate of Texas.
The Browns discussed trading for Revis, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and signed Hawkins to an offer sheet that Cincinnati can match. They have been rumored to be interested in Grossman and Tate.
The team’s actual free agent board is upstairs near the team’s executive offices. The Browns would not put Farmer’s free agent list in the video room, Murphy said.
Murphy compared the list to ones kept by the media or PR staffs, just to be prepared in case a signing results.
The team that once released two first-round draft picks on the same day has now released two quarterbacks in 34 minutes.
It’s a Cleveland thing. Though in the case of the quarterbacks, neither was really a surprise as the team parted ways with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.
Campbell was a one-year guy, signed as insurance for Weeden. Campbell wound up starting eight games, playing well in some but winning just one. That he was let go wasn’t a surprise, as a new coach usually prefers his own veteran backups.
Weeden’s release was also no surprise, but it does make the final first round of the Mike Holmgren era a complete washout. Running back Trent Richardson was traded early in the 2013 season, and Weeden was released. Both players were touted as the team’s future, but they joined the past faster than they could spell Richardson. Richardson struggled all season in Indianapolis, and the Colts say they still believe in him, but this season could be his last chance. Weeden will try to catch on, no doubt as someone’s backup.
Browns fans won’t miss him, but there's no need for Weeden jokes.
All the guy did was work his hardest and do his best and try to be professional after being drafted in the first round in 2012 by Holmgren. Even last season, after he was ineffective and booed lustily by the home crowd, Weeden tried to stay on the high road. When the season ended, he let the team know he preferred a fresh start elsewhere, and the Browns gave it to him.
In the team’s release announcing the move, General Manager Ray Farmer was gracious.
“First and foremost, the Browns would like to thank Brandon and his agent for being true professionals,” Farmer said in the statement. “The circumstances in which he found himself were not easy for him or the team. After discussions with Brandon and his agent, we’d like to give him the ability to pursue other opportunities.”
The decision to select Weeden now looks like the reach of all reaches. The Browns were so intent on getting a quarterback that they took Weeden with the 22nd overall pick even though he was 28 years old. The organization felt it was too risky to wait for the second round.
That was not Weeden’s fault. Nor was it Weeden’s fault he was named the starter in 2012 with little competition against Colt McCoy. Weeden’s arm and accuracy were too compelling for the Browns, so he started as a rookie. His opener against Philadelphia was a disaster, as he completed just 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards with four interceptions. His rating that day: 5.1.
The next nine games he showed promise, throwing 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he regressed in his last few rookie games, then was caught in the wash of the team’s ownership, front office and coaching changes. It was evident GM Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner did not want Weeden, but with few options available they went with him and trusted Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski to “coach him up.”
It did not go well, as Weeden played poorly and never had the support of the entire organization. Former GM Phil Savage used to say the entire organization had to be on board with the quarterback, and that was not the case with Weeden. He never helped himself either, as he became more hesitant to make a mistake and held the ball far too long. Fans turned on him, and he became the object of many Twitter jokes.
In the end, Weeden needed a new team, and the Browns would have had to deal with continued negativity if it kept him. A clean break was best, and that’s what Farmer provided. His release means the Browns will carry $4.2 million in dead money for him under the cap, and that he earned $7.5 million in guaranteed money. Campbell’s release saves the Browns his $3 million salary and $250,000 roster bonus.
It will be interesting to see if a team signs Weeden and where he winds up. He’s 30, which will work against him, but he does have a strong arm and some ability, which needs more coaching.
In the end, Weeden leaves the Browns like so many other quarterbacks before him (Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Tim Couch, Colt McCoy) -- as damaged goods, with confidence destroyed.
No team has chewed up and spit out quarterbacks like the post-1999 Cleveland Browns.
"First and foremost, the Browns would like to thank Brandon and his agent for being true professionals," general manager Ray Farmer said in a statement. "The circumstances in which he found himself were not easy for him or the team. After discussions with Brandon and his agent, we'd like to give him the ability to pursue other opportunities."
Weeden was a surprise first-round pick by Mike Holmgren in the 2012 draft. Holmgren was so eager to find a quarterback he took Weeden in the first round at the age of 28, figuring if he got five years from him it was more than he'd gotten from many other players.
However, although he has a strong arm, Weeden possesses little mobility and a tendency to focus on one receiver when pressured. He also was caught in a maelstrom of negativity in Cleveland that included changes in ownership, front office and (twice) coaching staffs.
Weeden started immediately as a rookie, replacing Colt McCoy, and had a horrible first game (four interceptions, 34 percent completion rate). But Weeden bounced back to throw for nine touchdowns against six interceptions over the next seven games.
He regressed the rest of his rookie season and appeared headed out of Cleveland when Rob Chudzinski replaced Pat Shurmur as coach. But the team could find no better quarterback options and gave him the starting job in 2013.
The Bengals must decide if they want to give a four-year deal worth a reported $12.2 million to a guy who might be the team's fourth receiver. That's a significant figure for a player who may be behind A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. But new Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has gone on record that he loves speed, and Hawkins has speed that can't be taught. Hawkins' abilities are not matched by the other Bengals receivers, which might favor them keeping him.
The Browns deserve credit for making an aggressive move to add a guy with playmaking ability.
It will cost the Bengals, but clearly they value Hawkins’ contributions to their passing game if they match. Cincinnati has five days to make a decision.
What’s next for the Browns if the Bengals match the offer sheet? Julian Edelman of New England makes a lot of sense.
Edelman is close friends with Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, he went to Kent State, and he is reliable. He stepped in for the departed Wes Walker in 2013 and caught 105 passes for 1,056 yards.
"Right now I'm just anxious to know what the Browns are going to do," Campbell said. "If I'm going to be back, I'd like to be able to prepare for that. If I'm not returning, my agent can get to work on my next move."
Campbell signed a two-year contract a year ago in hopes of reviving his career. Injuries and performance led to the Browns giving him eight starts. He completed 56.8 percent with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but the Browns won only one of his starts.
It would not be at all surprising if new coach Mike Pettine seeks a new backup quarterback.
Congrats to @IsaiahTrufant for agreeing to terms with the browns. Much deserved and great things ahead!— Doug Hendrickson (@DHendrickson41) March 12, 2014
Trufant is a veteran who can play special teams and perhaps be the Browns' nickelback. He played for the Jets the past four seasons, so Browns coach Mike Pettine knows him.
At 31, he's the third 28-year-old-plus veteran the Browns have signed for the defense.
Clearly the new regime favors experience over the exuberance of youth.