A breakdown of the Cleveland Browns' 2018 free-agent signings.
T.J. Carrie, CB
The Browns agreed to sign Carrie, who spent his first four seasons in Oakland. Here's a closer look:
Grade: C. The top free agent cornerbacks decided to go to the Jets (Trumaine Johnson), Titans (Malcolm Butler) and Carolina (Bashaud Breeland), so the Browns turned to the next group. Carrie is a former seventh-round pick who figures to start immediately, based on the four-year $31 million contract he was given. Carrie has been a solid player, but he earned his spot last season because the guys ahead of him struggled. He started 15 games, and had no interceptions, 84 tackles and nine passes defensed.
What it means: Gregg Williams made great strides with the run defense last season, but the pass defense struggled. The Browns gave up 28 passing touchdowns and had just seven interceptions. Carrie is one of three players brought in to improve the secondary, along with Damarious Randall and Terrance Mitchell. This could affect Jamar Taylor's position with the team, as the Browns will continue to look to strengthen the secondary in the draft.
What's the risk: Carries did not exactly make a huge impact in his four seasons in Oakland. He started last season as the fourth corner behind David Amerson, Sean Smith and first-round pick Gareon Conley, but was forced onto the field because that trio struggled. In four seasons, he has 36 starts, 29 in 2015 and 2017, with three interceptions and 30 passes defensed. He fits the young veteran profile the Browns want, but the Browns have to be paying $31 million for him in hopes that he is improving.
Carlos Hyde, RB
The Browns agreed to sign running back Carlos Hyde, an Ohio State guy who spent the past four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B-minus. The Browns need a strong, physical back to run in nasty, cold conditions in the AFC North. In Carlos Hyde, they got a guy who did that in college a couple hours south of Cleveland. Hyde has never cracked 1,000 rushing yards in a season, and he’s had injuries. But he also has averaged 4.2 yards per carry during his career and scored 21 touchdowns. He can get tough yards and should play well in the AFC North. This isn’t Adrian Peterson in his prime. It might not be Saquon Barkley. But it’s another addition at a position of need.
What it means: The knee-jerk reaction is that adding Hyde will negate the drafting of Barkley with the fourth pick. It also seems to be the wrong reaction. Barkley can do things Hyde can’t, and the pair combined with Duke Johnson could be effective. Hyde also has dealt with injuries. The Browns actually seem to be positioning themselves to be able to take the best player available at every spot -- after they take a quarterback first, of course. The Browns may need to focus on defensive backs depending on what happens through the rest of free agency, but if the organization holds this course they may well wind up in position to select the best player available in the draft. Which is the way a lot of good teams build their rosters.
What's the risk: Hyde is a good back, he’s not a great back. He’s not a great outside runner and he’s had injury issues. Though he would seem to be an effective pairing with Duke Johnson, the Browns still may need to add a player at the position. Doing so would give the Browns and offensive coordinator Todd Haley the flexibility to use three backs depending on situation, health and the opponent. The Browns did need to add a back, though, and Hyde is a more than solid way to fill a need. And he’s important because he can get tough yards.
Chris Hubbard, OL
The Cleveland Browns agreed to sign offensive lineman Chris Hubbard, who played the last four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B. This seems like a solid addition that has the earmarks of Todd Haley’s influence. Hubbard played well as Pittsburgh’s sixth offensive lineman and appears to be a player who deserves a chance to start full-time. It’s tough to judge what his signing means about Joe Thomas’ future, though. Hubbard has mainly played right tackle -- he has 14 career starts at the position, 10 last season with Marcus Gilbert injured or suspended -- but he has versatility to play different spots on the line. The Browns also will add ex-Broncos offensive lineman Donald Stephenson, primarily as a depth player.
What it means: The Browns did not believe they had a replacement on the roster if Thomas decides to retire, but Hubbard seems primarily to be a right tackle. If the Browns believe Shon Coleman can move from right to left -- something Thomas has said he believes Coleman can do -- then Hubbard could play the right side and Coleman the left. That’s if Thomas retires. If Thomas plays, Hubbard would figure to be the starter at right tackle. Thomas has said his decision would come down to his health, and he would let the team know before free agency. Officially, the free agent signing period starts Wednesday at 4 p.m.
What's the risk: The Browns believe they have a player on the rise. Hubbard earned praised from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for his play when Gilbert was out last season, and Pittsburgh liked the way he handled moving around and filling in. Haley would know him well; he was the Steelers' offensive coordinator the four seasons Hubbard was with the team. Hubbard is an undrafted free aget who can play inside as well as outside. He seems like a positive addition, without huge risk.
Chris Smith, DL
The Browns agreed to sign defensive lineman Chris Smith, who played last season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Here's a closer look at the signing:
Grade: C-plus. Smith fits in the Browns rotation of defensive linemen, and fits with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' desire to find active tackles in the 4-3. He can play inside or out and had three sacks last season. He's a nice player and a hard worker, but he's always been used as a backup and last season was the first he played 16 games.
What it means: The Browns need depth on the defensive front and Smith can play tackle or end. At 266 pounds, he's undersized to play the run, but can be effective in pass-rush packages. He seems to be improving, as he had career highs in games played (16), sacks (three) and tackles (17) in Cincinnati last season after being traded from Jacksonville. The Browns can use him inside or out, but with the trade of Danny Shelton, the Browns needed depth on the defensive front. Smith gives them that. The NFL Network reports that the Browns also will give Smith a three-year deal worth $14 million, which shows they feel good about him.
What's the risk: Hard to see a huge risk here. Smith is a nice and improving player who can fit into defensive packages designed by Willliams. Aaron Donald he's not; the Browns are getting a guy who played about 30 percent of the Bengals' defensive snaps. This is a signing based on scouting and based on the belief that the Browns are getting an improving player with potential.