Now that the NFL and College football has come to an end it’s time for the Browns GM John Dorsey and his staff to work on free agency. First order of business will be the players from the Browns roster during 2018 season.
Dorsey should start with one of the most critical position groups the offensive line.
On Tuesday Mary K Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer during an interview on 92.3, The fan made a profound statement. She suggested that the Browns organization was eager to see offensive lineman Austin Corbett pick 33 of the 2018 NFL draft get playing time. Cabot’s proposal indicated that the Browns would trade left guard Kevin Zeitler before June so Corbett could take his place. That would then save the Browns 10 million in cap space for 2019.
Let’s us first take a look at the player the Browns would be trading or releasing in Kevin Zeitler for this to happen. Zeitler in 2017 signed a five year 60 million dollar contract with the Browns. This gives him a per year base salary of 10 million. While it’s a lot of money for an offensive lineman the return on investment is priceless.
For the 2018 season, Zeitler was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the number 1 pass blocking guard in the NFL at a 91.7. He was then ranked number six overall with a rating of 74.5. Having this kind of protection for the Browns new quarterback Baker Mayfield is invaluable. Zeitler while taking 100% of the offensive snaps also only commented 7 penalties for the entire season. It’s difficult to see how Corbett would be able to match that high of a standard in just his second year.
The contract is the next issue the Browns would need to consider with such a move. Using the website Spotrac.com the Browns potential out isn’t until 2020. If they released Zeitler before June 1st, it would cost the team 10.7 million in dead money while only saving 1.7 million in cap. If the Browns traded Zeitler before June 1st, it would cost the team 7.2 million in dead money with a savings of just 5.2 million in cap. If the Browns wanted to maximize the trade of Zeitler, they would need to wait until after June 1st. The team would then take a cap hit of 2.4 million in 2019 and 4.8 million in 2020 while saving 10 million in 2019.
With the Browns hiring a new head coach the team’s offseason workouts can begin on April 1st. So holding on to Zeitler for two months just to release/trade him while also taking a dead money hit wouldn’t be a very logical choice.
When the Browns drafted Austin Corbett Vice President of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith made a statement that the Browns view him as a center. Corbett has also never played as a right guard, so this would be a new position for him.
If the Browns would like to get Corbett into the starting line up what options would be a better choice.
1st. Browns do not currently have Greg Robinson under contract for the 2019 season. The most cost-effective move would be to place left guard Joel Bitonio at left tackle and Corbett at left guard.
It’s hard to tell what the value of Greg Robinson would be on the open market. Pro Football Focus has Robinson ranked 63rd overall and 52nd in pass blocking. But Robinson has chemistry with the team and Mayfield and improved over the season. Looking to find a comparable player to guesstimate I found Eric Fisher of the Kansas City Chiefs. His contract was four years 48 million. I Believe the Browns could get a better deal with Robinson.
2nd. Trading JC Tretter would allow Corbett to take his spot at center. The Browns could trade Tretter March 13th long before offseason workouts while saving 5.25 million in cap space and only taking a dead money hit of 1.5 million. With the injury history of Tretter and his trade value, it would be a more logical choice. The problem with this plan comes down to performance and chemistry. Pro Football Focus has Tretter ranked 8th overall with a grade of 72.3 11th in run blocking and 3rd in passing blocking. His contract is only 5 million a year until 2020.
Turning over the one position that touches the ball every snap from a high caliber player like Tretter to a second-year player would be a leap of faith.
3nd. Trading Chris Hubbard and moving Corbett to right tackle. Hubbard was the weak link for the offensive unit during the season. Pro Football Focus has Hubbard ranked 50th overall and a grade of 65.1. His run blocking was ranked 64th at 48.9. That’s a below average grade on the edge of a ranking of poor. But trading Hubbard before June 1st would save the Browns 4.1 million in cap space with a dead money hit of 3.2 million. Tackle is also a normal position for Corbett.
4th. Leave everyone in the same position, get a new deal done with Greg Robinson while continuing to develop Corbett and Harrison for the future.
Austin Corbet is under contract until 2020 at the cost of 821K for the 2019 season. This allows the Browns to keep depth with a player that can be used in multiple positions. The Browns have more than enough cap space for the 2019 season, but lack needed depth for a playoff run.
Wanting to see Corbet on the field is understandable but having the ability not to need him right now is invaluable. Dorsey can be thankful for drafting a great player and person in Austin Corbet. His time will come, but with such a young team and coaching staff they have no reason to force it.