After years of losing and banking draft picks, the Cleveland Browns are done sitting on the sidelines and remaining patient.
Cleveland were aggressive in reshaping their roster by pulling off multiple trades on Friday, using their extensive draft capital and salary cap space to add proven commodities who should immediately improve them from the team which won all of one game in the past two seasons combined.
The trade for Taylor made incumbent Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer expandable, so the Browns moved the player they tabbed with last year’s second-round pick for Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall. The teams also swapped 2018 fourth and fifth-rounders in the exchange.
There’s a reason why these trades feel divergent to the approach Cleveland were committed to over the past few years, which was the NFL’s version of the Philadelphia 76ers’ ‘Trust the Process’.
The main force behind the Browns’ rebuild, Sashi Brown, was fired from the general manager position this past December, with John Dorsey hired in his place.
After inheriting a treasure trove of draft picks – including the first and fourth overall selections this year – and enough cap space to essentially have a clean slate, Dorsey made a statement with Friday’s trades that it’s time the franchise feels a greater sense of urgency.
Pouncing on Taylor is the clearest indication Cleveland want to start winning more games immediately.
The duel-threat quarterback may not have been loved by the Bills, but he’s proven during his time as a starter that he’s, at worst, an average player at the position – a massive step up from what the Browns have fielded in the past.
Even putting aside his ability as a runner, Taylor provides much more ball security having thrown just 16 interceptions over the past three seasons combined. For comparison, Kizer tossed 22 picks last year alone.
Taylor should also have a much better receiving corps to work with than the one he was throwing to in Buffalo. Between Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, Landry, Duke Johnson and David Njoku, Taylor will have weapons that he can utilise all over the field.
It’s possible Taylor will only be around for a season as his contract, which comes with a $16 million cap hit in 2018, is set to expire next year. But it’s hard to imagine him performing so well that the Browns can’t ink him to a relatively reasonable extension.
By adding Taylor, Cleveland also give themselves an out in this year’s draft if they’re not in love with any of the quarterback prospects. Taylor will almost surely serve as the bridge to the Browns’ quarterback of the future, whoever that ends up being, but his presence buys the franchise leeway and time to figure out who that cornerstone will be.
That could allow them to snag running back Saquon Barkley with the first overall pick and then grab another non-quarterback at number four, or dangle that selection in front of quarterback-hungry teams.
Landry, meanwhile, will give Taylor a possession receiver to lean on as a compliment to the downfield threat of Josh Gordon.
He may not have the ceiling that other receivers around his price tag do – $16m under the franchise tag for 2018 – but 400 receptions over his first four seasons proves he can produce.
Of course, Cleveland had to give up significant assets for both Landry and Taylor, and it’s fair to wonder if they overpaid considering they could have kept their power dry and chased talent in free agency.
But when you have the reputation the Browns do and are so far from contention, it’s worth paying a premium to secure players like Taylor and Landry, instead of leaving that up to chance in the open market.
Time will tell if Cleveland swung too wildly or too soon from a patient approach to an aggressive one, but what’s obvious is that the change is here.
If Henry’s late-season surge wasn’t enough of an indicator, the Titans released veteran running back DeMarco Murray on Thursday to make it clear they want to hand the backfield reins over to the 24-year-old.
Murray had been Tennessee’s lead back for much of the past two seasons, but managed a career-low 659 yards on 3.6 yards per carry last season after a strong 2016 campaign that saw him tally 1,287 rushing yards, 377 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns.
His age, 30, combined with the $6.5 million he was set to make in 2018, made him a clear cap casualty for the Titans.
Early down receiving: YPA & success, since 2016— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 8, 2018
• Derrick Henry: 9.3 YPA, 54%
• DeMarco Murray: 4.6 YPA & 40%
Rushing performance: YPC & success, since 2016
• Henry: 4.4 YPC, 50%
• Murray: 4.1 YPC, 46%
Cap Hit (2018, 2019):
• Henry: $1.47M, $1.72M
• Murray: $6.5M, $6.5M
With no other candidate to steal major touches on the Titans’ roster – as of right now at least – Henry could be in-line for a significantly heftier workload.
Tennessee have enough incentive to feature him more after using a second-round pick to nab the Heisman Trophy winner in 2016, but may look to free agency or the draft to add a pass-catching back to complement Henry.
Whereas Murray’s versatility made him a weapon in the passing game, Henry hasn’t produced much as a receiver, hauling in just 24 receptions on 32 targets for 273 yards and a score in his first two seasons.
The Titans may believe he has untapped potential as a pass-catcher, but that’s the one area of Henry’s game that could keep him from handling most of the snaps.
The Los Angeles Rams aren’t afraid to shake up their roster, that’s for sure.
Less than two weeks after they traded for one talented cornerback with character concerns, the Rams added another to continue their defensive makeover.
Los Angeles finalised a deal to bring in Aqib Talib from the Denver Broncos for a fifth-round pick on Thursday, according to multiple reports, reuniting him with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and pairing with newly-acquired Marcus Peters to form one of the best cornerback duos in the league.
At 32, Talib is on the backside of his career, but remains one of the game’s premier pass-defenders. Though he failed to intercept more than one pass for the first time in his career last season, Talib was graded as the 15th best cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
With the Rams, he won’t have to match-up against the opposing team’s best wide receiver every snap as the younger Peters will share the responsibility.
In Talib and Peters, Los Angeles now have two ball-hawks capable of turning any throw outside of the numbers into a turnover. While the Rams were tied for the sixth-most interceptions in the league in 2017, only seven of those came from cornerbacks. Peters alone had five last year, whereas Talib averages 3.4 per season.
Add in the recent low-cost signing of former Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields – who has 23 interceptions since entering the league in 2010 – along with the return of safeties Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson, and Los Angeles have managed to construct one of the best secondaries around.
35 defensive backs had a PFF grade of 85+ last year. The Rams now have 4 of them in Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Lamarcus Joyner and John Johnson. Once free agency begins and the trades are official, they'll be the only team with 4.— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) March 9, 2018
Not only have the Rams improved the back-end of their defence, but they’ve done it by saving cap space.
If the acquisition of Peters was the nail in the coffin of Trumaine Johnson’s tenure with the team, the trade for Talib was the extra swing of the hammer.
After keeping Johnson on the franchise tag for the past two years, the Rams will now almost certainly let the cornerback walk in free agency, with his $16.7 million salary coming off the books.
Peters and Talib, meanwhile, will combine to make $12.7m in 2018 – $11.0m of which is owed to Talib, who is also slated to make $8.0m in 2019.
Talib’s contract was the impetus behind the decision to move on for Denver.
With the younger and better Chris Harris Jr already on the Broncos roster, along with the up-and-coming Bradley Roby, Talib became superfluous.
Considering the situation they were in, Denver did well to get anything in return for a player they were almost surely going to release.
With Talib’s salary wiped away, the Broncos could potentially use their savings to hand Roby a new contract – his contract will expire after his fifth-year option in 2018 – or make a stronger push for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Regardless of what the fifth-round draft pick they received nets them, Denver have put themselves in a better position to address their biggest weakness at the cost of a modest toll to their greatest strength.