October 25, 2014

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Browns analysis: New coach putting his stamp on roster

BEREA – The flurry of moves by the Browns on Thursday was part timing and part roster shaping.

The end of the NFL calendar year at 11:59 Thursday night demanded the Browns take certain actions. It was the deadline for placing tenders on restricted free agents, so cornerback Eric Wright and tight end Evan Moore were given second-round tenders.

The league and the team haven’t announced any moves made Thursday, so it’s not yet known if fullback Lawrence Vickers or safety Abram Elam were tendered. Receiver Chansi Stuckey wasn’t.

The end of the league year also marked the last chance for teams to re-sign their would-be free agents before they hit the open market. The negotiating extensions agreed upon between the owners and players union to avoid a work stoppage didn’t alter the deadline. It does, however, allow teams to talk to the agents of the players on their roster, but transactions aren’t allowed.

Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson agreed Thursday to a one-year deal laden with incentives, and Seneca Wallace agreed to a three-year deal reportedly worth $9 million.

So timing played a role, but it wasn’t everything.

Browns general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur decided the team would be better with Jackson and Wallace, although they combined for only four starts in 2010. Both appear to be better fits in the systems brought in by Shurmur than the ones run by former coach Eric Mangini.

Jackson’s less-than-ideal size (6-foot, 240) makes him better-suited to playing in space and running sideline to sideline.

That happens more often with the four defensive linemen of the 4-3 scheme occupying the blockers. In the 3-4 of Mangini, Jackson was too often forced to deal with 300-pound guards.

Jackson and Heckert realize this is a better situation for him. Jackson’s a team guy who enjoys Cleveland. He’s grateful for the opportunity of another season after missing the last 26 games with two torn pectoral muscles.

He’ll be penciled in as the starter at middle linebacker or on the weak side. Heckert called Scott Fujita the “ideal” strongside linebacker and said Chris Gocong could play all three spots.

So if the season started today and everyone remained healthy, the Browns could field a competent, experienced linebacker unit. That’s a good start for a defense in transition under new coordinator Dick Jauron.

Wallace’s return is only a surprise in that he said recently he wanted to play for a team on which he had a chance to start. The Browns have been redundant and adamant that Colt McCoy will enter 2011 as the starter.

“We don’t want a guy who doesn’t want to play,” Heckert said last week at the NFL scouting combine, referring to Wallace’s comments. “That’s a positive thing. He got a chance to play (last year) and played pretty well and got hurt.”

The market for Wallace as a starter would’ve been extremely limited, and he’s an expert in Shurmur’s West Coast offense after playing in it for seven years under Browns president Mike Holmgren, when he was coach in Seattle. That should be useful as McCoy tries to learn the system.

“I’m a Seneca fan. He’s a West Coast quarterback,” Shurmur said. “He’s done it for a lot of years in this system.”

Wallace got better through his four starts last year – .634 completion percentage, four touchdowns, two interceptions, 88.5 rating – but suffered a high ankle sprain and lost the job to McCoy. Wallace found a spot in Mangini’s doghouse and was clearly relieved when he was fired. Wallace still has a good relationship with Holmgren and adviser Gil Haskell.

The return of Wallace likely means a one-and-done for Jake Delhomme in Cleveland. A high ankle sprain in the opener got the season off on the wrong foot, and Delhomme finished with a 2-2 record, two touchdowns, seven interceptions and 63.4 rating.

Shurmur raved about his mentoring skills and veteran presence, but he’d have to take a significant pay cut from the $5.4 million he’s due to make in 2011 and the Browns appear committed to Wallace as their No. 2. Would Delhomme sign on to be a mentor and emergency solution?

The second-round tenders placed on Wright and Moore mean the team believes they’re valuable and wants to keep them. The Browns could match any contract offer the player is given, or receive a second-round draft pick if they let the player sign elsewhere.

Wright struggled throughout 2010, but was a second-round pick in 2007 and is among the more gifted cornerbacks in the league. If he can find his form, the Browns would have a solid group with Joe Haden and veteran Sheldon Brown. The return of Wright could also reduce the likelihood of drafting LSU’s Patrick Peterson with the sixth pick.

“I wanna shoutout Mike Holmgren and co.. I really appreciate the gesture #GoBrowns,” Wright tweeted Friday.

However, the next collective bargaining agreement may nullify the tender. Wright has four years experience and could become an unrestricted free agent depending on the terms of the deal.

Moore’s been in the league for three years and would most likely remain restricted. If Vickers wasn’t tendered, it’s a clear indication he isn’t a fit in Shurmur’s offense.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.