Tight end Jim Dray’s catch total for his first three years in the NFL was seven — three as a rookie, then two and two. Last year he “erupted” for 26 receptions, 215 yards and two touchdowns in his fourth season with Arizona.
To him, the reason for the jump was simple.
“I was given an opportunity to play quite a bit, when I hadn’t the other seasons,” he said Thursday on a conference call after signing with the Browns as a free agent. “I was able to catch a few balls and make some catches and play consistently. So that’s why I think it was my best season.”
Dray (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) signed a three-year deal with Cleveland reportedly worth $5.625 million with $2.25 million in the first year.
He said he always believed he could be productive and that the Browns got him with his arrow still pointing up. All his 2013 stats were career highs, including the 15 starts.
“I feel like I’m just scratching the surface and I think I can do more,” he said. “You always have confidence in yourself that you can get the job done.”
Dray, 27, was a seventh-round pick out of Stanford in 2010. He’s been labeled a blocking tight end — and has no problem with it.
“Not really. I enjoy blocking,” said Dray, who didn’t drop a pass last year, according to Pro Football Focus. “That’s traditionally what the tight ends are used for. I can also catch balls when they are thrown to me.
“I like to think that I could execute every kind of block: out of the backfield, on line, on-line pass blocking, picking up blitzes, lead blocking, (isolation) blocks.”
Browns general manager Ray Farmer is counting on Dray being a strong complement to starting tight end Jordan Cameron, who caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to the Pro Bowl last season. Dray said the Browns were aggressive in pursuing him from the start of free agency.
He joins a crowded position group. Gary Barnidge filled the second tight end role last year and was praised for his blocking, and the Browns also have MarQueis Gray, Keavon Milton and Andre Smith.
Dray was asked about being a similar player to Barnidge.
“There are usually multiple tight ends on the field at the same time,” he said. “If you have two of the same or three of the same it just adds another element to the offense.”
Tate in town
Texans running back Ben Tate was in town Thursday night to visit with the Browns, a team spokesman confirmed. The Browns have a hole at running back, and Tate could fill it.
Tate, 25, played with broken ribs last season before sitting out the final two games. He played in 14 games, rushing 181 times for 771 yards, a 4.3 average and four touchdowns.
In three seasons as a backup to Arian Foster, he has 1,992 rushing yards with a 4.7 average and 10 touchdowns. Tate, a second-round pick, has experience in the zone-blocking scheme favored by Cleveland offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
The Browns tied for 27th in rushing last year with 86.4 yards per game.
Dray was the second free agent to join the Browns from the Cardinals. Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby agreed to terms quickly after free agency opened Tuesday.
“I had the privilege of playing with him for one year, and he’s just a really, really good football player,” Dray said. “That at his age, it’s impressive how well he still plays the game. And not only does he play well, he dominates the game. So I’m excited to be here with him.”
They ate dinner last night in Cleveland, and Dray is confident Dansby can fill the leadership vacuum created when captain D’Qwell Jackson was released.
“He leads by the way he plays on the field,” Dray said. “He’s easy to follow. I’m sure he has some element of leadership.”
Browns center Alex Mack continues to give the impression he wants to sign elsewhere. The Browns placed the $10 million transition tag on him, but he can sign an offer sheet with another team. The Browns would have five days to match it.
Mack gave an interview to the IndyStar on Thursday after it learned the Colts were interested in the Pro Bowler.
“Anytime a player has a chance to talk with a team with a proven record like the Colts, (with) a quarterback and other weapons of the caliber Indy has, it certainly catches your attention,” Mack said.
The Colts later signed center Phil Costa, who had played the last four seasons in Dallas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re out of the running for Mack. The Colts hired former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski as an adviser, and Mack’s a fan.
Multiple teams have reportedly expressed interest in Mack, but he wouldn’t divulge which ones.
“I don’t want to get into who has contacted me. I leave those questions for my agents,” he said.
Mack’s agents have said they’re confident they can structure a long-term deal with another team that the Browns wouldn’t choose to match. Mack has until July 22 to sign the tag or agree to terms with another team.
“I’m willing to be patient with the process,” he said.
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said the Browns must select a quarterback in May. He’s just not sure if they’ll do it with their first pick.
“I just think they have to draft a quarterback. It doesn’t have to be at four if they don’t like the guy that’s there or they don’t like any of these three enough,” he said, referring to Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles. “If they don’t have a high enough grade on any of those three, fine. But you’ve got to come out with a quarterback. They’ve got to get better at quarterback, significantly better at quarterback than they were last year, or they’ve got no chance of getting out of the cellar.”
One of the possibilities at No. 4 if not a quarterback is Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
“Put him opposite Josh Gordon with Cameron, then you have something,” Kiper said on a conference call. “Then they could come back at 26 and maybe look at Derek Carr from Fresno State or Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois, or wait till the second round and take Carr or Garoppolo or (Alabama’s AJ) McCarron. So there are other options (at quarterback).”
** Kiper’s latest mock draft has the Browns taking Bortles at No. 4 with every quarterback still available. He has Manziel going No. 8 to Minnesota.
** Kiper rates Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde the top running back but doesn’t think he or any back will be drafted until the second round.