The Browns once again made a splash in free agency by not signing outside free agents.
They did it via trades.
“It was as crazy a day as I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Savage said. “We had as much excitement last night as a staff with what we did as we did on the first day of last year’s draft.”
The Browns had targeted Williams, but he had been tagged as the Packers’ franchise player just a week prior to free agency with a franchise tag of $6.3 million. The Browns signed the fifth-year player to a six-year contract believed to be for close to $36 million, with as much as $16 million guaranteed.
In exchange, the Browns gave up their first pick in this year’s draft—a second-round pick (56th overall). The Browns felt they couldn’t get a player of Williams’ ability in the second or third-round. All four of the Browns key contributors on the defensive line were acquired via free agency or trades over the past two years.
“We felt like Williams is someone, who if he did get to free agency, we would be interested in trying to obtain,” Savage said. “Once the league year began we contacted the Packers and asked if they’d be willing to talk trade. We talked about it and ultimately, came to the conclusion it was worth a second-round pick to get a defensive lineman that has played in the league and has had success in the league.”
Crennel loves veteran players and he knows it would be very hard to get the help immediately front the draft for the front seven.
“I think it would be hard to draft a guy with the type of experience and be able to do what Corey (and Shaun) could do,” Crennel said.
“You really don’t plan on that,” he said. “After we got Corey we were pretty happy, but this is the NFL, and when the trade fell through with Cincinnati, we were able to get Shaun.”
Savage explained how the deal with Rogers came down.
“(Lions’ GM) Matt Millen and I had talk repeatedly about Shaun at the combine and after the combine,” Savage said. “They found a different trading partner and I texted Matt and said ‘Congratulations’ and he called me back and said the trade had fallen through and it happened.”
Savage thinks the Browns have been able to take areas of weakness and turn them into team strengths in the last year.
“To add Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers to our defensive line made that legit,” he said. “We’ve solidified quarterback, offensive line and the defensive line in the past 12 to 13 months.”
Crennel equates the trades as a way to get immediate help.
“After last year, we identified the front seven as the area we wanted to improve and that’s been our main focus,” Crennel said.
Williams, 27, is coming off his best season with 35 tackles, including seven sacks. The 6-4, 320 pound Williams has had 14 sacks the last two seasons.
“When we left our final free agency meeting our three main objectives were to sign Jamal Lewis back and Derek Anderson and also try to address the defensive line,” Savage said. “On the first day of free agency we were able to do that. We’re excited about adding Corey. He’ll be a real valuable addition.”
Williams is just coming into the prime of his career after starting as a sixth-round draft choice from Arkansas State in 2004.Williams projected to play opposite of Robaire Smith at defensive end.
“I’m happy to be a part of an up-and-coming team like Cleveland,” Williams said. “When I was first franchised, I didn’t like it. I wanted out of Green Bay. I’m glad Cleveland called and I feel wanted.
“I describe myself as a hard worker, high motor guy who loves to play football,” Williams said. “I have the attitude and the ability that God gave me.”
Rogers has been to the Pro Bowl twice but has been criticized for having a lack of motivation sometimes.
“A lot of people need motivation to play at their best and that’s coaching,” Crennel said. “It’s documented that he can be a great player.”
“This will be a fresh start for Shaun,” Savage said. “He needed a change of scenery and I think that having Romeo Crennel will help to get the most out of what he can do.”
Williams is looking forward to teaming up with Rogers.
“Shaun Rogers is a great player,” Williams said. “He can easily take over a game with his play.”
Rogers is under contract for three more years at base salaries of $4.25 million, $5.25 million and $7 million, according to the players union web site. Rogers was also due a $1 million roster bonus on March 1 and the Browns were to take care of that.
Rogers (6-4, 340 pounds) is expected to be the nose tackle with Shaun Smith, Williams and Robaire Smith all figuring in the rotation. Savage said earlier in the week that Shaun Smith would most likely be the nose tackle, but Rogers will probably be the starter with Smith spelling him and figuring in the rotation at end. Rogers had a career best seven sacks and four forced fumbles in 2007 and is a two-time Pro Bowler.
“He’s a legitimate veteran defensive lineman who still has a lot of upside potential,” Savage said. “It seemed to be a good fit for us.”
The Browns are very happy with the addition of Williams and Rogers to say the least.
“Only time will tell how big a splash it is,” Crennel said. “We feel we added two good players on the starting front. When you add two starting players on your front, it has to help you.”
Can the Browns finally stop the run and be a top-tier defense?
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Crennel said.