Browns general manager John Dorsey must be a movie fan.
He is currently employing the “biding one’s time” character trope when it comes to building the team. It seemed to work for Captain Kirk in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Kirk orders Chekov to fire at will, every command more intensely satisfying than the one before it. It seemed to work for the bad guys, as well, like The Emperor in Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Hans from Frozen. Both villains revealed themselves only at the last moment when their plans came into fruition, stunning everyone else and freezing the heroes long enough to execute their evil plans.
Granted, Dorsey has an owner in Jimmy Haslem who seems to now “get it” when it comes to running a football team. Also, Dorsey is benefitting from the tightness of the salary cap, which is third highest in the league, and he has been given permission to loosen the belt, so to speak. (One wonders if Haslem may indeed be more of a shrewd businessman than given credit as it relates this “new and improved” Browns team.) With all that, Dorsey is not just blindly trading his numerous picks for a slightly-past-his-prime wide receiver or overpaying for a running back. Rather, he is meticulously planning each move before the league is even aware of what is really happening in Berea, Ohio. This is what he has done so far:
- Signed low-risk, high reward offensive players (Jaelen Strong, Kareem Hunt) to “show me” deals.
- Freed up more cap space by releasing Jamie Collins and trading right guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants for edge rusher Olivier Vernon.
- Retained players who found a way to contribute to the team, like Rashard Higgins, who blossomed as a receiver, Trevon Coley, who had a nifty safety against Tampa Bay, and Jermaine Whitehead, whom Dorsey claimed off the Packers’ practice squad to become a staple on special teams and provided good depth in the secondary.
For a more specific example of Dorsey’s prowess, the Zeitler-for-Vernon trade benefited the Browns and the Giants simultaneously. The Giants have been looking to shop Vernon for a while. His base salary for the next two years is $15.25 million per year, and general manager David Gettleman has been looking for some cap relief. He has been looking to reinforce the shaky offensive line for the aging Eli Manning, and has now found him in Zeitler, whose pass-blocking skills helped him become within a hair’s breadth of making the Pro Bowl. Zeitler is earning $10 million per year until 2021. Fuzzy math equates this deal to be very cap-friendly for both teams, with the Browns only spending roughly $5 million more for a proven force on the defensive line.
As an aside, the next need on defense is linebacker. At this point, it is more of a want. Coincidentally apropos, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker John Houston has been recently released from the team.
The difference between being cold calculator and a “wheeler-and-dealer” is savvy. With the exception of the fervor and objection to signing Hunt (which has, predictably, died down), Dorsey is making moves that only make sense. There will be no big splashes or social media blasts to grab headlines. Like Christopher McQuarrie’s Academy Award-winning phantom, Keyser Soze, from The Usual Suspects, Dorsey is putting together a team built from a piece here and a piece there, ever so subtly that, before the NFL knows it, poof, the Browns are in the playoffs.