The sports world has come to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic has shut down teams on all levels. But in Cleveland, the Browns have been busy making deals. WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto talks about the key players the team acquired in the first week of free agency.
Pluto acknowledges it's a strange experience to be a sportwriter at a time when sports is on hold indefinitely because of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Once upon a time I had a chance to be a general columnist, which is writing about anything you want on the news side. And I thought, I'm not going to get away from sports because if nothing else, I always have winners or losers in the game, or somebody being fired, or somebody being traded," Pluto said.
But, the NFL kept things interesting, going forward with its free agency signing period last week.
"To be very fair to the NFL, they got a lot of criticism for doing business when nobody else is," he said.
But Pluto says all of the business is done through phone, text and email.
"So they can social distance all they want and still make million-dollar deals," he said.
Three big moves
The Browns found their key free agent targets under their new, analytics-driven front office of general manager Andrew Berry, head coach Kevin Stefanski and chief strategist Paul DePodesta. Collectively, the Browns signed three free agents to contracts worth $102 million.
1. Jack Conklin: The Tennessee Titans free agent offensive tackle agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal, with $30 million guaranteed. Pluto said the Browns needed help protecting quarterback Baker Mayfield on the line.
"He's 25 and only played a few years. And his best years usually are in the 26 to 30-year-old range," he said.
2. Austin Hooper: The former Atlanta Falcons tight end signed a three-year, $44 million contract, with $23 million guaranteed.
"He's somebody who's middle 20s and somebody who they think his best football is still coming," Pluto said.
He said the Browns' strategy was to find younger, talented players who they can build around.
"Whereas a lot of other teams threw bigger money at maybe players who were older and bigger names."
3. Case Keenum: The veteran quarterback agreed to a three-year, $18 million deal with $10 million guaranteed. "He played with Minnesota when Kevin Stefanski was the quarterback coach with the Vikings," Pluto said. "He was the backup there and they had a number of injuries and Keenum stepped in and they went 11-3. He's a good mentor to the younger guys and if has to, he can play and not be a disaster."
But Pluto said Keenum is not meant to be competition for Mayfield.
"They will never say this, but there was a sense internally that Mayfield suffered from some sense of entitlement," he said. "So, they said, 'OK, we got you a tackle. And we got you a big tight end. But we're also going to get you a guy in Case Keenum who's going to show you what it means to be an NFL quarterback who can put together game plans and just some maturity.'"
Pluto says the Browns signed some other players to one-year deals, and they'll still be looking for more defensive help through free agency and the draft.