The fact "Pork Chop" Womack shows up on the list of the Browns' most productive free-agency pick-ups reflects why their last winning season was 2007, and the big challenge facing new GM Andrew Berry.
Andrew Berry's first moment of truth as roster boss of the Browns arrives in the form of free agency.
Berry finds himself beholden to two big questions. One, who is willing to play in Cleveland? Two, who among the willing is worth asking?
Beginning with Phil Savage, the men in charge of luring free agents to Cleveland have had a rough time finding decent answers.
This point can be illustrated be presenting one view of the top 13 Browns free agency pick-ups since Savage was hired away from the Ravens as general manager in 2005. Some good players have been brought in, but the list of those who were on top of their games for as many as three seasons is very short indeed.
1, Guard Eric Steinbach, signed in 2007 (Savage). He was an effective left guard through most of his 62 starts from 2007-10, but a back injury ended his career when he was 30.
2, Center JC Tretter, signed in 2017 (Sashi Brown). He is an iron man and a leader who has started all 48 games, coming off four years and 10 total starts for Green Bay.
3, Guard Kevin Zeitler, signed in 2017 (Brown). His five-year, $60 million contract turned heads. He started all 32 games in his two Cleveland seasons before getting traded to the Giants.
4, Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, signed in 2019 (John Dorsey). His 775 snaps were second among Browns defensive linemen to Larry Ogunjobi's 779. A D-line surge might have continued without the Myles Garrett suspension. Richardson's three-year, $37 million contract gives Berry the option of keeping Richardson through 2021, when he will be 31.
5, Linebacker Willie McGinest, signed in 2006 (Savage). He was 34 in his first season with the Browns, but he had been a force in New England. Though in decline, he added fiber that helps explain how the 2007 team went 10-6. He was a competent starter for three years.
6, Running back Jamal Lewis, signed in 2007 (Savage). His 1,304 rushing yards were a big part of the 10-6 team, but it was a last dance followed by two seasons of decline.
7, Tight end Ben Watson, signed in 2010 (Tom Heckert). He led the Browns in catches and receiving yards in 2010, but after Eric Mangini got fired his two years under Pat Shurmur weren't as good.
8, Linebacker Karlos Dansby, signed in 2014 (Ray Farmer). He was the best player on the front seven for a defense that helped the '14 team to a 7-4 start. He started all 32 games across two seasons, but he was cut at age 34.
9, Edge rusher Paul Kruger, signed in 2013 (Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi). He produced 11 sacks in 2014, but he was expensive, and he got cut by the new Sashi Brown regime during the 2016 preseason.
10, Receiver Joe Jurevicius, signed in 2006 (Savage). The savvy vet's 2007 season was full of catches influencing the 10 wins, but a staph infection wiped out his 2008 season, and he never played again.
11, Safety Donte Whitner, signed in 2014 (Farmer). Mike Pettine loved how his leadership played into a 7-4 start in ’14, but his play and the team faded, and he was gone by 2016.
12, Tight end Gary Barnidge, signed in 2013 (Banner/Lombardi). In 2015, he caught 79 passes for 1,043 yards and looked like a Hall of Famer in a win at Baltimore. His other three Browns seasons were nothing like that.
13, Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack, signed in 2009 (Eric Mangini). He was a decent utility lineman in the final two years of his career, and his inclusion reflects the quality of free agents the team has been able to land.
Savage's name shows up several times. His chance for sustained success got hurt by mistakes, bad luck and not finding a quarterback.
Of all of the players in this article, offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley was the best combination of youth and talent when Savage signed him in 2006. Bentley suffered a career-ending injury on his first day of training camp. Savage overpaid offensive lineman Kevin Shaffer in 2006 and wound up getting problems instead of production from wideout Donte Stallworth, a 2008 pick-up.
On an encouraging note, Berry was an important part of the regime headed by Sashi Brown when Tretter and Zeitler were signed. Brown had final say over roster decisions then. Now, it's Berry, who seems jazzed by the newfound power.
A few times, starting with Savage, a Browns personnel boss has stepped on the gas, only to get jerked into reverse.
Most recently it was Dorsey, whose 2018 roster went on a late 5-1 hot streak. This obscured the fact he had not done well in 2018 free agency. Richardson became his only helpful free agent in an ill-fated 2019.
Tight end Demetrius Harris, guard Eric Kush and linebacker Adarius Taylor all were signed in by Dorsey 2019 and cut by Berry recently.
Harris made five catches for 52 yards in the six 2019 wins. Kush was benched with the team at 2-5 in his seven starts at right guard. Taylor was busy on special teams but was hardly used as a situational linebacker (60 snaps).
Dorsey's 2018 free agents included cornerback T.J. Carrie (released in February), defensive lineman Chris Smith (waived in December), quarterback Drew Stanton (contract ran out after he spent 2019 on injured reserve), tight end Darren Fells (cut after the 2018 season), running back Carlos Hyde (traded after six games) and defensive back E.J. Gaines (played four games in his only year as a Brown).
Dorsey's 2018 free agents who remain on the team are right tackle Chris Hubbard, whose five-year, $36.5 million contract was based on what appears to have been a misguided projection, and defensive back Terrance Mitchell, who was entrusted to 22 defensive snaps across his final nine games in 2019, when he played sparingly on special teams.
The story of Dorsey's demise is long and complicated. Free agency certainly is one of the chapters.
The fair thing seems to give Berry a chance. Here, two questions rather than 20 seem to cover his potential moves.
What might he do? What CAN he do?
In persuading tight end Austin Hooper, tackle Jack Conklin and quarterback Case Keenum to become Browns as 2020 free agents, he is off to a good start.
Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP