Pryor's pratfall, and Big Whit's goodbye

The more interesting an NFL team is in the off-season, the worse it often is during the season.

That explains why the Browns are the talk of the league now that free agency has heated up and the draft is on the horizon.

The Browns spent like drunken sailors on the first two days of free agency, doling out free agent deals worth $109 million total, 58.5 million guaranteed, and also took on the $16 million salary of former Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler, even though it appears they have no intention of keeping Osweiler around.

The Browns also committed $51 million to keep Joel Bitonio around, giving him a five-year extension. Bitonio has missed 17 of the Browns last 32 games due to injury.

So was all this spending and maneuvering smart, or stupid?

The consensus around the league is that the Browns Harvard braintrust is actually pretty smart.

But I'm not so sure.

First, you have to realize that no free agency move happens in a vacuum. If you spend money here, it means you're not spending it there.

So let's look at what the Browns spent on, and what they didn't spend on.

They clearly spent on the offensive line. On guards, Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler, and on a center, J.C. Tretter.

They had to upgrade the middle of their offensive line because it was so bad it nearly got five quarterbacks killed last year. But if you remember, the line went to pieces because the Browns wouldn't spend to retain either Alex Mack or Mitchell Schwartz last season.

So, if the Browns are so smart now to upgrade the line, then you have to admit they were stupid then to let the line become a shambles.

But at least we can credit them for realizing their mistake and moving to fix it.

The other Browns transaction that's getting a lot of kudos is the trade for Osweiler and his unwieldly contract.

The Texans badly wanted out from under that, so they gave the Browns a second-round draft pick in 2018 to take Osweiler off their hands.

The Browns had the money to spend on Osweiler, who they didn't acknowledge until the 46th word in the official team release announcing the trade. The Browns have already contended they're fielding offers for Osweiler, although I wonder about that.

Here's a look at all the Browns spending so far:

Player             Years              Total               Guarantee

J.C. Tretter            3              $16.75m          $10m

Kevin Zeitler          5              $60m             $31.5m

Kenny Britt            4              $32.5m          $17m

Joel Bitonio           5              $51m             $23m

Brock Osweiler     3              $47m             $16m

So clearly, Cleveland thinks spending $16 million on a quarterback it has no plans to play is worth getting a second-round pick a year from now.

What could they get that might help them this year with the $16 million they'll spend on Osweler that likely won't pay off until next year?

Well, at least another season, and maybe two, from Terrelle Pryor.

Now, I'm not a fan of Pryor's at all. I think he's an entitled punk, and it's humorous he overplayed his worth with the Browns and had to settle on a one-year, incentive-laden deal in Washington where he's guaranteed $6 million -- $11 million less than the Browns offered over two years.

But Pryor is a live body that opponents have to cover. So for the Browns to spend $16 million on a player they have no plans for, Osweiler, instead of on a player, Pryor, who played an entire season last year and caught 1,000 yards worth of passes seems a hard sell to make to the veterans in that Browns locker room.

And speaking of locker room damage control,  that brings us to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Cincinnati is a good team so it doesn't intentionally lose games and stockpile cash like the Browns. So the Bengals don't have $100 million lying around to spend. That's how Zeitler, a very good player, gets away.

The Browns made him the highest paid guard in the NFL. Cincinnati could not, and did not, match that price because the Bengals, like every other team in the NFL except the Browns, deems it wiser to pay tackles than to pay guards.

Zeitler's departure hurts, and in tandem with tackle Andrew Whitworth taking a three-year deal in Los Angeles, it really hurts. Zeitler and Whitworth gave up only one quarterback sack between them last season.

Andy Dalton was sacked 41 times. So you do the math. Guys no longer blocking for Dalton allowed 1. Guys still blocking for Dalton allowed 40.

That's not a pretty number.

Whitworth was perhaps the most popular Bengal in the community. He started 11 years at left tackle, and last season ranked among the league's best, even at age 35.

The Rams overpaid for him. Again, that's something the Bengals don't do. But being fiscally responsible doesn't mean letting Zeitler and Whitworth walk will keep Andy Dalton physically responsive when he drops back to pass.

And then late Saturday night, Bengals defensive line stalwart Domata Peko left for Denver in free agency. Peko was also an 11-year veteran and a very popular Bengal, but Denver paid him more than Cincinnati could or would, and so he takes another leadership chunk out of the team.

I understand why the Bengals did what they did with Whitworth, Zeitler and Peko. And they did re-sign defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick. But if you're a Bengal fan, you lost some guys you really cared about and are probably wondering what kind of team is left in their wake.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

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