The analytics suggest that receiver Terrelle Pryor wants more than the Browns want to pay him. And how the Browns handle this one will become the latest litmus test of the team’s new approach to building and maintaining a football team.
Last year, they let center Alex Mack and tackle Mitchell Schwartz go via free agency. Then, as part of the effort to prop up their new procedures by keeping all 14 draft picks, they released receiver Taylor Gabriel, who became a great player for the Falcons’ NFC championship team.
This year, Pryor is the biggest name (and the best story) on a team desperate for stars. But the numbers say what they say, and the Browns are willing to disregard the name on the jersey and the man in the helmet in order to honor their new procedures.
It’s a calculated risk, to be sure. As one source with knowledge of the dynamics explained it to PFT, teammates like and respect Pryor. He’s particularly respected by players who played for the Browns when Pryor arrived and tried to convert to receiver but failed to make the team. And he’s passionate about playing for the Browns; how many guys in the locker room really care as much as he seems to?
The question is whether Pryor is a true No. 1 receiver, and whether he ever will be. Corey Coleman, a first-round pick in 2016, could become the top player on the depth chart, with or without Pryor there. Until Coleman develops, they likely need someone more accomplished than either of their best two options. (Josh Gordon would be nice, if he ever gets reinstatement.)
With so much cap space, it may seem trivial for the Browns to quibble about a couple million here and a couple million there, especially for a player that is so popular with the fans. But if they’re going to let this new approach take root, they need to honor it, without exception.
The other concern, frankly, is the manner in which Pryor will react to finally getting a massive contract, six years after entering the NFL. What happens when Pryor gets paid?
To the extent that’s a reason for the Browns to not pay Pryor $12 million per year, isn’t it also a reason to not pay him, say, $8 million a year? As one source explained the dynamics, it’s financial security that causes a player to change; the degree of the security doesn’t really matter.
So what will Pryor do once he gets paid a lot of money? And how will he continue to develop as a receiver? Those are questions that need to be answered as Pryor continues his career not as a guy who throw passes but as a guy who catches them. Whether they’re answered in Cleveland or elsewhere remains to be seen.
And if Pryor gets paid, handles it well, and performs well with a new team, the Browns will be hearing about their latest decision to let one of the few good ones get away.