Mack, Benjamin among 4 Browns to leave to ink deals with other teams
CLEVELAND (AP) — Johnny Manziel hasn’t been bounced by the Browns yet.
Cleveland did not release the partying quarterback as expected on Wednesday, but the team lost four starters when the NFL opened free agency and kicked off a new calendar year.
The Browns have indicated for weeks that they are done with Manziel because of his behavior and intend to cut ties with him. But he’ll be on their roster for at least one more day.
And while the Browns surprisingly hung on to Manziel, they watched three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, speedy wide receiver Travis Benjamin, dependable right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and former Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson sign with other teams.
Not a good start for a new coaching staff and revamped front office, which is stressing analytics during the team’s latest rebuilding project.
As for Manziel, the Browns could be waiting to see if they can trade the 23-year-older for a late-round draft pick or to possibly recoup some of the money owed to him if he’s suspended by the league. Manziel has a guaranteed base salary of $1.2 million in 2016 and $1.04 million 2017. He’s also due a $250,000 roster bonus next year.
Manziel is still facing potential criminal charges in Texas stemming from his second domestic violence incident in three months. Dallas police referred his case last week to a grand jury, which is examining whether to move forward. The league, too, is investigating whether he violated its personal-conduct policy after an ex-girlfriend accused him of hitting her.
He doesn’t have a future in Cleveland, and there’s no certainty anyone will give Manziel another shot with his ample baggage following two troubling seasons.
The team had a chance to send a message by cutting Manziel the moment it could, but the Browns didn’t see the need and are sticking to their plan.
After a rough first day, their strategies are being questioned.
The loss of Mack — he signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with Atlanta — is a major blow and somewhat shocking since Browns coach Hue Jackson said last week that he valued an elite center as much as a franchise quarterback.
Mack was dependable and durable during his seven seasons, but he never played on a winning team and hastened his exit by voiding the final three years on his contract last week.
“This was an extremely difficult decision,” Mack said in a statement. “After careful consideration, I concluded it was time to start a new chapter in my life. Over the last seven years, I have established friendships with teammates, coaches, and staff that will last a lifetime.”
The Browns drafted Cam Erving in the first round last season as protection in case Mack left, but he had a miserable rookie season while playing guard.
The departure of Mack wouldn’t hurt as much except that Schwartz is gone, too, leaving the Browns to plug two enormous holes in their offensive line. Schwartz signed a five-year deal with Kansas City, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. Schwartz hasn’t missed a game since the Browns drafted him in the second round in 2012.
Not long after Schwartz signed with the Chiefs, his brother, Geoff, a former NFL lineman, went on Twitter with congratulations and a message that seemed to indicate some difficulty in contract talks.
“So proud of my brother on his deal with the Chiefs!” he wrote. “Went through some nonsense today, and ended up in a great spot.”
The Browns will have to rebuild 40 percent of their starting offensive line as they consider drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Benjamin, who doubled as a punt returner, signed a four-year deal with San Diego. Benjamin was one of the Browns’ only deep threats and playmakers, finishing last season with 68 catches for 966 yards and five touchdowns.
Gipson, who made the Pro Bowl in 2014 when he had six interceptions in 11 games, agreed to terms on a five-year deal with Jacksonville.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP—NFL