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Browns to sign David Bakhtiari?

This just in: Jedrick Wills Jr. is not the answer at left tackle. Is Bakhtiari the future there for the Browns? Probably not. But it could certainly be a step in a positive direction.

It’s tiresome hearing sycophantic media propagandize a nonexistent comparison between Wills and Joe Thomas to excuse below average play. Only four left tackles in the history of football compare reasonably to Thomas; no one has to contrast his play against that of Wills to identify an obvious inadequacy.

Wills’ play is poor compared simply to the average output of NFL tackles. Hall of famers and all-timers need not be invoked for anyone competent at evaluating offensive line play to determine that there’s a deficiency.

Wills has proven reiteratively over his four years in the league that he’s a below average tackle, which wouldn’t even necessarily be that big of a problem — not everyone lives up to a top ten draft billing. The larger issue is that he’s being paid as a much above average tackle.

Ever since Cleveland’s brass exercised Wills’ fifth-year option for the 2024 season, it was written in stone that he’d be paid in the top ten range of NFL left tackles, with the money ($14.175 million) being fully guaranteed more than a year in advance despite never being a top 50 tackle in the three seasons he’d been in the league to that point.

It’s pecuniarily irresponsible to tie the financial health of the franchise to someone whom they wish would prove them right for drafting where they did. Successful organizations pay players for what they’ve already done in the NFL, not what they hope someone can eventually become. This is why the rookie wage scale was adopted in 2011.

Bakhtiari’s been graded in the top 50 by PFF every year since being drafted in 2013. He’s been top 15 each of the last six full seasons he’s played, including thrice being the second best tackle in football. Two of the past eight years over that span were interrupted by knee injuries: an ACL caused him to miss most of 2021 and his 2023 ended with a decision to have surgery to fix a cartilage issue.

Bakhtiari was graded 12th out of 81 tackles for 2022 with a stellar 87.8 pass blocking mark. Wills’ best career finish was 52 out of 83 in 2021 and was predictably having his worst year in 2023 when his money for the following campaign had already been guaranteed. He’s never strung together more than four consecutive above average outings as a professional.

But Wills is 25 and Bakhtiari is 32! Correct. And both have exactly two relatively healthy seasons since 2020.

Wills’ shortcomings haven’t been due to his natural ability or his athletic profile. The most apparent and undisguisable issue with his on-field performance has been mental lapses. Mental lapses are due to a lack of focus. A lack of focus is the result of a lack of preparation. And a lack of preparation is caused by a lack of motivation.

Guaranteeing eight figures of future salary shows little perspicacity in terms of discerning what would motivate a person who hasn’t been motivated from within — or by one of the game’s most prominent O-line coaches. It does quite the opposite: sending the message that what the player is doing is plenty good enough for a windfall payday. So why would it be a surprise when the player takes it that way and doesn’t improve?

Hopefully Wills will be motivated by the reality that 2024 is finally his first contract year, though it wouldn’t be an enormous surprise if the Browns’ front office gives him an extension because they appear content by the fact that they didn’t draft a tackle this year. Had they wanted to, Patrick Paul, a round-two grade in my Draftionary, was available at 54. And Javon Foster, also a second-round grade, lasted all the way into the fourth.

Last year they did draft Dawand Jones, a second-round-graded prospect from my 2023 evaluations, though he played primarily on the right side in college (as did Wills). This was a year after they passed on the first-round-graded Bernhard Raimann in round three, who was my No. 1 overall tackle prospect for 2022, back when Wills still had considerable trade value. Raimann started week one of his rookie year and was a top 25 tackle that season; by year two he was top 10 and still has two seasons left on his first contract.

Cleveland signed Hakeem Adeniji during free agency, a potential swing tackle with guard versatility. Hopefully he’s competing with James Hudson III for a depth role; both will be free agents after this season. Jack Conklin has no new guaranteed money after 2024, and, having not lived up to his current extension, is a post June 1 designee cut candidate after this year. The other tackles on the 90-man roster are developmental and have little to no chance of making the team.

Signing another tackle may not seem to make a ton of sense on the surface. But there would be no need for a swing if there were four OTs on the 53, and both Hudson and Adeniji could be cut with no dead Paragraph 5 salary.

Zak Zinter is a lock and it could be ventured that Luke Wypler ought to be too. That’d make nine linemen, which is what they opened with in 2023. Versatile vet Michael Dunn wasn’t technically there for the start, but didn’t wander far and rejoined after week one; with him being a vested veteran, that type of wink-and-a-handshake diablerie could happen again.

A true meritocratic camp could showcase Wills vs. Bakhtiari on the left, with Conklin vs. Jones on the right, and all four making the roster if healthy. Is Browns management truly trying to put the best product on the field and the team in the best position to succeed? Or will puzzling past decisions continue to be compounded by a rigid stubbornness to steadfastly march behind botched choices from yesteryear?



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