The Cleveland Browns have been keeping themselves busy lately, coming to terms on a contract extension with their punter recently. They also finally extended a tender to their starting running back, Isaiah Crowell, who is a restricted free agent. Following a season in which he received the most extensive work in his career, the Browns placed a second-round tender on the back.
The second-round tender makes sense for Crowell and for the Browns. The three-year veteran was after all a former undrafted free agent, so if Cleveland has simply placed an original-round tender on him then the only protection from other teams that they would have would be the right of first refusal if another team had given him an offer sheet that he accepted.
The Browns also, of course, have a ton of cap space—somewhere around $100 million, I believe—so it’s not as though they can’t afford the slight splurge of nearly $3 million that it will cost them if and when Crowell actually signs the offer sheet.
During the 2016 season, Crowell ran the ball 198 times for 952 yards, averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per rush. His yards per rush figure was bolstered greatly by his big-play ability, which helped to offset the generally poor run-blocking offered by his makeshift offensive line.
The back recorded eight explosive plays on the ground last season, including three of at least 40 yards. He had a 67-yard run in the season finale against the Steelers, and also scored from 85 yards out against the Ravens earlier in the season. his 42-yard run came against the Bengals, doing his worst damage against divisional opponents.
But he also recorded an insane 39 runs of negative yardage, which is approximately one in every five carries. That includes four runs of at least minus-five yards, and 10 runs on which he lost at least three yards. That astounding quality and quantity suggests a multiple-cause scenario.
The Browns do see Crowell as a key part of their future, which is something that their head coach more or less said in so many words toward the end of last season as Cleveland winding down at dismal season in which they won just one game.
The Browns found themselves trailing so frequently and were so often forced to abandon the run simply to maintain an opportunity to stay competitive in the game that there were six games during the year in which Crowell carried the ball 10 times or fewer.
The team does have the intention of getting Crowell under contract on a more long-term arrangement at some point this offseason. Giving them the restricted free agent tender buys them additional time to work out a favorable arrangement that both sides can live with.