The AFC North experienced from friendly fire during the free agency period when he Cleveland Browns poached Pro Bowl guard Kevin Zeitler away from the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. In fact, Cleveland made him the highest-paid guard in NFL history, but it’s a move they feel good about for one very important reason.
He already knows the coach. He already knows the system. He played for Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson for a couple of years while he was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator. So they already know exactly what he is going to give and what type of personality he is off the field and in the locker room. This is an abnormally low-risk signing due to mutual familiarity.
And that is a situation both parties are aware of. Zeitler cited Jackson’s presence as one of the main reasons that he chose to go there, though the money certainly didn’t hurt, obviously. But it means a lot more for a coaching staff to have no questions about a new piece coming in, and that was part of the philosophy behind the deal.
During the league meetings, Jackson talked about why they went out on a limb to sign him. “He’s good”, he said. “He’s tough, strong, great initial quickness, finishes blocks, he knows the system, he knows how to play within the system that I incorporate here”.
“I think he’ll hit the ground running just because he’ll understand what we’re trying to do Day 1 more so than somebody else”, Zeitler’s former offensive coordinator and current head coach went on to say. But he wasn’t the only member of the Browns’ front office to talk about the familiarity as part of the decision to bring him in.
“I mean literally he’s going to show up to OTAs and already knows the calls”, John DePodesta said about him. “That’s pretty rare in a free agent to find all those things, so certainly we stepped out further than anyone else has ever stepped out on a guard”.
Sashi Brown also added his two cents. He’s “a guy that knows Hue’s system, plays every snap, is rugged, and will help us for a long period of time”, he said about one of the newest Cleveland Browns. “We felt like he could step right in and be a really good player for us right away”.
One might take pause in considering the fact that they have made so much of a free agent’s connection to the Browns’ current head coach, given how short a shelf-life such a position has held over the years, but even after a dismal 1-15 season, the worst in franchise history, there still appears to be the sense that Jackson is the guy—until he’s not, anyway.