The Cleveland Browns are in the market for a No. 2 wide receiver to help take some pressure off of Josh Gordon, who will undoubtedly receive more attention after his monstrous 2013 campaign, and to aid their next franchise quarterback hopeful. But the Browns could also use a steady pair of hands deeper on the depth chart, especially since they released Davone Bess after finding out that he wasn’t so steady, with the drops being a real back-breaker for the Browns offense. Greg Little is Mr. Drop-Prone, which severely undermines his value after the catch; he doesn’t make the catch often enough to be deemed a true threat after it.
Signing a veteran wide receiver with good hands and savvy route-running made plenty of sense for the Browns, and I was always a fan of their interest in Nate Burleson, who visited the Browns and Miami Dolphins. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot reports that Burleson has chosen the Browns, as his agent informed the Plain Dealer that he signed a one-year deal with the team. Although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, his deal is most likely at or near the minimum.
At 32, Burleson is on his last legs, and his severe lack of speed probably frustrated some Detroit Lions fans. That said, Burleson is significantly faster than Jason Avant, who will be meeting with the Carolina Panthers today in the hopes of latching on to the WR-needy club, and he also has the ability to win on the outside or inside. That versatility will surely help the Browns, as teams love to move WRs to different parts of the formation in order to generate mis-matches on any given play.
Burleson played in just nine games last season and six the year before that, but his injury last season was as fluky as it gets (I’m sure I don’t need to give the saucy details or make a cheesy joke). He averaged a stout 51.2 yards per game last season, though the Lions wished they received more out of their No. 2 wideout. Before the injury, he did have some solid production, taking full advantage of the extra attention on Calvin Johnson to haul in 26 receptions for 316 yards in those four games (79 yards per game).
Even though his speed his declining, he’s able to get a little bit of separation with his experienced, smart route-running, and he’s a very reliable pair of hands in the slot and on the outside. That’s exactly the kind of wide receiver the Browns need, because they are trying to assemble a wide receiver corps of young guns in Josh Gordon, a top rookie, and Little. Adding a solid veteran like Nate Burleson makes plenty of sense, and I think he’ll have a solid year for the Browns. There is very little risk in making this deal, and he seems to have less of a chance being released out of training camp than Little, who is in the critical final year of his rookie contract.