John Greco said that he didn’t mean to give up the starting left guard job he was given last year after Jason Pinkston was hospitalized with blood clots.
It appears that the new regime sees things Greco’s way.
Yesterday, the team agreed to terms on a five-year contract with the 28 year-old University of Toledo product that will keep him in Cleveland through the 2017 season. Not even a year after being thrust into a starting role, it looks like the Browns have locked Greco up to be one of their starting guards for the foreseeable future.
If you’re looking for a reason the team would sign Greco, who arrived in a 2011 trade with the Rams, to a new contract before the expiration of his old deal, look no further than his run blocking skills. In his 10 starts last season, Pro Football Focus actually rated him as the 7th best run blocking guard among the 81 they graded last season. While he performed well as a mauler in front of Trent Richardson, his pass protection could still use some improvement, a weakness that could show up larger this year as Norv Turner’s downfield offense calls for the line to give Brandon Weeden more time than Pat Shurmur’s dink-and-dunk West Coast scheme.
Nonetheless, the signing has been widely praised. The Browns already had their two bookends in All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas and 2012 second-round pick Mitchell Schwartz, as well as Pro Bowler Alex Mack as a keystone at center. Now, the front office is looking to plug the holes between those three pillars.
As I have written previously, it appeared that the guard spot would be a major source of competition at training camp as the trio of Greco, Pinkston, and Shaun Lauvao battled for the two starting roles. Now it looks like either Pinkston or Lauvao, both of whom began last season as starters, will be left on the bench.
There are still questions about which side Greco will play. He lined up on the left between Mack and Thomas last season after Pinkston went down, and some outlets have predicted he will start there again this year. Others list him as a right guard. It probably doesn’t matter much, but if the Browns view him as the best of the three guards, I’d prefer to see him on the right side where he can help Schwartz as he continues to develop.
It’s nice to see Boardman native Greco rewarded for his hard work and performance, but it also makes sense for the team. While he is about average as a pass blocker, it is not unreasonable to expect that Greco will improve that aspect of his game as he adds to his 14 career starts. Even if he remains at the same level in pass protection, Greco should still prove valuable, especially with Norv Turner’s recent assertion that Trent Richardson will likely get over 300 carries this season.
The one curious part about this signing is the timing. With higher profile players like T.J. Ward and the man that will line up next to Greco (on one side or the other), Alex Mack, entering the last year of their contracts, it is surprising that Greco was the first to get a new contract. Even Greco himself was somewhat shocked. “I wasn’t really expecting it,” he admitted. “My focus was to come in and have a good camp and be one of the starters, that was really my mindset. The contract stuff will take care of itself after the season, but the Browns approached me the other night and I’m happy we got something worked out.”
Don’t expect Greco to be the last player inked to a new contract. “One of our goals,” said Browns CEO Joe Banner, “is whenever possible to develop and keep our own players.” That bodes well for Ward and Mack, two players the Browns drafted and have watched grow into some of the best in the NFL at their respective positions.
The contract is also welcome news because it is real, tangible news about the football team rather than further discussion of Jimmy Haslam’s ongoing legal woes. With Banner’s statement and training camp opening up tomorrow, Browns fans should soon have even more to talk about.