Last year, Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry made a big splash in free agency to bolster the team's offensive line. The signings played a big part in the team's success as they ended their 18-year long playoff drought.
Historically, Cleveland has not been a landing spot for top free agents. The team's history of dysfunction, coupled with its lack of success on the field, has always been off-putting for the NFL's best players.
While the team hasn't had much luck with the free agents that they have managed to sign, few players have been outliers to that norm. Below, we take a look at the Cleveland Browns' top-five free-agent signings since 1999.
Cleveland Browns’ Top 5 free agent signings since 1999
#5 - Brain Hoyer, QB
Before drafting Baker Mayfield in 2018, the Browns had a revolving door at quarterback. The team started 30 QBs in 20 seasons and one of them was current NFL journeyman Brian Hoyer.
The Cleveland native was signed in 2013 after a brief but impressive stint with the Arizona Cardinals. Signed as a backup for QB Brandon Weedon, Hoyer was inserted into the lineup after an injury to the starting QB.
He led the Browns to victories in his first three games before tearing his ACL. Hoyer was named the starting QB for the 2014 NFL season and had an impressive start to the campaign, leading the Browns to a 6-3 record.
But an injury to Hoyer and his subsequent poor play meant the Browns won only one of their remaining seven games. He joined the Houston Texans in 2015.
#4 - JC Tretter, Center
JC Tretter spent his first three years in the NFL with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Tretter signed a three-year, $16.75 million deal with the Browns in 2017.
Since joining the Browns, Tretter has started all 64 games and has been a huge boost on the offensive line. In 2019, the center signed a three-year, $32.5 million extension with the team. Tretter is one of the most experienced players on the Cleveland Browns roster and has been a key figure in the team's recent success.
#3 - Jamir Miller, LB
Jamir Miller had a big impact in his limited time with the Browns. He signed with the team in 1999 and spent three seasons in Cleveland.
Miller was a versatile linebacker who did it all on the Browns' defense. In 47 games for the Browns, Miller defended 23 passes, caught two interceptions, recorded 22.5 sacks and 241 solo tackles.
He was selected for the Pro Bowl and earned an All-Pro selection in his final season with the Browns in 2001. Miller was the first Browns player to be selected for the Pro Bowl since the team returned to the NFL in 1999.
The linebacker tore his right Achilles tendon in a preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings in 2002 and was sidelined for the entire season. The Cleveland Browns waived him in February 2003 following which the linebacker retired from the sport.
#2 - Jamal Lewis, RB
In 2007, the Cleveland Browns signed former Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
In his debut season with the Browns, Lewis rushed for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 248 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Following his incredible debut season, the Browns rewarded Lewis with a three-year, $17 million extension. The RB recorded a third-straight season with over 1,000 rushing yards in 2008. Lewis played just nine games due to an injury in the 2009 NFL season but notched 500 receiving yards.
Before the season-ending injury, Lewis had announced that he would retire at the end of the 2009 season.
#1 - Phil Dowson, Kicker
Not often a kicker would be a franchise’s top free-agent signing in a 20-year span unless it was Phil Dowson.
He was a constant staple for the Browns for 14 years after their return to the NFL in 1999. He is a beloved figure in Cleveland and is still one of the fan favorites despite playing for two teams after leaving the Browns.
Dawson scored the first points for the returning Browns in the second game of the 1999 NFL season against the Tennessee Titans. Dawson holds almost all kicking and scoring records for the Browns. In his 14 seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Dawson connected on 305 of his 330 field goal attempts and 350 of his 358 extra-point attempts.
In 2019, Dawson signed a one-day deal with the Browns to retire as a Browns player.