Kenny Britt Heading to the Browns Is a Smarter Move Than You Think

The expected signing of Kenny Britt might not spell the end for Terrelle Pryor in Cleveland, but even if it does, it should be seen as a good move.

The Cleveland Browns have agreed to sign a wide receiver who had a breakout season in 2016. It’s just not the one most were expecting.

Per Adam Caplan of ESPN, the Browns will be signing Kenny Britt to a four-year, $32 million contract with $17 million guaranteed when free agency officially starts at 4pm ET on Thursday.

This is going to be viewed as a disappointment to some because it’s not Terrelle Pryor, who just had a breakout season of his own with the Browns. However, there are many layers to the decision of making Britt the first priority at the position.

Producing in a Bad Environment

One thing being overlooked here is how impressive Britt’s performance was last season with the Los Angeles Rams. By our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, he one was one the league's better receivers. There were 41 wide receivers who saw at least 100 targets in 2016, and among them, Britt was ninth in Reception NEP per target.

That would be impressive in a vacuum, but add in the context of the Rams’ passing offense -- which was worst in the league by Adjusted Passing NEP per play -- and his play was downright fantastic. Britt also massively outperformed his teammates in the passing game.

Here’s how he stacked up against Tavon Austin and Brian Quick last season.

WR Receptions Targets Yards TDs Rec NEP Rec NEP/Target
Kenny Britt 68 111 1,002 5 86.84 0.78
Tavon Austin 58 106 509 3 29.33 0.28
Brian Quick 41 77 564 3 45.18 0.59

Among 92 receivers with 50-plus targets, the average Reception NEP per target was 0.66. Two of the three Los Angeles receivers did not hit that number, and one of them was the least efficient receiver in the league. Then there was Britt, who somehow collected 1,000 receiving yards in that offense with bad quarterback play.

There were 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs this past season. Case Keenum was 34th by Passing NEP per drop back, while Jared Goff checked in at 39th. It’s going to be hard for whomever starts at quarterback for the Browns to be much worse than what the Rams rolled out under center in 2016.

Pass on Pryor?

The decision to sign Britt for what amounts to a Michael Crabtree/Marvin Jones-level deal does not preclude the Browns from re-signing Terrelle Pryor.

The Browns came into Thursday will roughly $98 million in cap space, per Over The Cap, which is the most in the league. If Cleveland wants to bring him back, there are certainly resources to do so.

But if the Browns do just prefer Britt to Pryor, there is some reasoning to it despite the emotional attachment to Pryor.

While Britt outperformed his teammates, his numbers were also slightly favorable over Pryor’s while playing in a worse offense. The Browns didn’t have a good passing attack by any stretch (26th by Adjusted Passing NEP per play), but they were closer to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who ranked 10th, than to the Rams at 32.

Here’s how Britt and Pryor’s numbers compared in 2016.

WR Receptions Targets Yards TDs Rec NEP (rank of 41) Rec NEP/Target (rank of 41)
Kenny Britt 68 111 1,002 5 86.84 (21) 0.78 (9)
Terrelle Pryor 77 141 1,007 4 95.88 (9) 0.68 (23)

Pryor playing a slightly bigger role in the Browns’ offense gave him the edge in Reception NEP, though the receiving yards total were almost exact. And again, it cannot be stressed enough how much harder the degree of difficulty was in Los Angeles. Whether you prefer Pryor or Britt could come down to whether you prefer counting stats or efficiency.

Despite Britt having more NFL experience, he’s only nine months older than Pryor, as he’ll turn 29 years old in September. At the time of this writing, we don’t know what Pryor’s market price will be, so it is possible the Browns favor a similar receiver at a lower price.

Earlier in the week, it was reported Pryor was seeking around $10 million per year, which is higher than what Cleveland just gave Britt.

The Browns also still have a stable worth of receivers who were drafted in 2016, including Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, and Jordan Payton, to fill out the receiving corps if no other moves are made.

Part of the Process

The Browns are going to be one of the NFL's most fascinating teams for the foreseeable future.

They’re one of the most notable rebuilding projects, but unlike others such as the San Francisco 49ers or the Jacksonville Jaguars, they don’t appear willing to overpay for free agents for the sake of spending cash -- one of the reasons Pryor wasn’t franchised at around $15 million for 2017. It could also be a reason they allow Pryor to sign elsewhere for more money.

And while they do appear willing to spend, they seem to be taking this crazy approach of targeting the best players on the market -- they were a finalist for Tony Jefferson before he signed with the Baltimore Ravens and they appear to be among the top two suitors for guard Kevin Zeitler.

Cleveland appears to be intent on building a solid foundation for whatever the team becomes without the need of unnecessary steps to get there. With reports of an extension for guard Joel Bitonio and the signing of center J.C. Trettor, Cleveland is building up the support system for whomever the next quarterback will be.

Kenny Britt might not seem like the biggest or most important name to be added to that mix, but it’s a smart deal that should benefit everyone involved.