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Kevin Zeitler reinforces Browns’ commitment to their offensive line with a record-setting deal

There’s no such thing as too much offensive line help.

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Browns aren’t quite sure who their starting quarterback will be in 2017, but they’re certain he’ll be well protected. Cleveland added an impact offensive lineman Thursday by signing Kevin Zeitler away from the Bengals.

Zeitler’s deal is reportedly for five years and $60 million with $31.5 million of that guaranteed. The young guard will join All-Pro mainstay Joe Thomas, recently extended standout Joel Bitonio, and newly acquired center J.C. Tretter on what promises to be one of the AFC’s top blocking units for 2017. Cleveland has poured a ton of money into its offensive line this spring, but that’s an investment the franchise can afford to make; with nearly $105 million in cap room, the Browns could afford to splurge.

Adding Zeitler also gives the team some insurance should Bitonio’s injury problems continue to plague him. The former All-Rookie team honoree has only made 15 starts the past two seasons, but his play earned him a $51 million extension regardless. If he misses extended time, having the former Bengal in the fold should help mitigate his loss.

Cleveland’s gain is Cincinnati’s loss. With multiple quality starters hitting the free agent market, Zeitler ended up being the guy the Bengals weren’t able to retain. Andrew Whitworth and Dre Kirkpatrick, as well as several others, were all hitting the free agent market, and with Zeitler’s high price tag, Cincinnati cut its losses and moved on, in a similar way to the way it chose to pass on re-signing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to lucrative contracts last year.

While the title of best offensive lineman in Cincinnati still belonged to Andrew Whitworth last year, Zeitler — the younger of the two by nearly a decade — was the more valuable free agent. The guard has given up just over 10 sacks in his five-year career, averaging just over two sacks allowed per season. Over the past two years, however, the right guard has only surrendered three sacks. That, plus Zeitler’s performance in the run game, made him an incredibly coveted free agent.

In Zeitler, Cleveland will get a steady, durable lineman who, while not flashy, is one of the better guards in all of football. He’ll immediately improve the Browns’ offensive line, both from a pass protection and run-blocking standpoint.

The offensive line will set a foundation for success on the Cuyahoga River, but several question marks still plague the Browns. The team’s top two passing options this March are Robert Griffin III and Cody Kessler — an underwhelming duo who will press the franchise to draft a young quarterback prospect come April. Cleveland also has yet to come to terms with top wideout Terrelle Pryor on a new deal. Should he leave, the team’s passing corp will have to hit the reset button for 2017.

Even so, adding Zeitler is a power move for a team that needed to make a splash this spring.