Alright. You know the story! Browns owner Jimmy Haslam pushes the reset button AGAIN! You have a new coach, general manager, and direction. The players try to find a way to manage, the other fans make fun of the team, the local sports analysts act as comedians towards the whole thing, and the fans resume excitement when training camp starts as if nothing catastrophic happened. Again, you know the story. The fans will be sitting through yet another Haslam experiment.
However, it’s still the Cleveland Browns and somehow we still care. Maybe it’s because instead of back to back 4 win seasons the team has had at least 6 wins the past 2 seasons. Maybe it’s because they have the quarterback with the most commercials since Peyton Manning. Or maybe it’s because the defender who slammed a Steeler with their own helmet is eligible to return. Honestly, I don’t 100% know why we care so much. I won’t tell you Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry are a for sure thing, but I can tell you the team is a good offseason away from the playoffs. Still one of the most talented rosters in the league. They just needed some better leadership. So here’s a quick breakdown of their top offseason needs:
There is a good reason I capitalized this one. Despite Nick Chubb’s impressive season and Baker Mayfield being the first Browns quarterback since Tim Couch to start all 16 games, the o-line was trash. Rated 29th overall in the league and was the biggest eye sore on the team all season. Despite all the praise the former general manager got, offensive line was never John Dorsey’s strong point. For starters, the team lacked depth from the beginning. After injuries the team struggled to keep any protection for Mayfield, not that it made much of a difference anyway. They drafted one lineman and he was injured most of the season. The rest were players just fighting to keep their careers going. Looking ahead, they have 2 starters worth keeping around, Pro Bowler Joe Bitonio and center Jason Tretter, who signed a 3 year extension in the middle of the season. Other than that they don’t really have anyone. Chris Hubbard is on an expiring contract, Greg Robinson could go to prison for 20 years, and anyone who played right guard last season is pretty much cut.
Recent reports have stated the team could potentially spend large amounts of money on a few free agents to improve the line. In the past, they have had success with signing veteran o-linemen to long, expensive deals. But now and then you’ll get that one that doesn’t pan out. Browns need to avoid that at all cost, but still should spend for quality. The draft has a few star potential left tackles in the first round this year. They’re still looking for a permanent replacement for Joe Thomas. Some big trade rumors have emerged about Redskins’ Trent Williams and Eagles’ Jason Peters, but I wouldn’t bank on either one happening. Then again, I doubted the Odell Beckham rumors too and looked what happened. Bottom line, Cleveland needs to pick 3 new starters and plenty of back up options if they want to see this line succeed right away.
During the Hugh Jackson era, safety was a big concern. Teams were making passing plays over the weak backfield like it was nothing. When John Dorsey took over it got fixed. Now it’s an issue again. Damarious Randall will test free agency and most likely will be gone. It is a toss up whether Andrew Berry decides to retain Morgan Burnett or not. Juston Burris and Sheldrick Redwine were decent during the last few games of the season, but didn’t show too much promise as long term options. They don’t want to overlook this position. Every great team has a duo of safeties that help contain the pass game. Unless the Browns want to get lit up again like in 2016 and 17, I suggest grab a few guys that can consistently hold down the role.
Browns will be back to using 3 linebackers and, unfortunately, Joe Schobert is on his way out. Mack Wilson is the only guaranteed starter left on the team. Christian Kirkseyhas been cut and signed with the Packers. Grabbing a few free agents and trying to find a gem in the draft would be one way to go. A good mix of veteran leadership and youth tends to go well for defenses. Browns could use all the help they can get on the defensive side of the ball.
A 3rd and 4th Wide Receiver
Browns marched into the 2019 season believing to have the best wide receiver group in the NFL. Turned out to be a little disappointing. Odell Beckham Jr had a decent season and his best friend Jarvis Landry was a Pro Bowler again. However, they were the only receivers that really did anything all season. Rishard Higgins never really saw the field and isn’t expected to return this season. Antonio Callaway was cut, failed another drug test, and signed with the XFL. Damion Ratley made some noise but never got too many chances. These days, the 3rd wide receiver is critical for most offenses. With all the injuries, it’s important to have mad depth at all positions especially the ones who get knocked around the most. Both Beckham and Landry had surgeries recently. It would be fitting to make sure there is quality back up in case they would need more procedures.
One of the biggest fears for Browns fans is to have the team go on a run and suddenly Baker takes a hit that takes him out for long period of time, or worse, the season. Browns dodged a major bullet last season with Baker staying healthy. Garrett Gilbert was the only backup option and had very little experience at the pro level.
Thankfully, recent reports state that the new front office has signing quarterback number 2 as a high priority when free agency opens. Case Keenum, Chase Daniels, and Marcus Mariota have been a few names mentioned as options. Looking back at the past few seasons, it should be noted when the Eagles won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles in 2018 and the Titans going to the AFC Championship with Ryan Tannehill this past January. The right man could save an entire season should they need him.
Beef Up the Defensive Line
Watching the Browns defensive line was like a rollercoaster. Some games went well and others not so much. Myles Garrett had a disappointing season but was suspended the last 6 games of the season. Olivier Vernon was injured much of the season but didn’t perform up to par when he did play. Sheldon Richardson was solid on and off the field. One of the few bright spots on the line. Larry Ogunjobi put up almost the exact same statistics as he did in 2018.
Last draft, John Dorsey did not take advantage of a deep defensive line class. The team is entering the offseason with minimal depth and potentially a need for a new starting defensive end. Every top NFL team has a strong front 7 on the defensive side of the ball. It is vital to address these positions if they plan on competing for playoff position. Otherwise, they’ll continue to struggle to pressure opposing team quarterbacks and have issues against the run.
One of John Dorsey’s strong points was giving his teams quality cornerback depth. It had helped the Browns plenty while dealing with Denzel Ward’s consistent injuries. As of right now, Ward and Greedy Williams are penciled as the starters with veteran Terrance Mitchell as the only reliable backup. It isn’t for sure Mitchell will make the team after the preseason and Ward’s multiple concussions give the organization plenty of concern about his future. It would be wise to grab a couple quality free agents and a sleeper in the draft to help be prepared for anything. It’s a passing league so they need to have as talented of a cornerback squad as possible.
Resign Kareem Hunt
Running back careers seem to be getting shorter with every new generation. Browns have a special player in Nick Chubb. But every good back needs a reliable backup. One of the few things that did go right for the Browns last year was the Chubb and Hunt rotation. It was weapon that irritated defenses and was, unfortunately, not used enough. John Dorseyz who was the reason Hunt signed with the team, is gone. But the Cleveland kid wants to stay home the rest of his career.
There are many different directions Andrew Berry could go with this, but hear me out. Hunt is still young, he is healthy with no history of injuries at the pro level, he wants to make his hometown proud, he produced when he played, and he seems to have a great relationship with the other players. There is a case to be made that he may go cheaper than many expected 2 seasons ago when he was tearing it up in Kansas City. Chubb likes working along side him. Seriously?! What’s the argument against it?! I am aware there was a recent legal problem, but nothing major. Keep him before he goes somewhere where he can hurt you.
*On March 16th, Browns put a 2nd round tender on Hunt.
Tight End depth
One of the few things the Browns have done right since their return in 1999 is always having a reliable tight end or two. Last season, Austin Seferian-Jenkins came out as the top tight end until his injury. Former 1st rounder David Njoku can’t stay healthy and has burned bridges within the organization. Recently, Demetrius Harris was cut. Keeping Jenkins makes sense but they need to make sure they have plenty of backup in case he goes down again. In Minnesota, Stefanski preferred to use blocking tight ends with possession hands for the red zone. Kyle Rudolph thrived in his system. It would be best for Cleveland to sign a veteran or two and draft a young prospect.
*On March 16th, Browns agreed to terms with former Atlanta Falcon Austin Hooper, making him the best paid tight end in the league.