After our divisional season review podcasts, we are now looking to the future and asking where each franchise goes from here. We put ourselves in the chair of being GM or the owner and going over what moves we would make in order to win a Superbowl, make the playoffs or just regain some pride…
Next up, we take a look a the the Cleveland Browns.
How Did Last Season Go?
So if we rewind to Spring 2018 and go back to draft night, John Dorsey was making the now infamous, “how you doin’ buddy boy?” phone call to select Oklahoma QB, Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick of the draft. Now we’re sat on the verge of Spring 2019, with Mayfield’s rookie year in the books, it does very much feel like Cleveland have solved their quarterback crisis that feels like it’s older than me but it didn’t start off that way…
Before the season kicked off, the Browns seemed to have a talented roster, on paper at least. On the grass it was a different story however and more to the point, on the sideline.
Hard Knocks allowed us to pull back the curtain and peer into the ineptitude of now ex-HC Hue Jackson and see the friction between him and offensive coordinator, Todd Haley.
In truth, the Browns didn’t get going until they were both fired after week 8. I mean, it took a couple of games for Mayfield to see the field… but when he did, Cleveland were a different animal.
The Browns opened up with a tie and a loss to the Steelers and the Saints respectively before they were losing at home to the Jets when Tyrod Taylor suffered a concussion… Enter Mayfield and cue a comeback win on Thursday Night Football and subsequently, Baker-mania.
Even with Mayfield starting, Jackson lasted another 5 weeks, leaving the Browns standing at 2-5-1. But still, that’s two more wins than in the 2018 season.
Gregg Williams took over as HC but it was the elevation of running backs coach, Freddie Kitchens to OC that really seemed to get Cleveland rolling. Baker and Kitchens really seemed to mix well and the offense was cooking on gas from then onwards (these jokes write themselves at times).
After one victory in the two seasons before this, a final record of 7-8-1 is pretty good going and some nice wins over Atlanta, Carolina and Denver as well as sweeping Ohio rivals Cincinnati kept the Dawg Pound smiling, but it does feel like there’s more in this team. If only the gave Jackson the boot earlier?
Cap space: $78m
Draft Picks (11): Round 1, 17th overall, Round 2, 49th overall, Round 3, 80th & 95th overall, Round 4, 119th overall, Round 5, 144th, 155th & 170th overall, Round 6, 189th & 7th round, 221st overall.
Tyrod Taylor, E.J. Gaines, Earl Watford, Greg Robinson and Rashard Higgins (RFA) head up the free agents for the Browns. Briean Boddy-Calhoun (also an RFA) and Breshad Perriman are also set to hit the streets.
So who is out and who should the Browns keep in town?
To be honest, I feel like all those guys are pretty replaceable. Boddy-Calhoun is a guy who plays in sub packages so you’d have to bring in a more specialist defensive back but that’s fairly easily found, although being a restricted free agent, I can see him sticking around.
Tyrod is gone. Gaines is average at best, Watford a swing guard but they drafted Austin Corbett last year, Robinson hasn’t lived up to his billing as a #2 overall pick but earned a fresh 1 year deal, although I think the length of that deal says a lot. The recent acquisition of Jaelen Strong means Perriman is probably gone as there’s only space for one reclamation project in a squad that is looking up. So overall, Higgins and Boddy-Calhoun will probably stay and at relatively low cost.
Lastly, Jamie Collins is a player who hasn’t really worked out since he came in from New England… the Browns could cut him for with only $2.5m of dead money and a saving of a chunky $9.75m. Cleveland don’t need the money but why pay an under performing veteran over $11m?
[UPDATE: Yesterday, Collins was cut by the Browns]
So first things first, Cleveland have already offered Kareem Hunt a route back into the NFL and as mentioned signed Jaelen Strong to a deal. More toys for Mayfield and the offense.
Right, so I’ve got my grey sweatshirt on, I’m in the chair of John Dorsey, in fact, I am John Dorsey, what am I doing aside from furiously chewing gum?
The big needs I see for the Browns are; corner, linebacker and offensive tackle. They could also do with a defensive tackle, some depth at wide receiver and also a pass rusher because you know, sign me up for all of the guys who get to the QB.
Depending on how things fall on day 1 of the draft, I think 17 is a nice sweet spot for Byron Murphy or Greedy Williams, giving Cleveland a long term partner for Denzel Ward at corner for a long time. If the world has gone mad and they’re off the board (or if Cleveland love Terrence Mitchell or Travis Carrie) the Browns could take a luxury pick from one of the drafts deeper positions; either defensive tackle or wide receiver. Coming away with someone like Christian Wilkins or N’Keal Harry at 17 would get me all kinds of excited although these positions, especially wide receiver could be addressed on day 2 so maybe being sensible and selecting an offensive lineman such as Dalton Risner or Andre Dillard would be prudent before filling other needs later. Cleveland currently has two 3rds and, three 5th rounders too, so plenty of ammo to move up if they decide the want a particular guy on day 2.
As for agents how about Kwon Alexander? He’s 24, so age is well on his side. He is coming off an ACL tear too so you can leverage that into getting a cash effective deal. He could slot into that front seven next to Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey and be an upgrade on, athlete not football player, Jamie Collins. As for a tackle, Ja’wuan James is a right tackle who is coming into his prime years… never fitted in Miami but maybe a change of scenery will do him well? If Cleveland don’t draft a tackle they could then flip Chris Hubbard over to the left, James will lock down the right side on have second year Desmond Harrison as your swing guy.
Outlook For Next Year
Cleveland are looking pretty good going into the 2019 season. They’re in the ascendancy in the AFC North and the division crown looks like anybody’s since the traditional superpower, Pittsburgh, are in a state of disarray. Baltimore are the current kings of the North and will be looking to retain that title.
However the Browns have a really good shot in my opinion. They have their QB and some cohesiveness between QB and HC. A good offensive line which they could easily improve upon if they follow the route I suggested. Kareem Hunt will come in to what is already a strong backfield with Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson. They could do with another receiver to add to Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway but then again, if David Njoku takes a step forward he could be one of the leagues better tight ends.
Over on the D, pass rushing isn’t an issue with Myles Garrett and Genard Avery but again some depth could always be added in the mid rounds… a little bit like wide receiver, there’s plenty of decent mid round talent to be had.
Again, a couple of sensible draft picks in the right areas at corner and linebacker should really be a boon for this team and give Steve Wilkes plenty to work with in an attempt to rediscover his mojo at what could be a more natural position for him.
The Browns schedule doesn’t look super scary considering they finished in the 3rd spot in the North and therefore play the Titans at home and Denver on the road as well as the AFC East, which is the weakest division in the AFC. So aside from going to visit the Patriots the Browns AFC schedule looks good! Out of conference the AFC North plays the NFC West, so there will be a couple of long trips to San Francisco and Arizona but again, that means Cleveland visits the 3rd and 4th placed teams from last year (Yes, I do expect the 9ers to be much better but ditto for those Brownies too!).
So neck on the line time… I’m going for 9-7 for the Browns in 2019. This could mean the Browns sneak into a wildcard spot depending on how it all shakes out in the AFC… a world away from 0-16 which would seem like it happened in another life.
(Yes, I’m a fully fledged Mayfield fanboy with a heavy case of Baker-mania… sue me, I’m feeling dangerous).
Fantasy wise, which Browns should you be taking and where? So your two biggest stars are going to be those running backs, Chubb and eventually Hunt. You’ll have to pick your poison at first as it’s not immediately obvious how they’re going to split reps… then you have to consider one of the best receiving backs in the league. So all very convoluted at the moment but in PPR I don’t think you can really go wrong. Hunt will be a mid round steal, Chubb will be available in that second tier of runners in the 2nd or 3rd round and Johnson is a lovely late pick up.
As for receivers, Landry should be the WR1 in Cleveland but do be aware that his production dropped once Freddie Kitchens was at the helm, so don’t overdo it. However if you’ve locked up one or even two of the games’ premier pass catchers, you could do much worse than draft Landry as a WR3 to give your team a decent floor.
Njoku is a nice option but be aware of his high variance, grab him late and pair him with a more solid tight end otherwise you’ll have some pretty low scores at the position or have some matchup headaches to solve each week.
Last but not least, the D/ST. Wouldn’t be the worst pick up in round 12 or 13 as I think they’ll be pretty good and there’s absolutely no need to overdraft them as I doubt they’ll be targeted early by many as they’re not a big name or traditional powerhouse.