Cleveland Browns: Can they turn talent into titles?
The Cleveland Browns started the 2019 season being consideredas a potential Super Bowl bound team. The addition of Odell Beckham Jr to the talent they had already assembled should have made them a potential force in the AFC North. After years of high draft picks, including two number one overall selections, this team was loaded with opportunity to break their historic playoff drought. It did not work out that way. Somehow the Browns managed to add more talented players and finish with fewer wins than the year below, ending the year 6-10. Despite divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers being down to an undrafted rookie quarterback leading the team by the end of the season, the Browns still finished third in the AFC North and out of the playoff hunt.
The disappointment of the on field performance combined with indiscipline off it led to the departure of first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens. After a strong end to the 2018 season calling plays, Kitchens was unable to make the leap to head coach, and now faces a year out of the NFL completely.
General Manager: Vacant
Head Coach: Kevin Stefanski
John Dorsey made a number of good moves as the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. He used a number one pick on Baker Mayfield, a move that was a surprise to some, but Dorsey believed that Mayfield was his guy. He then added Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb in the same draft. Not only did he add plenty of firepower in the draft he then traded for Jarvis Landry from Miami and stayed in aggressive in the quest to make Cleveland a winning team. After a losing season Dorsey remained aggressive and traded for Beckham, picked up the troubled Kareem Hunt after he was released from Kansas City, and traded up in the draft for Greedy Williams. Despite all of the seemingly good and aggressive moves the Browns struggled and ultimately Dorsey appeared to pay the price for his desire to support Kitchens to keep his job into the 2020 season. The Browns have interviewed a number of candidates but as of writing are yet to fill the vacant GM role.
One position that has been filled is the head coach role. After helping lead the Minnesota Vikings back to the playoffs, offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski became the new head coach of the Browns. Stefanski has had one full season as offensive coordinator, but before that he worked as quarterbacks coach, tight end coach and running back coach. The man is made to coach offenses, and with the weapons the Browns have it will be interesting to see what he can come up with. Stefanski will need to work out how to deal with a quarterback who appears to love the limelight and puts himself in it at every opportunity he gets. This is a territory that he will be somewhat unfamiliar with, as Kirk Cousins is a more laid back character Stefanski does have another quality running back to utilise in Nick Chubb and with the former-LSU team mates Beckham and Landry at his disposal this offense is primed to have a go at the AFC North and beyond.
Cap Space: $50.7 million
The Browns have a reasonable amount of cap room available entering the 2019 season, especially when you consider a lot of their key players are already signed and under contract. Having been so poor for years, the Browns have managed to get the best of the best from college with high picks in the draft. Now the benefit of this for Cleveland is that they have great players that are on relatively cheap rookie contracts.
In 2020, Baker Mayfield, Greedy Williams, Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and David Njoku will earn under $30 million combined. This is a minimal amount for 5 players who have all performed well for the Browns since they joined. The Browns need to capitalise on this opportunity, as in a few years all the players mentioned above will be in line to make a lot of money.
Cleveland could also free up another $15.5m if they decided to let go of Oliver Vernon. Vernon is undoubtedly a talented player and someone the Browns have recently acquired, but he massively underperformed last year compared to what he is earning. He has also missed at least four games in each of the last three seasons which has to be a concern when considering his contract.
Impending Free Agents
Cleveland Browns have 14 free agents heading into the off season and half of them will be unrestricted. Two of the unrestricted free agents played over 80% of snaps and the new GM will be looking to secure new deals for these players:
Greg Robinson played around 80% of the snaps in 2019 and is still only 28. Robinson’s cap number for 2019 was $7 million and he will be looking to increase that this year. A solid and consistent offensive line is so important for a football team and the fewest changes as possible to this position the better. The issue is that Robinson’s performances were somewhat underwhelming in 2019 and the Browns may not be willing to pay to see that again in 2020.
Playing almost every snap this season, Joe Schobert cemented himself as a key part of the Browns defense. He played the most snaps of any Browns’ defender and was the highest tackler in the team with 113. He has never lit up the league with sacks and again he only managed two this year. He is a constant amongst the Browns team and I expect the Browns will bring him back for another year.
Major Need: Offensive Tackle
The Browns have a quarterback in Mayfield who has shown that he is capable of making the big plays and leading his team to wins. What they need to do is protect him. A strong offensive line can change an offense from mediocre to great. If the Browns can protect Mayfield and give him time in the pocket then he will find some of the weapons that he has on offense. With Beckham and Landry lining up the Browns need to get the ball in their hands, and the best way to do that is give their quarterback time to throw the ball to them. Dorsey did a brilliant job in stacking this team with weapons, but he neglected the offensive line position. This should be the first thing a new general manager looks to improve.
Minor Need: Safety
At the start of 2019 the Browns were fairly confident with their safeties. Damarious Randall had a great season in 2018 and would have been expected to have a great year in 2019 with it being a contract year. To go along with Randall the Browns added Morgan Burnett who was partnered with Dorsey and Randall in Green Bay. Burnett had a poor season in Pittsburgh the season before but that would be due to the deep safety role they had him in, a role the Browns wouldn’t use him in. Along with Burnett and Randall the Browns had Jermaine Whitehead who was playing the hybrid nickel role. Randall turned out to be a guy who missed more tackles than he made plays, Burnett could do a job but is getting on a bit. As for Whitehead, well threatening someone on twitter tends to get you released and it was no different for him. The Browns should use free agency on a safety but they might also want to look to add depth in the draft.
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