Updating the Cleveland Browns’ needs after one week of free agency

  • 2020 NFL Free Agency
  • Cleveland Browns
By Jereme Jones March 23, 2020 0 Comment
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In one week, Andrew Berry has added 11 new faces to the Cleveland Browns’ roster. What moves still need to be made to make Cleveland a playoff team?

The Cleveland Browns, and new general manager Andrew Berry, have been one of the busiest teams in the first week of the new NFL league year. Cleveland has signed 10 new players, and traded for fullback Andy Janovich, in the last week. But, looking at the roster, there are still several needs for the Browns to fill. Here is a look at the biggest needs still remaining for Cleveland.

#1 Offensive Line

Cleveland took a big step toward fixing the offensive line last week by signing Jack Conklin to a 3-year, $42 million contract. Conklin will be the starter at right tackle, but the team still needs to address the left tackle position. Of all the options out there, three seem to be among the most likely options for the team.

First, the Browns can take a tackle with the tenth pick in the NFL Draft. There are four top tackles in the draft; Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas, and Mekhi Becton. At least one should be available to the team at number ten. Second, the team could trade with Washington for Trent Williams. Williams, the seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle, is looking for a new team and a new contract. The question is how much does he want and how much do the Redskins want in a trade? Cleveland has money left to spend but might not want to spend $15-18 million on a 32-year old tackle. Third, the Browns could sign veteran Jason Peters as a short-term answer. Peters, 38, could do the job for a season and give Cleveland another year to find a long-term answer.

The answer that makes the most sense for the team is to wait until the draft and solve the left tackle spot for, hopefully, the next ten seasons. This is also the most cost-effective answer for the team. Speaking of cost, the Browns must also decide what to do with last year’s starting right tackle, Chris Hubbard. Hubbard is signed for three more years and has a cap hit in 2020 of $7,268,750. Is Cleveland willing to spend that much to have a veteran back-up at tackle? Or could they find a better way to spend it?

Finally, the team must make a decision at right guard. The two options on the roster right now are Wyatt Teller, who started nine games last year, and second-year player Drew Forbes. Forbes missed most of his rookie season with an injury after being drafted in the sixth round. If Cleveland wants to add to the competition, they could sign a veteran or draft a young player to give the position more depth. The team could also use a back-up center as well, so adding a player with position flexibility could be useful. Overall, the position looks better now than a week ago, but there are still a number of decisions to be made here.

#2 Linebacker

While Cleveland made a splash on the offensive line last week, their one move at linebacker barely made a ripple. The team signed former Green Bay Packer, B.J. Goodson, to a one-year contract. Goodson is a run-stopper who will likely compete with Sione Takitaki for reps at middle linebacker. He is far from a complete fix for the position, however. The team also has last year’s fifth-round pick, Mack Wilson, as the likely starter at weakside linebacker. Outside of those three, Cleveland really has no other player who looks to make an impact at the position next season.

The Browns need to find at least one, if not two, more linebackers yet this off-season. It could be a case where they sign a veteran free agent on a one-year deal and then also draft a linebacker. There are a number of veteran linebackers still available in free agency, including guys like Nigel Bradham, Tahir Whitehead, Clay Matthews, and Mychal Kendricks. By signing an experienced starter to fill the role in 2020, the Browns could wait in the draft to let a linebacker fall to them. In a draft without a lot of great linebacker prospects, it would be better if Cleveland could be patient on draft day and not have to reach.

#3 Defensive End

Myles Garrett is a lock for 2020 at defensive end. After that, there are a lot of question marks for the Browns on the edge. The first question is what to do with Olivier Vernon? The veteran is in the final year of his contract and has a cap number of $15,500,000 this season. Is that too much for a player who only had 3.5 sacks last season? The team could cut him without any dead cap ramifications. But, if they do cut him, who do they replace him with?

There is not a lot of talent behind Vernon on the roster. Chad Thomas is entering his third season and has yet to show that he is ready to be anything more than a rotational player in the NFL. After Thomas, they have Gustin Porter, Trevon Young, and Robert McCray. If Cleveland keeps Vernon they need to add a player or two at defensive end. If they cut Vernon, they need to find a starter and one or two back-ups.

The only scenario where it might be in the Browns’ best interest to cut Vernon is if they could replace him with Minnesota’s Everson Griffen. Griffen, a free agent, announced on Friday that he is planning to move on from the Vikings.

Outside of adding Griffen, Cleveland is best off keeping Vernon on the roster. No other free agent offers you more potential today than Vernon. And, if nothing else, he could help the team gain compensatory picks in the 2022 draft if he signs elsewhere in 2021.

The best gameplan for Cleveland, as of now, is to keep Vernon, add a veteran pass rusher like Kamalei Correa, and then draft a defensive end. That would fix the team’s depth problem and give them the best potential for success at the position.

#4 Wide Receiver

The Browns might have the best wide receiver duo in the NFL with Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. The problem is that there is a serious drop off in talent after them. As of now, the Browns’ have Damion Ratley, KhaDarel Hodge, Taywan Taylor, D.J. Montgomery, and J’Mon Moore coming back from last season. Those five combined for 16 catches last season; Ratley had 12 and Hodge had 4.

The team did sign JoJo Natson from the Los Angeles Rams, but he is more of a return specialist than a wide receiver. In fact, he hasn’t taken a snap on offense since 2017. Even with new head coach Kevin Stefanski using more sets with two tight ends and/or a fullback, the Browns still need to add one or two wide receivers this off-season. The good news is that this is a deep draft class when it comes to receivers. Also, and perhaps because of the draft class, there have yet to be many free-agent wide receivers sign contracts so far this off-season.

This means Cleveland might be able to find a veteran at a value price. Guys like Breshad Perriman, Devin Funchess, and Phillip Dorsett are still looking for a new home. Another free agent that could be a great option for Cleveland is someone they are already familiar with, Rashard Higgins. Hollywood had a down year in 2019, with only 4 catches, but still has a lot of potentials and could be a steal on a one-year deal.

Cleveland should sign a veteran, preferably Higgins or Perriman, and then draft a young developmental wide receiver in the draft. This would solve both the short-term and long-term needs of the team in this position.

#5 Safety

Cleveland has already signed two safeties this 0ff-season, Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo. But, with only two other safeties on the roster, Sheldrick Redwine and J.T. Hassell, the team still needs to add one more at the position. The Browns’ best option at this point is to find a safety in the draft. Both Joseph and Sendejo were signed to one-year contracts, so a draft pick could spend 2020 learning and playing special teams and then be ready to fill in as a starter in 2021.

Off-Season Summary

Andrew Berry has done a great job so far of filling needs on the Browns’ roster while spending smart. The team still has the most available cap room in the NFL, roughly $48 million. The team is no doubt looking to save some of that money for Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield. Both have contract extensions upcoming that will take a big chunk out of the team’s salary cap. But that still leaves Berry with money to spend this off-season.

The other thing Berry has accomplished with filling so many needs through free agency is that the team is now free to focus on choosing the best player available in the draft instead of filling needs. This is something that should give Berry a lot more flexibility in the middle rounds of the draft. If the Browns want to be a perennial playoff contender, they need to begin to draft like one. Teams like New England, Baltimore and Pittsburgh can rebuild every season because of their draft classes. Until Cleveland can find production from the draft, especially in the middle rounds, the team will never be able to be a consistent winner.

The first concern, however, for Berry and the Browns is to make the playoffs this season. And, in order to accomplish that goal for the first time in 17 seasons, there are still a lot need to be filled on this roster. This team is undoubtedly more competitive today than they were a week ago. But where the team goes from here this off-season will make the difference in where they go in the standings this season.

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