Before you say anything, I know what I’m getting into here, but fixing the Cleveland Browns is not impossible. And no, it’s not going to be nearly as hard as you think. Hiring John Dorsey as the new GM was a start and as much as you may refute this so is retaining Hue Jackson. There were a lot of problems between Jackson and the former GM Sashi Brown. According to many inside the organization, Brown “didn’t draft real players.”
Just to name a few players they could have picked in that spot, Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. White is one of the frontrunners for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Or Cardinals safety Budda Baker, who was recently named to the All-Pro first team. Granted, Baker was named an All-Pro as a special teamer, but he would have excelled as a safety full time. Keep in mind he was playing behind Tyrann Mathieu and Antonie Bethea in Arizona.
Let’s also keep in mind the Browns traded back from the 12th overall pick, which was used to select Texans quarteback Deshaun Watson. Watson threw 19 touchdowns in seven games and was an MVP candidate before he tore his ACL.
The Browns have an enormous amount of assets to work with going into 2018. The question is, are they finally going to be aggressive? They have the second most cap space in the league and $112 million to work with. Signing Kenny Britt last year seemed like the right move, but it just didn’t work out. Adding Kevin Zeitler and J.C Tretter were decent additions to the offensive line but clearly, they weren’t enough.
The free agent class this year is loaded, so let’s start at the top. The number one target this year should be Jarvis Landry. Imagine an outside combination of Landry and Josh Gordon. That duo would wreak havoc on pretty much any secondary in the league, regardless of who plays QB.
There have been rumors of the Browns giving free agent to be Le’Veon Bell a huge deal. That might not happen since Pittsburgh could still possibly re-sign him or franchise tag him. Even if he left, it would probably be better for the Browns not to make a run at him. It would be cheaper and just as effective to grab Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in the draft.
There are also a few quarterbacks that the Browns could target in free agency, whether it be Kirk Cousins or even Drew Brees. Either of these quarterbacks would work wonders with the receiving corps the Browns have already. Cousins is definitely the top target, but Brees would be an interesting option if the Saints let him walk.
DeShone Kizer didn’t develop the way the team hoped in 2017. Kizer was a project coming out of Notre Dame but the Browns threw him into the fire right away. This clearly didn’t pay off, with his league-leading 22 interceptions. Kizer has shown some flashes and hopefully, he can develop in the offseason. But with two picks inside the top five this year, they may take the top QB on the board and another highly talented player.
The Browns need to stop trading back and it seems that Dorsey will use both the #1 and #4 picks. Not to mention their three picks in the second round, two of which are the first and third of the round.
The biggest question here is, who is the top QB on the Browns board? Is it Josh Rosen? Sam Darnold? Or maybe even Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen? Also, the best player in the draft could quite possibly still be on the board at #4 in Barkley. There are also defensive options like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Bradley Chubb or Harold Landry.
Ok, now that we’ve gone through some of the options, let’s get to the fun part.
Landry wants to get paid and the Browns can afford to give him top end receiver money. It wouldn’t be the biggest risk in the world, especially if they can get a quarterback. Landry has made it known that he wants to stay in Miami, but it’s possible he’ll hit the open market. The money he can earn in Cleveland could rival a guy like A.J. Green who’s making $15 million a year. Is he worth that kind of money? That’s debatable, but he’s caught 100 passes twice in his young career. He’s tied with Odell Beckham Jr. for the most catches in the first three years of a career. No matter who the quarterback is, Landry is going to get his catches in.
Cousins could be very interested in the Browns, not only because of the money but because of the talent around him. Having Gordon, former first-rounder Corey Coleman and maybe, Landry is too tempting. Cousins takes a deal to come to Cleveland, which Spotrac projects to be around $25 million a year. Behind a fully healthy offensive line, a good supporting cast of receivers and head coach Jackson, Cousins thrives.
The secondary also needs help and the two top corners on the market should both consider Cleveland. Rams corner Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler from the Patriots are both free agents this year. The Browns should have their sights set on one or both of them. In this dream scenario, Johnson signs and immediately bolsters a secondary that desperately needs help after cutting Joe Haden at the beginning of the year.
Even with the massive contracts that all three of guys would receive, the Browns would still be in great cap standing. With their $112 million to spend, they would still have a lot of cap room.
2018 NFL Draft
Let’s look at the first three rounds because damage can be done and great prospects can be found in every round, but it’s always important for struggling teams to nail their early round draft picks.
1- Saquon Barkley RB Penn State
4- Minkah Fitzpatrick CB/FS Alabama
33- Carlton Davis CB Auburn
35- Chukwuma Okorafor OT Western Michigan
63- Holton Hill CB Texas
65- Kyzir White SS West Virginia
Don’t overthink this. The Browns have the first pick in the draft, use it on the best player. Barkley is the best player, so take him. Isaiah Crowell hasn’t worked out the way the team has hoped and Barkley might be the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson.
Barkley can thrive behind any offensive line and Cleveland’s happens to be pretty good, especially on the left side. Barkley has the speed to hit the edge and the power and shiftiness to run between the tackles. Not to mention, he has the durability to be a true bell cow back. Also keep in mind, in this ideal scenario the Browns have already signed Kirk Cousins so the quarterback position isn’t a need.
Fitzpatrick is could be considered the second-best player in the draft. With elite speed and playmaking ability on defense, he would also be a culture changer, just like Jamal Adams was for the New York Jets in 2017. Fitzpatrick can excel at both cornerback or safety, but his skillset would probably translate best to free safety. The Browns need a guy who can sit back and play center field like Earl Thomas does in Seattle. With this team, Fitzpatrick could probably be a front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year at free safety.
At 6’1, Carlton Davis is a big, physical corner who knows how to play aggressively in man-coverage. He knows how to get a receiver off his route and Davis is great at getting his hips around on deep routes. His size and strength would be very successful in the AFC North against some of the bigger receivers like Green and Martavis Bryant.
Chukwuma Okorafor is a bit of a project at left tackle, but he has massive upside. He has a lot of athletic potential, along with size and length at 6’6″ 330. He can hold his own against anyone, his game tape against Wisconsin from last year’s Cotton Bowl is some of his best. While his technique and hand-fighting need work, the Browns would love his potential and have him develop at right tackle. He could possibly be the long-term replacement for Joe Thomas at left tackle as well.
You can never have too many corners, and Holton Hill is another high-upside corner. He could potentially learn from Johnson and possibly start in the nickel. Hill is another big corner, at 6’3″ 200 who can help in the run game as well as in coverage. Hill’s biggest questions are on the disciplinary side, which is why he slips to 63rd overall, but he has high-end talent.
Kyzir White is another possible starter the Browns could take with the first pick in the third round. He’s a prototype modern hybrid safety, who can come up and play in the box against the run but can also sit back and play in coverage. He has great range and is able to get from sideline to sideline. White would be able to jump in and start for this team, which would be great for them to step away from Peppers. Peppers is not an NFL caliber safety and White would be able to replace him and be an upgrade for the secondary.