By Ben Babcock
Offseason Grade: A+
Answer: Soooo much better
The Browns are the new team to watch in the NFL! Kinda, not really… but they did make some insane strides this season. The Browns finally made some money moves and look really good! They’ll definitely win a game this year, and, could even knock the Bengals to the bottom of the AFC North. They had $118 million in cap space going into this offseason and nothing to lose, and now they have a fresh new team.
To start off they traded for wide receiver Jarvis Landry before he hit free agency and gave him a comfortable contract, near $16 million for one year. Then they traded for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and signed probably the second best running back available in the free agency Carlos Hyde to a 3-year deal. Even if the Browns had stopped here it would’ve been their best free agency in recent years. Jarvis Landry is one of the best wide receivers in the league and the Browns were pretty weak at this position, but if Josh Gordon doesn’t get suspended again the Browns could have a pretty good wide receiver trio with Gordon, Landry, and Corey Coleman. Wide receivers are pretty useless though if you don’t have someone to throw to them and Tyrod Taylor could be exactly that. In his past 3 years with the Buffalo Bills, he’s averaged almost 3,000 yards per year and a 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Taylor will be a solid quarterback and for the Browns, as they try to groom the franchise quarterback they are expected to draft this year. It takes a lot of the pressure off of a rookie quarterback if you’ve got someone for him to play behind and learn from. While Taylor obviously isn’t the best mentor to have, he’s a huge upgrade from what the Bills had, and is still better than a lot of people believe him to be. You know what else makes things easier for a rookie QB, a good running back. Carlos Hyde has had some consistency problems during his short career, but the last 2 years he’s just missed the 1,000-yard mark and has maintained an average of 4.2 yards per carry. Hyde is still developing too, with the right coaching he could be a franchise back for the Browns in years to come, but the Browns don’t really have the best coaches in the NFL. Still, I like the combination of Hyde and Duke Johnson, it’s always good to have a power back and a receiving back to compliment him. One more thing too, after they lost future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas to retirement, they filled the offensive tackle spot pretty nicely by signing Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson. So they’ve still got a pretty solid offensive line too.
They made some good additions to the defense as well, really adding to their secondary. After dropping Joe Haden midseason last year and traded away Jason McCourty and C.J. Smith, the Browns didn’t have a whole lot of defensive backs but they replaced them quite nicely. First trading away sophomore QB Deshone Kizer for DB Damarious Randall, then they added corners E.J. Gaines and T.J. Carrie. These are young players that all have starter experience. With a little more depth in the secondary and on the defensive line, the Browns are looking pretty good. The only thing they lack is veteran leadership but hey that happens when you’re trying to rebuild. Low key though, they kinda have a really strong linebacker core in Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert, and Christian Kirksey, which I think could really be the difference maker when it comes to this defense working together.
On top of all that, the Browns have a very nice selection of draft picks this year. Including the no.1 and no.4 overall, and 3 more picks in the 2nd round. They have 4 of the top 35 picks in the draft, just with those alone they could make some big improvements. Expect them to take QB Sam Darnold at no.1, Darnold is the best quarterback in this year’s draft and has the potential to finally be that franchise quarterback that the Browns have been looking for for so long. Who they take at no.4 depends on a couple things. The Giants are no.2 as of right now and if they are smart they will take RB Shaquon Barkley who is one of the best running back prospects in the past several years and the Giants could really use a running back. No matter what the Jets are taking a QB at no.3. So if that happens it leaves DE Bradley Chubb for the Browns to take, but if the Giants take Chubb they take Barkley, or if the Bills trade up to no.2 they will take a QB and the Browns have the choice between Barkley and Chubb. To me, Chubb is the obvious choice for the Browns because they just gave Hyde a nice 3-year, $15 million contract so why take away from him and Barkley by making the split reps. Plus, putting Chubb with Myles Garrett on either defensive end is just a monster duo, and you’d have them for the next 3 years. Chubb makes much more sense, they need a defensive end more than a running back. Then in the second round, they’ve got the 33rd, 35th, and 64th spots in the 2nd round. They should definitely go for more defensive backs and add to the O-line here. There are tons of good offensive linemen and cornerbacks in this draft, along with some decent wide receivers. They could still use more depth at wide receiver and cornerback so I’d expect them to go for those first, but still add to the O-line and D-line after that.
The Browns are in a really good spot going into the draft this year and are by far the most improved following free agency. They added everywhere they needed to and the remaining holes aren’t too big. Obviously, they aren’t a top contender or anywhere close, but they made a very big step in the right direction. Unless the entire team gets hurt there is no way they go winless in 2018, and I’ll bet that they win at least 6 games this year. Maybe even break .500 if Sam Darnold turns out right. I really like what the Browns did this year, just wait, in 5 years they’ll be in the playoffs no doubt.