The Browns season flipped when Baker Mayfield was forced to play in Week 3 and the subsequent decision to start Mayfield over Tyrod Taylor in Week 4. This in turn led to the firing of Hue Jackson and Freddie Kitchens taking over.
Mayfield brought leadership to the Browns and started to call more daring plays as the centre of the offensive line kept Baker clean in the pocket. Baker repaid the Browns for making him the first overall pick by breaking the NFL record for passing touchdowns by a rookie held by Peyton Manning and Russel Wilson. There is no doubt that the Browns are a team on the rise but there is still considerable work to do. The offense scored the 20th most points overall (359). On defense, the Browns were 21st in overall average points allowed (24.5).
After the season Kitchens was promoted to permanent head coach and will be charged with developing the team further in 2019.
The Browns are in an enviable position with regards to the salary cap. They have an impressive $81,399,465 to spend on free agents and resigning their own. The situation received a boost earlier this week when they released outside linebacker Jamie Collins after 30 games. The move saves $9.25 million against the salary cap with just $2.5 million in dead money.
Players who will become free agents
Players who will become free agents
Unrestricted free agents
(Free to sign with any team)
QB Tyrod Taylor, WR Breshad Perriman, WR Rod Streater, OL Earl Watford, DT Carl Davis, LB Ray-Ray Armstrong, CB Phillip Gaines, CB E.J. Gaines
Restricted free agents
(Free to sign an offer sheet with another team, but the Browns have the right to match it)
WR Rashard Higgins, TE Orson Charles, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, DB Juston Burris
Exclusive free agents
(Can only sign with the Browns, unless the team decides not to make an offer by March 13)
DT Trevon Coley, DB Jermaine Whitehead
Possible Free Agent Targets
1) The Browns used their second first round pick of 2018 to select Denzel Ward. Like Baker, he also lived up to expectations. He was a difference maker for the Browns at cornerback and Pro Football Focus rated him as the 15th rated corner. Ward and had 3 interceptions and 11 pass defences but looking beyond him there was little to write home about.
Welcome to the Eagles, Ronald Darby! https://t.co/FYTnLNowqT
— In The Stands (@inthestandspc) August 17, 2017
Free Agency 2019 sees several high profile corners hitting the market. Perhaps the most recognisable name available is former first round pick, Ronald Darby. Darby is a play maker who reacts well when the ball is in the air. His 2018 season in Philadelphia was cut short due to a torn ACL but the 25 year old is already well into his rehab and would likely be available on a one year ‘prove it’ deal. Other options include Pierre Desir, who was part of Indianapolis’ impressive defence or possibly Bryce Callahan.
2) Baker Mayfield did a great job in year one. Running back, Nick Chubb, had an impressive rookie season rushing the ball and could form an exhilarating one-two combination with Kareem Hunt, depending on Hunt’s legal issues. Duke Johnson May be traded once free agency begins.
Conversely, the Browns passing game, whilst acceptable, needs work. Jarvis Landry is a great slot receiver but hasn’t got the size to excel in the red zone. Tight end David Njoku, a former first round pick, showed flashes of skill and Antonio Callaway started to develop. It would be worth Cleveland resigning Breshad Perriman, who showed signs of progress last year.
Golden Tate, the top free agent receiver might decide that Mayfield will elevate him to star status again (he was under used in Philadelphia and caught just 30 balls for 278 yards). Unfortunately, it is likely to take an extremely lucrative offer to land him. Perhaps more likely is the signing of the extremely athletic Chris Conley who would be reunited with current Browns general manager John Dorsey, who drafted Conley when he was in Kansas City. Whilst he was a role player for the Chiefs last year he did score 5 touchdowns.
The Browns have also been heavily linked with the Giants’ Odel Beckham in trade rumours but the cost should put a team that’s building off as it’s likely to be high.
3) The Browns have invested significant draft stock in the defensive line (Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi), and corner (Ward) but have little in the way of linebacker outside of Joe Schobert, especially after releasing Jamie Collins. Schobert is a talented player who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves but the Browns need a playmaker here.
A player the Browns will be familiar with may make the ideal target. Za’Darius Smith played for the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens. Smith had 8.5 sacks in 2018 and looks to be a player in ascendency. Alternatively, Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who was essentially displaced by the team drafting Bradley Chubb, could be a bargain pick up. Barrett would provide the Browns with a more aggressive ‘backer to be used when blitzing. The folks at Pro Football Focus showed that he had an impressive 43 pressures in 2017.
Update: The Browns saw a need at linebacker too and traded for edge rusher Olivier Vernon. In return they sent Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants.
It’s worth also listing tackle here. Greg Robinson improved greatly in the second half of 2018, so much so he earned a new contract, but the Browns still need to strengthen the position and add depth. However, as the free agent class of lineman is not particularly appealing the Browns may be better addressing this in the draft. If they do look to Free Agency an intriguing option that may not cost a great deal is Carolina’s Daryl Williams. Whilst Williams is coming off a major knee injury, he’s still just 26 and would provide solid cover at right tackle.
In the NFL, where nothing lasts long, the Browns cannot afford to stay still. Making some of the signings above would set the Browns up for the Draft with less holes and allow them to pick players that will help them towards that elusive playoff birth.