Welcome to Day 5 of free agency for the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the NFL! Day 4 saw a slow-down in free agent activity as teams have moved past the “big name” signings and are now focusing on second-tier and depth signings.
This thread will act as a “live blog” of sorts, with brief but important updates about the latest rumors, signings, or trades involving Cleveland or other NFL teams. You should also use the comments section as your free agency open thread! (Newest updates will be at the top of the live blog below.)
2020 Browns Free Agency Live Blog - Day 5
7:30 PM: The Cleveland Browns filled a major hole when they signed free agent right tackle Jack Conklin. Even the most casual Browns fan realizes that Conklin will be a significant improvement of Chris Hubbard, who has been a problem for the past two seasons.
Conklin’s fit in the Browns’ system — in terms of executing outside-zone run blocking and Cleveland’s pass-protection schemes — has the potential to produce exceptional upside. Given Kevin Stefanski’s body of play-calling work in Minnesota, it stands to reason that zone rushing will be an important contributor to the Browns’ offense earning first downs and touchdowns. Conklin should add great value in the ground game; Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth-best run-blocking tackle in football during the 2019 regular season. Efficient rushing will also help create the types of passing opportunities where Conklin is best suited in pass protection. Conklin’s ability to stalemate pass rushers on first down (a proxy for when passes and rushes are more disguised) is a source of strength for him, as he allowed the fewest disruptions to his QB (when a defender comes within a 5-foot halo) on this down over the past three seasons.
With Baker Mayfield’s passing potential, the scheme fit fills a major need and deficiency on Cleveland’s roster. The top of the right tackle market is Lane Johnson’s APY of $18 million. Conklin’s $14 million APY ranks third among RTs, but that’s $4 million less annually than Johnson’s figure. Furthermore, since it’s a three-year deal and the Michigan State product is just 25 years old, this creates the opportunity for Conklin to negotiate again prior to being 30 years old. I read this as a smart incentive for Conklin to perform at his best.
6:15 PM: The Atlanta Falcons are reportedly signing free agent wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, according to Zach Klein of WSB-TV in Atlanta:
Per NFL league source... Falcons are signing former Minnesota Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell - Was a first round pick in 2016.. played 13-games last season for Vikings pic.twitter.com/J4hCLZqKFL— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) March 22, 2020
Treadwell was a first-round selection by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2016 NFL Draft. He only made 16 starts in his four seasons with the Vikings, finishing with 65 receptions for 701 yards and two touchdowns.
3:45 PM: A day after being released by the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Brian Hoyer is returning to the New England Patriots after agreeing on a one-year deal, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
The #Patriots will bring QB Brian Hoyer back on a 1-year deal to join Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler... plus there is always the draft. Given where NE is cap-wise, this is probably it at the position.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 22, 2020
Hoyer will compete with Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler for the starting role in New England, which will likely go down as one of the most underwhelming quarterback battles in NFL history.
2:45 PM: The Browns remain quiet, so far, but there has been some other free agency news today:
- Cornerback Pierre Desir, who was released by the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, has agreed to sign with the New York Jets, according to indystar.com.
- Safety DJ Swearinger will remain with the New Orleans Saints after agreeing to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Swearinger opened the 2019 season with the Arizona Cardinals and played four games before being released. He eventually signed with the Oakland Raiders for four games, before once again being released. He then signed with the Saints and played in the season finale.
- The Las Vegas Raiders and tight end Jason Witten have agreed on a one-year, $4 million deal that includes $3.5 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
- Defensive end Vic Beasley signed a one-year, $9.5 million fully guaranteed dealwith the Tennessee Titans, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The deal has incentives that can add another $2.5 million to Beasley’s bank account. Not bad for a player who has only had more than five sacks in a season twice in his career.
12:15 PM: The Browns signed free agent quarterback Case Keenum this past week to give the team a veteran backup in case of an injury to quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Keenum also brings some knowledge to the quarterback room after working with new head coach Kevin Stefanski in 2017 when they were both a part of the Minnesota Vikings. While Keenum was not running Stefanski’s offense - Pat Shurmur was the offensive coordinator while Stefanski was the quarterbacks coach - there is at least a comfort level between the two.
Lest anyone believe that Stefanski will have an open quarterback competition during training camp, cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot puts those fears to rest in her weekly “Hey Mary Kay” column. In response to a question from “216 Area Code” about a quarterback controversy, Cabot responded:
Despite the arrival of Keenum, a 10th-year pro, the Browns do not have a quarterback controversy on their hands. They’re 100% committed to Baker Mayfield and to giving him every opportunity to succeed. Keenum was signed to be a mentor to Mayfield, to help set the tone in the quarterback room and to help implement Kevin Stefanski’s system. He went 11-3 with Stefanski as his quarterbacks coach in 2017, leading the Vikings to a playoff victory in the divisional round. Keenum went 1-7 on a horrible Redskins team last season, but would be able to win games with this roster in the event Mayfield gets injured.
Hopefully this is the last we have to hear about a “quarterback controversy” on the Browns this season.
11 AM: The NFL is still planning to hold the 2020 Draft from April 23 through April 25, but with some major adjustments from the original plan to hold it in Las Vegas.
The league office has not announced just how the draft will take place, but Sam Farmer of The Los Angeles Times reports that NFL officials are talking about using a studio setting and going to live cut-ins with teams as they make their selections.
According to Farmer, the league sent out a memo to its employees this past week where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell outlined what the league is considering:
“Planning for the Draft is a good example of how we need to think differently, embrace technology and collaborate. We will also use the Draft to help support fans and those people impacted in our communities.
“While there have been changes to the way we work and some of our plans, we have an unwavering commitment to upholding the NFL’s legacy of unifying and lifting the spirit of America, and bringing out the best in our fans and in our communities around the world. You’ll hear more from us in the days and weeks ahead about how we intend to demonstrate that commitment well beyond our fields. And I hope you’ll share your ideas on how we can do that.”
Other than the draft not taking place as planned in Las Vegas, the league is still working to figure out all the details. While the draft is not going to be the same, it will be interesting to see what types of creative alternatives the league and the teams can come up with for what is certain to be a big weekend.