Kicking off our 2021 review of the Browns’ unrestricted free agents is WR Rashard Higgins.
How and When He Joined the Browns: Higgins was a 5th round pick by the Browns in the 2016 NFL Draft, which was the same year that Andrew Berry joined Cleveland’s front office. Even though Berry left Cleveland, he returned last year, which presents a greater chance of that loyalty factor coming into play.
Productivity Level Last Season: After being in the dog house in 2019 with Freddie Kitchens for who knows what reason, Higgins decided to re-sign with Cleveland on a 1-year deal in 2020, hoping that new head coach Kevin Stefanski would utilize his skill set and allow him to have the contract-performing year he was robbed of a season earlier.
Despite the new coaching staff, Higgins’ season still started with him not receiving much playing time. While Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were the starters, it ended up being KhaDarel Hodge who saw action as the No. 3 receiver. When Hodge suffered an injury in Week 3, that opened the door for Higgins to start seeing action, and he caught a touchdown pass in Weeks 4 and 5. In Week 6, Beckham suffered a season-ending injury, which made Higgins a starting receiver for the remainder of the season. He flourished in that role, showing the same type of chemistry we knew he could have with Baker Mayfield based on their success from a few seasons earlier.
Higgins finished the regular season with 37 catches for 599 yards and 4 touchdowns. In two playoff games, he caught 7 passes for 116 yards — with the one big regret being that fumble he had trying to extend he ball to the pylon for a touchdown. Higgins averaged 16.2 yards per reception, the best mark of his career.
Why Keeping Him Could Make Sense: Higgins remains one of my favorite players on the Browns; he’s just solid in every way, and he proved that again this season. As great as it is to have Landry and Beckham, you never know when one of your top receivers can sustain an injury.
Higgins has chemistry baked in with Mayfield. He is the type of player who the team can keep on the bench and call upon when needed to play at a relatively high level. Additionally, with Beckham still recovering from a torn ACL, he won’t be available for the team’s offseason workouts, making it more important to have a reliable player like Higgins working with Mayfield and the offense.
What the Browns Should Do: Personally, I hope Cleveland retains Higgins. I think Cleveland’s group of wide receivers is more than acceptable, and their efforts on upgrading positions should be focused almost exclusively on the defense. However, if the Browns opt to pursue a free agent receiver with more speed at the position, that could be a scenario where the team goes for that skill set instead of Higgins’. Or, they could decide that they’d rather dedicate that role to Donovan Peoples-Jones moving forward.
I’m optimistic that Cleveland has interest in re-signing Higgins. Back in December, there were reports that preliminary discussions had taken place between Higgins and the Browns on a contract extension. The question is, what type of dollar amount do you place on Higgins?
The Browns were able to sign him for the veteran minimum this past season after no other teams expressed enough of an interest in him: $910,000. That’s not going to happen again. However, Higgins is competing in a crowded free agent market at the position that includes Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Corey Davis, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Curtis Samuel, Marvin Jones, Nelson Agholar, Sammy Watkins, Keelan Cole, Danny Amendola, Breshad Perriman, A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald.
With that type of competition, I don’t think an NFL team is going to identify Higgins specifically and tell him, “you’re our top target and we’re willing to throw a 4 year, $20 million deal at you.”
In 2020, only three free agent receivers got multi-year deals — Randall Cobb, Emmanuel Sanders, and Robby Anderson. Perriman got the biggest 1-year deal, worth $6.5 million. The majority of free agents after that received around the veteran minimum. With the market as saturated as it will be in 2021, those bigger names will take up the larger dollar amounts, but Higgins won’t be as fortunate. The fact that Cleveland was trying to do a contract extension in December implies that it would be longer than a 1-year deal. I’m going to predict a 2-year deal worth $4.5 million for Higgins.
Let us know below whether or not the team should try to re-sign Rashard Higgins.
Should the Browns re-sign WR Rashard Higgins?
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