The Cleveland Browns don’t need much going into the 2021 season. An emphasis on defense should become their priority, but we’ll see what GM Andrew Berry is cooking up for the free agency period that begins shortly on March 17.
Then, April 29 comes the NFL draft, this year with the City of Cleveland as the host. Currently, the Browns have nine picks.
So between free agency and the draft, will the Browns be cured of all of their ailments? Will the club improve from their playoff season a year ago? Can they fight for the AFC North Division against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens for supremacy? Can they go further in the year’s NFL playoffs?
All of that depends. Depends on what Band-Aids are applied to the problem areas.
Here are six daring moves the Browns could make this off-season. Several of our writers here at DBN want to take six scenarios and discuss why each player may or may not benefit the Browns going forward into the 2021 season.
Sign FS Anthony Harris in free agency
Pro: Matt Wood
The Browns NEED bodies in the secondary and Harris is a good one. He was phenomenal in 2019 and took a slight step back in 2020, but for a team that was constantly running Andrew Sendejo out there, we really can’t be picky.
Obviously head coach Kevin Stefanski will have some sort of familiarity with Harris with their time together in Minnesota, so not only could that give Cleveland a leg up, but also would give the Browns some insight in to whether or not he would fit into the locker room.
As for on the field, he would instantly be the Browns best safety and would allow the Browns to roll out a defense with Ronnie Harrison, Harris and a hopefully healthy Grant Delpit.
Con: Barry Shuck
Signing a safety in free agency this year isn’t out of the question. In fact, it’s expected. Just not Harris.
Not that Harris isn’t talented - or is indeed needed. He is both. The hope laying on the mind of DC Joe Woods is that Delpit will be healthy enough to take over the job he was drafted so highly for.
And then, look at the money aspect. GM Andrew Berry will spend money on cornerbacks and defensive linemen all day long to huge contracts - but not the safety position. Berry signed two safeties last year in free agency with Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo – who were both signed on one-year deals for $2.5 million and $2.25 million, respectively. Stop-gap players for low dough until the much younger Delpit, Sheldrick Redwine and Harrison can man the boat all by themselves is Berry’s method.
With that angle, why would Berry bring in someone like Harris who first off, would want at least a four-year contract, and secondly, the deal would be something like around $56 million? Berry doesn’t want a veteran starter to get in the way of playing time for the youngsters, and is certainly not going to pony up $14 million a year for a safety.
Trade for CB Marshon Lattimore
Pro: Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns and cornerback Marshon Lattimore appear to be a perfect fit, even he did not have the best of seasons in 2020. Lattimore plays one of the positions that the Browns prioritize, has made three Pro Bowls, and would pair nicely with cornerback Denzel Ward to give the Browns one of the league’s most talented cornerback duos. He would also provide some peace of mind for the Browns in case cornerback Greedy Williams’ shoulder starts to act up again.
The New Orleans Saints are also in a deep cap bind and will likely have to choose between keeping Lattimore or offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk on their respective fifth-year options. It will cost some draft picks and along with an eventual contract extension that might prove problematic, but Berry just might be in a mood to relieve the Saints of Lattimore and assist them with the salary cap woes.
Con: Matt Wood
Man, I really want to be down for this but my job is to be against this and there is actually a solid case for just that. First of all, the Browns would have to give up something - most likely a draft choice. For a team that is really starting to evolve and pick later in the draft, in theory, you need more shots at the draft dart board to be successful.
Not only are you giving up picks, but Latimore will be a free agent in 2022 and is going to be expensive. Can you sign him AND Denzel Ward? Suddenly you have Lattimore, Ward, Myles Garrett, OBJ, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper and Baker Mayfield is gonna get paid. Great problem to have so many great players but the salary cap is going to be an issue.
Are you willing to say goodbye to someone like Nick Chubb to get Lattimore? Or do you keep your picks, sign a lower-level CB and draft three cornerbacks and hope for the best?
Sign DE Carl Lawson in free agency
Pro: Thomas Moore
Carl Lawson fits into what the Browns are looking for in a free agent as he is a defensive end (a position of value) and is coming off his rookie deal. He saw his playing time increase this past season after the Bengals traded Carlos Dunlap and was still productive as a pass rusher, as his 84.9 pass-rush grade from Pro Football Focus was 10th-best among edge rushers who were on the field for at least 100 plays. (By comparison, Olivier Vernon finished with just a pass-rush grade of 59.5 from PFF.)
Spotrac estimates Lawson’s market value to be a four-year contract worth a little more than $35 million, or an average of $8.8 million a year, which would appear to be a price range in Berry’s comfort zone, especially since the Browns were reportedly in the market for defensive end J.J. Watt.
With some big contract decisions on the horizon for their own players, Berry will likely not spend a big amount of money on the defense this offseason, but Lawson could by the type of player he would make an exception for as he looks to fortify the defensive line.
Con: Barry Shuck
Lawson’s playing time has gotten to be a situational pass rusher. He is not a good run stopper, so basically you are buying a premium player to play some of each game.
Now what he does, he does well – rush the passer. He is a lean guy (265 pounds) with good speed and a burst off the snap that is often tough to manage. After a tremendous rookie year in which he was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team, he tore his ACL the following season and frankly, just isn’t the game guy. But this past season he did bounce back and had his highest tackles number (36), 5.5 sacks, 11 hurries, 45 pressures (ranked 4th), four tackles for loss with an astounding 32 QB hits, plus led the league in QB knockdowns with 27.
But the Browns need someone who can play all four downs. The price tag is going to be high, and Berry will pay for this position as long as the player is a production-type guy. Expect Lawson to want a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $50 million - full time money for part-time play.
Trade TE David Njoku for a fourth-round pick
Pro: Barry Shuck
There are just so many reasons not to keep Njoku. First off, his salary is going from $3.03 million to $6.013 million this year. Last year, Berry signed his choice of a high-end tight end with Austin Hooper who will make $8.25 million this year. There is no way Berry will keep two players at the tight end position making that kind of money. One – yes. Two? Not a chance.
Then there are the production numbers. Njoku was healthy for most of the season yet was only targeted 29 times, had 19 receptions for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Was that worth the $3 million-plus he was paid in 2020?
Then there is the injury bug: lower back issue, concussion, broken wrist, knee injury.
And lastly, Njoku was a first-round pick in 2017. He is entering his fifth season yet has only started 25 of 49 games and has a grand total of 1,279 yards - an average of just 320 yards a season. And he averages less than three touchdowns a year (11 total). Why are the Browns paying premium money to a player who has poor production? A first-round pick with four years experience should be setting the league on fire, not catching a mere 24 balls in his last two seasons.
Berry inherited Njoku. Berry chose Hooper. Try to trade him for a third, yet take a fourth-round pick for him instead. Potential trade partner would be the Dallas Cowboys.
Con: Matt Wood
It sounds great to get something for Njoku who will in all likelihood be leaving next offseason BUT before we start taking offers, can we look at last season? There is an argument to be made that Njoku was the Browns best TE last season. Austin Hooper has played 16 games in a season twice in his career and the last time was 2018.
And you will be hard-pressed to find a bigger Harrison Bryant fan than I, but he struggled to hold on to the ball at times last season and is not the player that Njoku is. Did I mention that Njoku will be 25 this season? If he explodes and leaves, depending on how it shakes out the Browns COULD get a comp pick for him the following year. Isn’t the more prudent play here to keep him and see what happens?
Sign K Younghoe Koo in free agency
Pro: Matt Wood
Not gonna lie, this is going to be hard. I mean who in their right mind spends money on a kicker? Well maybe the Browns CAN, but the question is SHOULD they? There is maybe four places hard to kick in the NFL and Cleveland is either at the top of, or near the top, that list.
Koo was great last season (37-39 on field goals) and may have made the difference down the stretch in some close games. But he kicked inside in all but three games last season including a late season game against Kansas City where he missed. Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be FOR this. Well, he is very accurate and the Browns have been searching for a kicker since Phil Dawson hung it up. So...go for it?
Con: Thomas Moore
Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoo Koo picked an opportune time to earn a Pro Bowl nod by converting 94.9 percent of his field goal attempts - including a perfect eight-of-eight from 50 yards or more - and 91.7 percent of his extra-point attempts.
Incumbent Cleveland kicker Cody Parkey, himself a free agent, was not as successful on field goals (86.4 percent and no attempts from 50 yards or more), but was comparable on extra points (91.5 percent conversion rate).
Koo kicked in a dome for 12 games last year, however, so who knows if he can handle the elements he would find in Cleveland. He also projects to a contract of around $3 million a year, so you can get out of here with the idea of the Browns signing him.
Trade OBJ for second and fifth-round picks
Pro: Barry Shuck
The wide receiver room for the Browns is an expensive one. With Landry and OBJ combined the price tag is $30.5 million - which is all fine and good as long as they keep adding to their Pro Bowl hardware.
If Berry does keep OBJ, it is almost a certainty that a reworked contract is in store. Beckham has not been the star caliber player since he came to Cleveland. He is still a playmaker, but doesn’t have those gigantic production numbers he parlayed each season while with the New York Football Giants. At the time of his knee injury this past year, he had just 319 yards. Those numbers he would finish the year at only 850 yards. He has had five 1,000-yard seasons including 1,450 in 2015.
And now he is coming back from one of the worst injuries to a receiver with an ACL in his left knee. His career injuries include: ankle sprain, ankle fracture, hamstring injury, leg quad bruise, inguinal groin sports hernia, plus the knee injury in 2020. On sportsinjurypredictor.com, OBJ is listed as having a 78% chance of being injured again in 2021. In fact, he won’t even return to the field until at least Weeks 5-7. Yet, those paychecks will keep being sent out with his name on them while the Browns are playing live games and he isn’t.
In the past four seasons, Beckham has only played in 39 games out of a possible 64. Ouch. And Cleveland is paying him to be a premium player with a premium paycheck.
Remember: Berry did not trade for OBJ - he inherited him. However, if Beckham returns to the field and falters, he will have very little trade value. Right now, he has something that can be gotten for his worth. No, it’s not a first and third-round draft pick plus a first-round player the Browns traded for him. But, something now is better than next to nothing later.
Con: Thomas Moore
Depending on where you fall in the OBJ debate, the Browns are either fortunate to still have him under contract or hampered by an inability to move on from him because he is still rehabbing a torn ACL that ended his 2020 season in Week 7.
Even if general manager Andrew Berry did want to trade Beckham, it would be almost impossible to get anything of real value in return for a player who has not had a dominant season since 2016 while suffering some major injuries.
The Browns are better off sticking with OBJ for at least one more year, hope he somehow develops the elusive chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield even though he might not be participating much during training camp and the preseason, and then revisit the situation next offseason.
What say you? As the GM of the Browns, which of the six listed scenarios would you decide to NOT do?
This poll is closed
Sign Vikings free agent FS Anthony Harris
Trade for Saints CB Marshon Lattimore
Sign Bengals free agent DE Carl Lawson
Trade Browns TE David Njoku
Sign Falcons free agent K Younghoe Koo
Trade Browns WR Odell Beckham, Jr.