The Cleveland Browns are 2-4 and staring down a 2-6 start to the season with the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals next up on the schedule. If the team can’t corral QB Lamar Jackson and keep Cincinnati’s talented offense under wraps, the 2022 Browns season could be over halfway through.
If they do drop to 2-6, a variety of veterans could be traded away to make way for players that will be around in 2023.
This week, we heard some significant concerns from a few Cleveland players. Each one seems to point to a problem of player leadership in the locker room. First, S John Johnson, who is supposed to be a team leader, had this to say:
Yeah, it’s a commitment thing. When practice is over and our day is done, you can’t just run out of the building and forget about your job. I think we need everyone in this building to really be 100 percent in on the task at hand. Right now I think we’re at a place where that’s not the case.
Then long-tenured offensive lineman Joel Bitonio:
Joel Bitonio: "Some guys might not understand like what it takes to play at this level. How much film you have to put in, how much extra time you have to put in and that's everybody's job on the team-- coaches, players-- to get them to understand that." @Pchopz_ VERBATIM.— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) October 20, 2022
Finally, embattled DC Joe Woods seemed to point a similar finger:
I thought there would be more things we could do at this point. Not that more means better, but we do have some young guys in there playing for us at all three levels of the defense, and they’re learning too. I thought we’d be further along obviously.
Earlier this month, I shared the concern with youth in the NFL. While the Cleveland Guardians can excel with their young roster, it can be more difficult in the NFL. The Browns were the youngest team when the initial 53-man rosters came out.
Between the comments above and the overall youth on the team, as the title of this article indicates, the team is missing veterans like Jarvis Landry and J.C. Tretter. That is not to say either was worth the huge contracts they were owed this season but the loss of player leadership is clear.
(Important note: Yes, the Browns have a lot of cap space this year but are in dire need of rolling it over for next year when some big contracts get much more expensive against the cap.)
Landry took a 1-year deal worth $3 million (incentives can take it to $6 million) to play for his home state New Orleans Saints. On the field, Landry has had very little impact since his big game in Week 1. He also hasn’t played in the team’s last three games due to injury.
Tretter retired after not getting the kind of interest that many expected he would in free agency.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sheldon Richardson has been gone for two seasons now but even his replacement last year, Malik Jackson, didn’t stick around for a second year. Anthony Walker Jr. being out for the rest of the season also takes a big veteran voice off of the team.
It is very clear that none of the veterans listed were worth a significant contract for their play on the field but, perhaps, should have been kept around (at a lower contract cost) for their leadership.
With the NFL trade deadline less than two weeks away, finding a veteran or two who could walk in and make a leadership impact is unlikely. The answer, seemingly, must come from inside the team. Can the youngest team in the league find enough players to step into those roles?
How much would you have paid to keep Landry, Tretter and other vets knowing it would have a big impact on future cap space?