Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry had a busy offseason as he worked to rebuild a roster that finished a disappointing 8-9 last season.
The biggest additions came on offense via trade as the Browns acquired quarterback Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans and wide receiver Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys.
Free agency was more about filling some roster holes with serviceable players as opposed to making a “big splash,” with the most noteworthy signing probably being return specialist Jakeem Grant Sr.
The guys have been grinding pic.twitter.com/j4eOn6n01Q— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) May 15, 2022
The NFL Draft was a bit muted without a first-round selection, but Berry still was able to find two players that should see considerable playing time this fall in wide receiver David Bell and cornerback Martin Emerson Jr., took a shot at fixing the kicking game with Cade York, and added a pair of intriguing prospects in defensive end Alex Wright and defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey.
All is not perfect, of course, as the uncertainty about Watson’s availability will hang over the team until there is a resolution to the civil lawsuits filed by 22 women who have accused him of inappropriate behavior and sexual assault. And Berry has not fully fixed the defensive end position opposite Myles Garrett, although an eventual return by Jadeveon Clowney would check that box.
It is those last two issues - primarily the one with Watson - that appear to have influenced how the NFL media has viewed the work the Berry has done, with the grades and/or rankings pushing the Browns down a bit further than one might expect.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick run through a few prominent sites and see what they think about the Browns.
Pro Football Focus: Offseason Grade: B+
Free Agency Grade: Above Average
Draft Grade: B
Obviously, the biggest move Cleveland made was acquiring Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Leaving the moral discussion on that subject for another article on another day, if Watson plays all season this year, he is a big enough upgrade over even a healthy Baker Mayfield to immediately propel this team back among the contenders.
In addition to that, they also addressed the biggest weakness on the team by trading for receiver Amari Cooper. The draft was solid if unspectacular, as UAB’s Alex Wright was the most intriguing selection. Wright recorded a 91.1 PFF pass-rushing grade in 2021, 51 pressures and three batted passes, and he has the kind of athletic profile to replace Jadeveon Clowney opposite Myles Garrett.
Cleveland already had a contender’s roster, but Mayfield’s injury last season meant they failed to capitalize. Now they have Watson, and the only big question remaining is whether they can trade away Mayfield or if they have to cut him, as they would rather do that than live through the awkward situation of keeping him as a backup all season
ESPN: Ranked No. 17
The Browns entered the draft without a first-round pick, then traded out of the second round despite a need at wide receiver. Cleveland finally added one near the end of the third round, selecting David Bell from Purdue. Bell, who was ultra-productive in college, could play a big role in the Browns’ offense. But he will likely be operating out of the slot and in underneath coverage. That should allow Peoples-Jones to remain a starter opposite Amari Cooper. And though the Browns could still add another receiver, they will be counting on DPJ to play significant snaps next season.
Sporting News: Ranked No. 17
The Browns are here assuming Deshaun Watson will be playing every game for them in 2022 as their new major upgrade at franchise QB. He gives them a much higher running and passing ceiling offensively than Baker Mayfield and the Myles Garrett-led defense is built to be a great complementary force playing with more leads. Cleveland joins Baltimore in having a good chance to displace AFC runner-up Cincinnati in the North.
NFL.com: Ranked No. 14
The Browns remain an impossible team to rank in this exercise given what we don’t know about Deshaun Watson. The quarterback remains in limbo on account of the 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault and misconduct, as well as the ongoing league investigation. Will he even play in the 2022 season? And if he doesn’t, how much can we realistically expect from a team — 8-9 a year ago — being led by Jacoby Brissett? Well, they do have Baker Mayfield, but the team will throw an anniversary halftime celebration for the 2000 Super Bowl champion Ravens before the former No. 1 overall pick plays another snap in Cleveland. The Browns have the chance to be an AFC superpower in the years to come, but they remain a messy proposition in the here and now.
Rankings and grades are a mostly harmless process, but with the uncertainty surrounding Watson, it is hard to get a good grasp on how good the Browns can be this fall. Even with everything going on in 2021, the team still finished just two games off the pace in the AFC North, so with the improvements made this offseason, plus the continued growth of the offense and defense, it is not that difficult to see an additional three wins and a return to the playoffs, as long as Watson is available all season.
Time to have your say, Browns fans. How would you grade the team’s offseason?
What grade do you give the Browns offseason?
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