The Cleveland Browns maintained stability across their coaching staff and front office, but there is one move that has defined the team’s entire offseason: the bold move of trading for Deshaun Watson in a $230 million deal.
In doing so, the team was severing ties with Baker Mayfield, who was the face of the franchise and the first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. During the 2020 season, Mayfield led the team to its first playoff win since returning to the league in 1999.
He had a disappointing season last year, but much of that could possibly be attributed to Mayfield trying to gut through a painful shoulder injury all season. With Watson’s playing status up in the air for the longest time, Jacoby Brissett was added to the roster as a starting-caliber player who could fill that void for however many games needed. (Brissett is now expected to be the Browns’ starting QB until Week 13 against the Houston Texans, as Watson is suspended for 11 games).
The team also made a few other significant changes on offense. They cut ties with veteran center JC Tretter, who was among the league’s best players at the position, in order to save cap space and open playing time for younger talent. At wide receiver, Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, two of the team’s top receivers over the past few years, were cut. Cleveland acquired Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys in a deal that was a relative bargain, considering his talent. Lastly, the team cut tight end Austin Hooper and decided to sign tight end David Njoku to a long-term deal, a big contrast from a couple of years ago when he was requesting to be traded.
Defensively, Cleveland didn’t make too much of a splash in free agency. The most notable early move was trading linebacker Mack Wilson to the New England Patriots in exchange for defensive end Chase Winovich, and also shipping nickelback Troy Hill back to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a draft pick. After that, the biggest defensive move came later in the year, when they re-signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, re-pairing him with star talent Myles Garrett.
Because of the Watson deal, Cleveland did not have a first or second-round pick this year in the NFL draft (and won’t have a first-round pick for several years). That means they weren’t able to draft any of this year’s top prospects early on, with their first selection coming in the third round at No. 68 overall.
Nonetheless, the team hopes some gems can come from the group of cornerback Martin Emerson, defensive end Alex Wright, wide receiver David Bill, defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey, kicker Cade York, running back Jerome Ford, wide receiver Michael Woods, and defensive end Isaiah Thomas. York has the chance to make the biggest immediate impact, as he replaces former kicker Chase McLaughlin. Speaking of special teams, former Packers punter Corey Bojorquez was added as a free agent to fill their void at punter.
Amidst all those nice moves and acquisitions, though, for nearly five months of the offseason, the speculation about Watson’s projected suspension overshadowed much of the team’s other feel-good stories that would have otherwise been highlighted.