by Paul Wanecski
I have never read or wrote these words all in the same sentence before, so… what an exciting time to be a Cleveland Browns fan, huh? With an incredible amount of money available underneath the salary cap, two of the top four selections in the upcoming NFL draft with five selections within the top 65 picks, the Browns have a chance to turn things around quickly. They have been aggressive in acquiring talent via trade and are looking to change the way the rest of the NFL sees the organization.
Head Coach: Hue Jackson (9-39)
Offensive Coordinator: New Todd Haley
Defensive Coordinator: Gregg Williams
General Manager: New John Dorsey
The Browns were able to roll over an amazing $58.9 million in salary cap space, giving them, as of today (3/24) with $70.6 million underneath the salary cap. They are positioned to be able to retain the talent they recently acquired if they choose to do that and extend the contracts of those who were already on the roster. The Browns have also been stockpiling players via the draft the last few seasons, meaning they still have players on rookie contracts that only see a small increase in salary from year to year.
The loss of Isaiah Crowell was quickly offset by the affordable acquisition of 26-year-old running back Carlos Hyde, signing a three year, $15.25m contract. Cleveland wasn’t done there, snagging Chris Hubbard from the Steelers (Cleveland recently hired Todd Haley, former Steeler offensive coordinator to the same position). Tight end Darren Fells was added to the three-year contract as well as tackle Donald Stephenson to provide some depth with the loss of future hall of fame tackle Joe Thomas who retired this offseason. As far as the defense goes, Terrance Mitchell and Travis Carrie were the big additions, both going to remake the secondary. It was an active free agency period for Cleveland and they appear to have no fear investing in veterans right now. Along with that, Cleveland has added former Bills starting QB Tyrod Taylor, formers Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry and safety Damarious Randall (who played CB for Green Bay, but played Safety in college). With the exception of Randall, both Landry and Taylor have only this year remaining on their current deal, with Landry coming to over on the Franchise Tag.
With having Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, it is reasonable to say they will pass on Shaquon Barkley at the running back position in both the first and fourth pick…but this IS Cleveland we are talking about here. Barkley is rare talent at the positon and it is possible the Browns take a chance on him with the first pick. Realistically though, it looks like USC Quarterback Sam Darnold might be the pick here. While I am far from “in love” with him as a prospect, given the landscape of the teams behind the Browns, if they pass on a QB with the first selection, it is possible they will have to take the third one off the board by the time it gets the their fourth pick. Could they surprise everyone and grab defensive end Bradley Chubb, guard Quenton Nelson, or one of the other QB options in Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, or Josh Allen. Yes, anything is possible but if I were in Vegas and I had to bet one player, my money is Sam Darnold goes first overall.
At the fourth spot, it is really anyone’s guess. Cleveland could get an absolute haul if the Giants pass on a quarterback at the second pick. With that being said, I expect the Browns to trade this pick if the Giants take a non-quarterback second overall, especially if the Giants select Barkley. Lots of trade partners exist if that is the case, seeing as though teams would be fighting for, in this scenario, the third QB off the board (assuming the Jets draft a QB, which…I mean…they HAVE to, right?). Arizona, Buffalo, Miami, Jacksonville, Denver (who sits one spot behind Cleveland at fifth, but if they want a QB, they are going to have to pay to not be outbid and lose their guy), even teams with aging incumbent QBs like Baltimore, Chargers, Saints, Pittsburg, all become players since the position is going to thin very quickly. If Cleveland stays at four, assuming they go Darnold first, Chubb goes to the Giants and the Jets draft a QB, it would be hard to pass on a talent like Barkley again.