Browns. High hopes shattered
Result: Missed Playoffs
2019 Regular season record: 6-10
2019 Scoring Offensive Rank: 22nd 20.9 PPG
2019 Scoring Defensive Rank: 20th 24.6 PPG
2020 Draft First Round Pick: 10
Coach: Kevin Stefanski
The Offseason Scenario:
Another year, another disappointment for Browns fans, and another new head coach.
Cleveland has churned through head coaches at dizzying rate, and Stefanski will be the eighth to take the job since Romeo Crennel departed in 2008. In that time, the Browns have never made the playoffs (last playoff appearance was in 2002) and have been dead last in their division nine seasons out of twelve. In a salary cap league, with a reverse draft order, that’s an accomplishment of sorts.
2019 was supposed to be different though.
They had a promising young quarterback in Baker Mayfield who had a rookie campaign that left fans breathless with anticipation. They also had an explosive running back in Nick Chubb and a scintillating wide receiver group that included Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Not to mention a young and talented defense, led by Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward that promised to keep things close.
So, what happened to this dark horse AFC contender that was poised to put Cleveland back on the map?
The Browns were a respectable 2-2 after they blew out Baltimore 40-25 in week four. Yes, that Baltimore. What happened was this…The Browns stumbled in an absolutely brutal three game stretch when they had to face three elite teams in three weeks ( SF, SEA, NE), losing all three to drop to 2-5, then came out shaky against a very beatable Denver team, losing again. At 2-6 halfway through the season, the damage was done, and the frustrations of shouldering unrealistic expectations mounted.
Free Agent Frenzy:
The Browns aren’t standing pat, nor should they. The Browns have the most cap space left in the league, at over $34 million, per overthecap.com. That’s after bringing in Falcons TE Austin Hooper and Titans offensive tackle Jack Conklin. Both should help the sputtering offense get back on the rails.
More interesting perhaps, is the signing of journeyman QB Case Keenum. Keenum took Minnesota to the playoffs a few years back, and he didn’t hesitate to sign on when the Browns new coach made the call. Does this mean that Baker Mayfield’s job is in jeopardy? Yeah, no question. If Mayfield can’t avoid the bad throws and poor judgement that plagued him in 2019, Keenum will be ready to step in and step up.
But: “what about defense?”, you might ask. So, would I. Cleveland needs to spend some of that cap space on defense and be single minded in the draft.
Seriously Premature Draft Hunches:
Defense, and it almost doesn’t matter where.
Linebacker, safety, Edge, interior D-line. Seriously. Cleveland should be looking for home run plug and play defenders that can shore up a defense that really struggled against any offense that was just north of average? Sideline to sideline tackling machines like LSU’s Patrick Queen and Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons are likely to be on the board, and either would be a no-doubt difference maker on this anemic Browns defensive unit. While both are listed as linebackers, both guys can play from a variety of formations and just make plays when the ball moves in their general direction.
One thing that the Brown’s can’t do: get distracted by a shiny piece on offense. They are talented enough on that side of the ball and need to keep their eyes on the prize to get back above .500 for the first time since 2007.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.