Few teams experienced a letdown the magnitude of the one the disappointing Cleveland Browns suffered through in 2021. The Browns entered the season with sizable expectations after qualifying for the postseason in 2020. Browns fans planned for continued success, but Cleveland took a massive competitive step backward instead. Starting quarterback Baker Mayfield regressed, injuries derailed much of their campaign, and the Browns won three fewer contests (8) than they did the year before (11) despite the addition of a 17th regular-season game. General manager Andrew Berry enters the offseason with a plan to rejuvenate the Browns and right the off-track ship. The good news? Berry has plenty of financial resources at his disposal. Cleveland currently possesses $28.8 million in available cap space, via Spotrac, and more wiggle room could be achieved by restructuring veteran contracts, releasing underperformers, or agreeing to an extension with Mayfield, who is entering the final season of his contract. The Browns may choose to wait before making a long-term decision on Mayfield, but Berry must surround his starting signal-caller with more talent in 2022. A bonafide No. 1 receiver is necessary after a messy midseason breakup with Odell Beckham Jr. left Cleveland thin in the pass-catching department. Cleveland has plenty of money to address that pressing need. With cap, team needs, pending free agents, and draft selections all put into consideration, here are three offensive and defensive free agents Cleveland could target when the signing period begins on March 14.
ALLEN ROBINSON, WR, CHICAGO BEARSThe controversial and highly publicized departure of Beckham Jr. left the Browns with a gaping hole at the receiver position. Berry must add several highly-capable pass-catchers to his roster this offseason if he hopes to witness his offense take the desired step forward in 2022. Mayfield is entering the final year of a five-year rookie contract and the Browns have seemingly yet to make a decision on his future. If a proper evaluation is to be conducted, the Browns must surround him with better receivers in hopes of placing their former No. 1 overall signal-caller in an environment that's best suited for success. Signing a big fish such as Allen Robinson in free agency to a multi-year lucrative contract would signal their healthy intentions. Robinson would immediately address Cleveland's need for a bonafide WR1 in their offense. Robinson experienced a down year with the Chicago Bears in 2021 by his top-notch standards, but still possesses the high-level tools necessary to command 10-plus targets on the boundary on a weekly basis. Mayfield desperately needs a receiver he can look for to come through in the clutch, and Robinson is exactly that type of player. An elite route-runner that defeats press-man coverage with ease, Robinson would immediately improve one of the weakest groups of pass-catchers in the NFL.
MIKE REMMERS, OT, KANSAS CITY CHIEFSJedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin are undeniably Cleveland's starters at the offensive tackle positions, but better depth will be needed going forward. Backup swing tackle extraordinaire Chris Hubbard is an unrestricted free agent and is expected to search for an opportunity to start elsewhere via the open market. Hubbard has started 34 games over the previous four seasons with the Browns while representing the ideal backup due to his ability to play both tackle and guard positions. Furthermore, Conklin suffered a season-ending knee injury in late November and recently agreed to a reworked contract with the Browns. His early-season availability remains in question as Conklin continues to go through the rehabilitation process. Considering how much emphasis Cleveland puts on their offensive line and running game, they must secure the services of a quality sixth offensive lineman. Signing Mike Remmers would check a lot of boxes for Stefanski, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, and veteran offensive line coach Bill Callahan. The soon-to-be-33-year-old Remmers is a versatile lineman that can play both tackle and guard positions. He's exactly the type of backup offensive line performer Cleveland should target in free agency. Remmers could even start at right tackle in a pinch should Conklin need more time to heal.
KEELAN COLE, WR, NEW YORK JETSThe Browns need to sign multiple starting receivers this offseason. The situation is so grim that it requires more than just the addition of a high-level WR1. Fellow receiver Rashard "Hollywood" Higgins is set to become an unrestricted free agent and could search for a change of scenery after his career mostly failed to launch in Cleveland. The Browns could draft a receiver with the 13th overall selection in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft, but in case they decide to select an EDGE or linebacker with that premium pick, we're adding another underrated pass catcher via free agency. We took care of the necessary splash by signing Robinson, and now we're adding another starter on the outside in Keelan Cole. Cole is a capable pass-catcher that has consistently produced despite landing himself in some less than favorable situations with the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars. Cole averaged an impressive 16 yards per reception last season. Cole accounted for more than 1,000 receiving yards over his previous two campaigns and would help the Browns' core group of receivers take a step forward in 2022.
D.J. JONES, NT, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERSThe 2021 iteration of the Browns were a meddling run defense that allowed opposing offenses to rush for 109.2 yards per contest. Competing in a division with the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens means you must field a stout defense against the run. With Clowney, Takkarist McKinley, Malik Jackson, and Anthony Walker Jr. all set to become unrestricted free agents, change is on the horizon in Cleveland’s front seven. The Browns could address the situation by adding a big-bodied space-eater to the middle of their defense. D.J. Jones would represent a quality addition. Jones is best utilized as an early-down run-stopper, which is exactly the type of defensive lineman that should pique Cleveland's interest this offseason. Jones played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2021, who are tight on cap space and may encounter difficulties should they attempt to retain Jones. Jones also accumulated a career-high 13 pressures as a pass rusher last season, so he does carry a little value in the passing game as well. Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods spent the 2019 season as the 49ers' defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, so there's some crucial familiarity involved with the player. Woods' defense needs the type of skill set that Jones can provide.
CHARLES HARRIS, DE, DETROIT LIONSJadeveon Clowney is an unrestricted free agent and the Browns may be hesitant to make a long-term commitment to him. Clowney experienced a much-needed bounce-back season opposite Myles Garrett in 2021 by recording a healthy nine sacks. It represented Clowney's highest sack total since the 2018 season, his final campaign as a Houston Texan. After signing back-to-back one-year deals with the Tennessee Titans and Browns in 2020 and 2021, Clowney will undeniably look to land a lucrative multi-year contract following his impressive season in Cleveland. The Browns may like to retain Clowney, but general manager Berry needs to formulate a backup plan should Clowney price himself out of their market and comfort zone. A former first-round selection of the Miami Dolphins, Charles Harris finally broke out of his shell in 2021 by recording a career-high 7.5 sacks as a member of the Detroit Lions. Harris was productive on a one-year prove-it deal in Detroit, and will now look to land long-term security via free agency. Despite experiencing a breakout campaign, Harris should still be more affordable than Clowney. Playing opposite Garrett places his teammates in such a favorable situation, and was largely responsible for Clowney’s productivity in 2021. Harris is fully capable of taking advantage of the one-v-one looks he'd receive from opposing offensive linemen.
JAQUISKI TARTT, S, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERSRonnie Harrison is set to become a free agent and he's expected to depart the Browns after experiencing a down season in 2021. The former Alabama standout is expected to search for greener pastures. Harrison's impending departure won't force Berry to overreact by making a sizable move at the safety position. They are well-stocked at the position with John Johnson III and Grant Delpit, who combined for 127 tackles, four interceptions, eight pass breakups, and two fumbles forced. We expect Cleveland to make a move at the safety position for depth and rotational purposes given Harrison's free-agency freedom. Jaquiski Tartt is exactly the type of proven, low-cost veteran player they should target. Tartt possesses excellent instincts for the position and is extremely technically sound. Browns defensive coordinator Woods spent the 2019 campaign as Tartt's defensive backs coach while pulling double duty as San Francisco's passing game coordinator. Tartt's familiarity with Woods and his system would allow him to hit the ground running in Cleveland while playing an underrated role as the team's third safety.
- May 21, 2022
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