The Dawg Pound is Back in Cleveland
The Cleveland Browns are ready to win a Superbowl. For a team with zero wins in the 2017 season, they have made tremendous strides in the past four years. General manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski are entering year two of their tenure and coming off an 11-win season, and a playoff win. After a great draft last year, the Browns used their cap space this offseason to splurge in free agency, and boy did they do a great job. Superbowls do not get won in the offseason, but with the Browns’ current roster, and the value signings they made, this team is ready to be a real threat in the AFC.
The Browns defense in 2020 was their weakness, especially in the secondary. So it makes sense that the Browns were aggressive in free agency to fix these issues. The big signing they had was giving John Johnson a three-year 33 million dollar contract. Johnson was projected to have an average value in the 13-14 million per year range, so the Browns managed to make a solid value signing here. Johnson is coming off a season where he was ranked as the third-best safety, by PFF, on the Rams’ number one ranked defense. He now gets to pair with former Jaguar Ronnie Harrison for a solid back-end duo. Second-year safety Grant Delpit was also considered a steal in the second round of the 2020 draft and should be healthy in 2021.
Denzel Ward is a good cornerback, but the rest of the depth after him was shaky in 2020. With Greedy Williams missing the entire season with a shoulder injury, the Browns relied on unproven players to play opposite of Ward, to disastrous effects. Williams has been cleared of his shoulder injury this season, and the Browns added to their cornerback depth by signing Troy Hill on a bargain. Hill was a versatile corner for the Rams last season, playing a significant number of snaps on the outside, as well as on the inside. He has also posted coverage grades of 73 or higher by PFF the last three seasons, and as a result, will be a valuable asset for the Browns in 2021.
Free Agency Splash
The Browns also rounded out free agency by solidifying their pass rush. Myles Garrett led the way last season for the Browns, with Sheldon and Richardson and Olivier Vernon rounding out the front four. However, Vernon is currently a free agent, so the Browns needed to fill out the pass rush. At first, they did not do much, only signing Takkarist Mckinley and Malik Jackson as depth. However, on Wednesday, the Browns signed a free-agent defensive end and former number one overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney. Coming off an injury-marred down year with Tennessee, the Browns signed him for a one-year, 10 million prove-it deal. If Clowney can have the same success with the Browns that he had opposite of JJ Watt in Houston, this will be a bargain deal that could push the Browns over the top.
The Browns offense was good last year, and that was with star receiver Odell Beckham Jr missing most of the year due to injury. Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb led a rushing attack that averaged nearly 150 yards per game in 2020. They were only 14th in points per game, at 25.5, but this was in the first year of a new system. The Browns had the #1 ranked offensive line, which allowed quarterback Baker Mayfield to have his best season. With a solid group of pass-catchers, led by Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, and Rashaad Higgins, the Browns are in a prime position to take the next step forward in year two under Stefanski.
With no starters leaving in free agency, the Browns will be returning the entire offensive attack, with the bonus of a healthy Beckham Jr. Mayfield is going into his fourth year as a starter, the time is now for this offense to be the explosive machine that has been envisioned on paper for years now. This season will be the first one that Mayfield has the same head coach for, and this kind of continuity will only make him more comfortable in this system.
The Browns should be one of the top teams in the AFC. Things will not be easy for them, as they play in the AFC North and will have to contend with both the Steelers and Ravens, but with the additions made in free agency, they will be competing for a division title. It has been decades of suffering through a carousel of coaches, quarterbacks, and general managers, but it finally seems that the Browns have found their focal points for the future. The Browns are a young and talented team and now have the right coach and front office to make the most out of this talented roster. And for those Browns fans who have stayed loyal throughout the years of pain… rejoice. The Browns time is here.