Free agency is generally a crazy period during the NFL offseason. Players are given exorbitant contracts, blockbuster trades are made, and fans tend to lose their shit if their franchise is lagging behind. This year feels like the craziest free agency yet, with established stars like Antonio Brown, C.J. Mosley, and Le’Veon Bell each moving on to new franchises, much to the chagrin of their former fan bases. But let’s be honest, no team has made more significant moves than the Cleveland Browns.
The trade for Odell Beckham was the one that made the most headlines and rightfully so, he’s a star receiver in his prime and made an aging Eli Manning serviceable. Just imagine what he will do for QB Baker Mayfield, who made quite the impression in his rookie season. If there were any questions about whether or not he would regress in his second year, throw those out with Odell’s arrival. On paper, this will be arguably one of the most talented offenses in football. Two star receivers in Odell and Jarvis Landry, three up and coming players in RB Nick Chubb, WR Antonio Callaway, and TE David Njoku, and a strong offensive line, should indicate that this offense will come at you in waves. If they aren’t running past you, they’re going to be running through you.
On top of their big offensive acquisition, Cleveland decided to nab DT Sheldon Richardson and DE Oliver Vernon, to further solidify their defensive line. Myles Garrett had a breakout season last year with 13.5 sacks. He was an absolute monster on a defensive unit that honestly underperformed with the talent they had at their disposal. Rookie CB Denzel Ward had a fantastic season and was consistently in the running for DPOY. While they gave up LB Jamie Collins, who led the team in run-stops, there is still significant depth on this defense that outside of Safety, there aren’t many holes to fill. Myles and Ward will continue to develop and this team will have the luxury to add depth through the draft.
What GM John Dorsey has done as the architect of this team is remarkable. Two seasons ago, they were winless, last season they won 7 games and showed a lot of promise with their competiveness and grit. The next logical step would be to make the playoffs, a feat that Cleveland hasn’t done in 17 years. That’s the type of drought that would destroy the confidence of any fan base. But for whatever reason, Brown’s fans continued to remain optimistic that the team will eventually turn it around. Well, John Dorsey has done what was initially unthinkable, he made Cleveland into a team that should be respected. No longer will they be the laughing stock in the league, now there are feasible expectations for this team.
While leaping to the conclusion that they will be Super Bowl contenders is a stretch reserved for their fan base, it isn’t difficult to be excited. How this team reacts to the increased expectations will be key to their success. The AFC North is greatly weakened, Pittsburgh lost two of the Killer B’s and even when they had the star talent, they underperformed. Baltimore’s defense will be a shell of itself and there are going to be questions as to whether or not that offense can be effective behind Lamar Jackson. Cincinnati is undergoing a coaching change as they final moved on from longtime coach Marvin Lewis and there are questions surrounding both the offense and defense. Every other team besides Cleveland has significant questions that need to be addressed before they can be considered in play for the division crown. The AFC North is right there for the taking and Cleveland has an opportunity it hasn’t had in over a decade.
A lot of the expectations are rightfully going to center on the continual progression of Baker Mayfield and the effectiveness of new Head Coach Freddie Kitchens. Baker has confidence and swagger that other QB’s don’t normally possess and if we’re being honest, he should be just fine being constantly in the limelight. Coach Kitchens on the other hand is an enigma. Last season was his first as an offensive coordinator at any level and fortunately, he knocked it out of the park as his schemes were a big reason for the team’s turnaround. But, being a Head Coach comes with increased responsibilities that go far beyond being a signal caller. He will be tested throughout the season in keeping the different personalities in check on the team and there are going to be a lot of them. He will be under a microscope for the duration of the season and the overall success of the Browns will be on his shoulders.
Anything less than a playoff spot this season should be considered a failure for this team. Honestly, 9-7 might be enough to secure the division, but with all of the talent on this team, they should hover around the 11 win mark. Think of the leap that the Rams took when Sean McVay took over as Head Coach, the situation should be similar. Now, all of this is speculation, because on paper, Cleveland looks stacked. There is a lot of offseason left and injuries could occur between now and the start of the season that could very well derail the team’s success. But if this team happens to stay relatively healthy, the Cleveland Browns could be one of the most improved teams in the NFL.
You don’t have to be a fan of this team to appreciate all the work that is being done to pull this team out of the cellar. Cleveland has one of the best fan bases in football and it’s about time they found themselves near the top of the standings. Dangerous is exactly how this team should be described, because they might end up overwhelming opposing teams that continue to underestimate them. With all of the turmoil that has surrounded this franchise over the years, this is easily one of the best stories in sports.
All eyes will be on the Cleveland Browns moving forward into the regular season. What a time to be a fan.