As we enter the most vital offseason since 1999, we look at the 3 kings who could bring the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs and beyond in the coming years.
A true king is a mighty leader, equal parts fierce ferocity and pragmatism. In Cleveland, we know something about kings. Jim Brown, a name that when spoken exudes greatness. You would be hard-pressed to find a soul in the football world who doesn’t believe he’s the greatest running back of all time. He's a living legend ever-present in the Cleveland Browns organization.
Paul Brown, the man so great they named the damn team after him. One of the greatest minds in the history of the sport. So great, in fact, staples of his offenses still exist today. And let’s not forget about the thread the bore champions, Otto Graham.
Arguably the most successful quarterback of all time. He played 10 glorious seasons for the Browns in which they won seven league titles, appearing in the championship game every single year. Every. Single. Year.
Then there’s King James himself. The kid from Akron who not only brought Cleveland its first major sports championship since the 1964 Browns but put his city on the map off the court by building a school for underprivileged kids.
This is Cleveland. This is northeast Ohio. Football was born and perfected here. However, it’s been a long time since those triumphs. For the first time in a long time, there’s the hope of dominance.
2019 was cursed by injuries, bad coaching, and a vicious early schedule. 2020 is here and this is the year things change and they’ll do so because of the new monarchy, the three kings of Cleveland.
Baker Mayfield is the hill I’ll die on. There is not a single quarterback in the National Football League I’d trade him for. I don’t think he’s the best in the league. He’s not the best passer, not the most accurate, definitely not the biggest, and surely not the most athletic. There’s something about that fact that makes him all the more Cleveland.
After the subpar season, pundits and bandwagon fans alike threw him under the bus. They forgot the rookie touchdown record, forgot the coaching merry-go-round, and really forgot the two hurt stars as his main targets. Baker has too much bravado, too loud for Cleveland. And boy did he do too many commercials, right folks? All the hate is non-sense but it expected. What I love about Mayfield is that he’s standing there with his head held high, taking the blame on himself.
It’s easy to forget how great the first overall draft pick from Oklahoma has been. His teammates haven’t forgotten and you can already feel the momentum building into the off-season.
With a competent head coach in Stefanski and the incredible staff the Browns ownership has put in place, rookie record Baker will be back in full force.
The tough season has done wonders for Baker’s ability to self-reflect. He’s identifying the problems that are in his control to fix, an important quality of any leader. And make no mistake, Baker is leading the show.
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. are both incredible talents with years of success but Baker leads the room. Mayfield leads by example, by voice, and by never running away from the tough moments. We’ve already witnessed that Baker has the ability to be a top quarterback in the NFL, but this is the first year he’ll start to put it all together. I’d like to say it will be an MVP season, but I don’t think the national media will fully appreciate his progress to that point this year.
What I do know for sure is that there’s a greatness in Baker Mayfield and, as long as the Browns brass don’t overstep and hurt the roster, it will shine through in a fashion that ends the Cleveland Browns playoff drought.
The trade to bring Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns from the Miami Dolphins was the first move made by former general manager John Dorsey to acquire a player. The goal was to bring in players to change the culture of defeat living in the Browns locker room and boy did they hit a home run with the man known as "Juice." Nothing could have prepared Browns' fans for the type of force that would come roaring through the doors in Berea.
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Jarvis instantly made his presence known as captured on the HBO series Hard Knocks, in which Landry went on a profanity-laced tangent about other receivers not practicing because of minor injuries. He saw it as a sign of weakness and a loser mentality.
The former LSU Tiger called out his teammates repeating that this kind of mentality is contagious. The fans knew it was love at first sight.
Fast forward a year to the present, the enigmatic receiver played an entire 16 games season with a fractured sacrum (the bone that forms the foundation of the pelvis where the hip and spine meet). Landry led by his example and despite the immense pain, he managed to go over 1,000 receiving yards and make the Pro Bowl. As his chemistry builds with Baker, they become more and more of a threat as a duo.
Speaking of duos, the addition. of best-friend and former LSU teammate Odell Beckham, Jr. has increased not only Landry's sprits but also his astounding work ethic. OBJ is the flash, Landry is the substance. While Beckham soaks up double teams over the top, Landry is left free underneath. And now they have Kevin Stefanski, fresh off handling two star receivers in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs during his time at Minnesota.
Under Stefanski's offense and a revamped Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry is set to have a monster year. The Browns will invest in the offensive line to improve run and pass blocking and utilize play-action passes more. While OBJ will have the lion's share of spectacular downfield plays, Landry will again be Mr. Dependable and lead the Browns in receiving in his most impressive season yet.
If you told me during the preseason a member of the Cleveland Browns defense would be ejected from a game and subsequently suspended the rest of the season, the last name I would guess would be Myles Garret. I remember the only negative mark that was repeatedly mentioned on his scouting report coming out of Texas A&M was that Garret lacks the ferocity needed for an NFL defensive lineman. Some scouts simply believed the poet/dinosaur enthusiast, among many other hobbies, was too "soft."
The scouting reports couldn't have been more wrong as Garret has been a standout since being drafted 1st overall by the Browns in 2017. Even with his suspension this season and multiple injuries in his rookie campaign, including a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the start of the season, Garret has managed 104 tackles, 30.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovered in just 37 games played (35 starts).
Unfortunately for the Browns, it was Garret who was suspended for removing the helmet of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in a scuffle and hitting him over the head with it. If there's anyone on the roster looking for redemption, its Garret.
The team can, however, turn this into a positive. Garret's absence and Olivier Vernon's seemingly endless injury problems showed an extreme lack of depth on the defensive line, which I expect the Browns to address via the draft, trade, or both.
Garret will come back stronger than ever. If you follow Garret on social media, you'll see he's been hard at work improving many aspects of his already impressive frame. For the Browns to reach the promised land, Garret has to live up to his promise and I believe he will.
The Browns need him to be a dominant force that disrupts an opponent's game plans and creates turnovers. Garret is the third king and the one that has to be the anchor, after all, offense sells tickets and defense wins championships.
No one knows what this season holds, only that its' success is extremely vital for the long-term health of the franchise. If the Cleveland Browns are to succeed, it will because of the seeds planted by their three kings. They may not be perfect but they're ours.
They've been doubted and discounted at every turn. That's what makes them one of us, that's what makes them the three kings of Cleveland.