Decisions, decisions, what is next for the Cleveland Browns at tackle?

The 2020 offseason appears stacked with strong veteran free agents, as well as young talent in the NFL draft that could solve all the Cleveland Browns problems at offensive tackle.

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 16: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns drops back to pass during the first half of their game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 16, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

One thing is certain, the Cleveland Browns offensive line struggled tremendously last year. While pressure was often coming from everywhere, the glaring weakness was pressure coming from the outside. Should fans really be surprised the offensive line was such a struggle in 2019? John Dorsey went all-in on the defensive line and wide receiver but ignored likely the biggest issue at offensive tackle.

Desmond Harrison was the big “test pilot” in 2018, as the undrafted rookie started the season.  For two weeks, Dorsey and offensive line coach Bob Wylie (famous for “set hut” on Hard Knocks) looked like heroes as Harrison looked more than capable. Harrison then started to struggle with speed rushers and was later replaced by Greg Robinson in Week 9 of 2018.

Robinson got all our hopes up and performed well, after not living up to the number 2 pick in 2014 for most of his career. After a glimpse of hope, Cleveland signed Robinson to a one-year “prove it” deal. Robinson started 14 games in 2019 at left tackle and performed at a mediocre level. Robinson was eventually benched mid-season for two games to make sure he was still motivated. Anyone making millions that must be checked for passion is no one I want to play on my team…

Unfortunately, things weren’t much better on the right side in 2019. Chris Hubbard was the “big” signing in 2018, coming to the Browns from the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent. Hubbard signed a 5-year, $37.5 million deal and has started 29 of 32 games in 2 seasons. While durable in his time with Cleveland, Hubbard’s play has not lived up to expectations, especially for the money the Browns shelled out. Hubbard would be a great swingman, just not at his current salary.

Baker Mayfield took a lot of grief in 2019, many referring to it as the famous sophomore slump. Mayfield may have not been himself, but the guy was also running for his life. No quarterback handles pressure well, especially a second-year quarterback.

Who can fix these questions on the offensive line? It appears there are many options, but what is the BEST solution?

Option 4 – Jack Conklin

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 05: Jason Peters #71 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on during the NFC Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field on January 5, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The 25-year-old Michigan State alum Jack Conklin is likely the “best” option in Browns fans' eyes, as he is young and still proven. What you need to remember is there are serious injury concerns with Conklin and the Titans chose to let him out of a fifth-year option that would have kept his salary just over $5 million, according to Over The Cap.  Are Browns fans missing something, as many believe Conklin will be after Trent Brown and Lane Johnson money in the $16-18 million per year range?

After starting every game in his first two years, the first-round pick tore his ACL in a playoff loss to the Patriots in January 2018. After that injury, Conklin would miss the first four games of the 2018 season recovering and missed three more games throughout the season with other various injuries. In 2019, Conklin did start all 16 games.

I’m not saying Conklin would be a horrible signing, just not the slam dunk some are thinking. Other options may include signing an older veteran, but likely on a one-year deal. Conklin COULD turn into a Hubbard, but with even a bigger contract.

Option 3 – Jason Peters

The big-name out there right now that fits older veteran, one-year deal category is Jason Peters.  Peters is an experienced veteran option who could be a short-term fix, assuming he can make it through the season. The 38-year-old Peters has been voted first- or second-team by the Associated Press six different times.

The two downfalls with Peters are his age and his health. Not many are able to play at a high level at 38-years-old, and Peters has only played in 16 games twice in the last five years. In fact, he has only started 16 games five times since 2004. Peters made $6 million in 2019, so the thought could be you get a cheaper experienced veteran for one year to train a draft pick.

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Option 2 – NFL Draft

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LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 20: Tight end Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins celebrates with Trent Williams #71 after scoring a first quarter touchdown against the Buffalo Bills at FedExField on December 20, 2015 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

This is one of the deeper drafts in recent history when it comes to offensive tackle. Andrew Thomas of Georgia, Mekhi Becton of Louisville, Jedrick Wills of Alabama and Tristan Wirfs of Iowa are all viewed as top-10 picks. Obviously, nothing is known until the night of the draft, but there are scenarios where the Browns could have options with the No. 10 pick on which of the tackles they want.

The downside to this strategy is the chance of drafting a bust always exists, as Cleveland is well aware! Wirfs and Becton both shined at the Combine showing athleticism and strength, while Thomas and Wills will lean on playing against top-tier talent for multiple years in the SEC.

Becton and Wirfs are my favorites on draft night right now, as they have shined on both the tape and at the Combine. However, if Isaiah Simmons is around at No. 10 (highly unlikely), the Browns MUST take him!

Option 1 – Trent Williams

I got a lot of grief for liking the idea of pursuing Trent Williams, but I stand by looking to trade for the 31-year-old, seven-time Pro-Bowler. I certainly wouldn’t give up the No. 10 pick, as Williams only has one year remaining on his contract. But if the Browns could give up a second- or a third-round pick and a future late rounder, they should pull the trigger. Although Williams has had injuries, he has had a full year to rest after being what many consider a healthy scratch for all of 2019.

This could be a perfect scenario if the Browns can minimize the pieces they give up in a trade. The Browns will get a full year of Williams to see if he can stay healthy and perform. If he can’t stay healthy, let Williams walk after his contract expires. If he performs well and stays healthy then the Browns would have the option to sign Williams long-term. The only risk would be what they give up trading for him. Given his eagerness of wanting out and only having one year left on his deal, the Redskins will have little leverage with any trade partner which will help the Browns.

Dream Scenario?

Many will disagree, but if the Browns can give up a 2020 third-rounder and 2021 fourth-rounder for Williams, they should pull the trigger in a second. Unfortunately, the Redskins may get greedy. If that is the case, then draft the best available tackle on draft night. Wirfs may be the best option, as he has a high ceiling but may need some time to develop. In this scenario, Wirfs could study under Hubbard for half a season before likely taking his spot. The competition could serve Hubbard well, and hopefully, the upgrade to Bill Callahan as the offensive line coach will also increase productivity across the board.

Next: Who are the five best tackles drafted by the Browns?

While I don’t see the Browns wanting both Peters and Williams as they are both left tackles, there could also be a scenario where the Browns end up with Conklin at right tackle, Peters at left tackle and a rookie tackle taken at 10. This would require finding a way to dump Hubbard’s contract without much repercussion, but it wouldn’t be a horrible option heading into 2020. It will certainly be interesting to see if Andrew Berry shows the same aggression as John Dorsey seeking high-profile trades and free agents.