NFL News has been slow but these Cleveland Browns rumors won't go away
With a new coaching staff and general manager in 2020, the Cleveland Browns have many unanswered questions. Unfortunately, most wouldn’t believe that the biggest question this season is whether or not there will there be a season in 2020. With COVID-19 making a comeback in many larger cities, there is reason to believe the start of the offseason and regular season could be delayed.
General manager Andrew Berry got busy quickly and brought in multiple free agents on offense and defense that appear to be day one starters. While there is some concern about gelling if face to face meetings and practices are limited, fans are still expecting a big season.
With most organizations, new coaching staff and general manager means a complete rebuild. Luckily for the Browns, they have a very talented roster, but a dysfunctional locker room last season kept that from accruing victories. The Browns have multiple young franchise pieces on both sides of the ball that should help first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski be set up for early success in Cleveland.
While it appears that Berry has full decision-making authorities, it will certainly be interesting to see how the relationship between he and chief strategist Paul DePodesta goes. DePodesta has been with the Browns for over four seasons and it appears owner Jimmy Haslam trusts him. Many believed some general manager candidates would shy away from the Browns with fear that DePodesta would be given too much power.
So far it has been smooth sailing with the staff and most Browns fans have their hopes as high as ever. With a much friendlier schedule in 2020 vs. 2019, the club has a real shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
As the season nears there becomes less and less of a chance of trades or the addition of free agents. Most of the top players have been picked through and the cap space is already maxed out. The Browns appear to have a complete roster, but there are still three rumors that keep popping up in the news.
3. Jadeveon Clowney
A new saying in the NFL is apparently, “You can never have enough pass rushers”. With the free agency market getting softer, there is more and more steam that defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could end up signing with the Browns. This may happen in an ideal situation as it appears Clowney may not love Cleveland. But, if the Browns can sign him at a discount and get a motivated player, there is a chance of getting a huge payoff.
With Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon under contract for 2020 already, some may wonder is Clowney necessary. The simple answer is, yes. After starting the free agency period with a price tag of $20 million per year, it was last reported the Browns offered $15 million to the 27-year-old three-time pro-bowler.
With $37 million of cap space for 2020 and a history of injuries to Vernon, Clowney could add a tremendous amount of depth to the defensive line. With the attention Clowney would draw, you could also see Garrett have a defensive MVP type season with 16 plus sacks. With an injury to Vernon last season, Garrett was facing a huge percentage of double teams and still had 10 sacks in 10 games.
Time will tell if the market will pick up for Clowney. An early injury could spark interest from a team, but unfortunately at such a high price, there is only a small percentage of teams that can afford his services. It appears the Browns and Tennessee Titans are the two front-runners currently.
Clowney appears to be in no hurry to sign but expect him to decide before minicamp opens on July 28. If the Browns can snag a motivated Clowney for $15 million on a one-year contract, it is a no brainer. Clowney is a tremendous player and will make the entire defense better. The big question will be, does Clowney want to play in Cleveland, which remains to be seen.
2. Upgrade needed at linebacker
The Browns head into 2020 with a loaded roster, except for linebacker. While there is a ton of potential at the position, very little has been proven except for second-year player Mack Wilson. While Wilson was a strong rookie player, he excelled with the mentorship of Joe Schobert who is now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Schobert often helped Wilson line up properly, but with a full offseason, Wilson should have plenty of time to dive into the playbook.
While Berry brought in big-name safeties, offensive lineman, and tight end, the position he didn’t address in free agency which many expected was a linebacker. The Browns did draft Jacob Phillips, a rookie from LSU in the third round who is expected to compete for a starting job. However, he's competing because of a lack of talent at the position more than high expectations.
The Browns appear to be building towards the 4-2-5 scheme, which means they only need an additional linebacker for most plays with Wilson. Sione Takitaki, B.J. Goodson, and Phillips will all be battling for that spot, with none of three having much experience. Takitaki is a second-year player who saw the field very little last season and Goodson comes from the Green Bay Packers never having more than 61 tackles in a season.
Many thought a player like Nigel Bradham was a no brainer with his past relations with Berry. Truthfully, with nothing done at this point, the Browns must believe they have enough talent to win games at the position. You may see a late addition if there was a surprise veteran cut, but expect Wilson, Phillips, and Takitaki to get most of the reps with Goodson being called on for running situations only.
Linebacker is not a position that is highly valued by analytical regimes, but this position group will have to perform at a high level for the team to be successful. The Browns have been poor at stopping the run for so long, and it can be demoralizing for the entire team when a team can line up and run it down your throat.
1. Kevin Stefanski will call plays
Perhaps the biggest mistake of Freddie Kitchens in his short tenure as head coach of the Browns was trying to call plays. At times he looked rattled and appeared to be overwhelmed by too many duties. First-year head coach Kevin Stefanski will face the same difficult decision this year. Should he call plays or hand the duties to offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.
Van Pelt has had success with Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals as well as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. There's no doubt he can call plays; he just needs to have the trust of Stefanski. After seeing the dysfunction in 2019 many fans would prefer the play-calling to be delegated to Van Pelt.
Maybe Stefanski could handle both, but after hand-picking Van Pelt to be his offensive coordinator, it would be a sign of good faith to allow him to call plays. Stefanski will still have his staple on the offense but can focus all his attention on game management, which has a history of being mishandled in Cleveland.
Stefanski has made it clear he will decide before the first regular-season game, but a shortened offseason may hurt Van Pelt's chances with limited time to prove he is the guy. Stefanski likely already knows which way he will go but will enjoy letting the media wonder.
With a talented roster, there will be pressure from the ownership and fans to win now. While some first-year head coaches may have a longer leash, Stefanski knows the time to win is now.
This additional pressure could be enough to keep Stefanski from giving it up. Winning will solve all these concerns, but don’t look for this to go away until Stefanski announces a decision.