What are the Cleveland Browns options if Conklin does not recover?
If Jack Conklin is unable to return in time, or not regain his normal level of play, what are the Browns’ options? As currently constructed, second-year player James Hudson would be the next man up. Drafted as a piece of clay for Bill Callahan to mold, Hudson struggled mightily when first forced into action. However, when called upon later in the season, while not great, Hudson did show strides in his game.
With an offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program and another training camp under Callahan’s watchful eye, will Hudson be ready if called upon? Only the coaching staff can properly answer that question. If Hudson is not up to speed in his development, the Browns do not appear to have anyone else already in house to be the next man up.
The Browns have a ton of money already invested in the right tackle position with Conklin on the books for $15 million in 2022, with a dead cap hit of nine million if they were to cut him. It’s highly unlikely that they would sign another high-dollar free agent to step in but look for names like Morgan Moses and Germaine Ifedi to be cost-effective replacements that could be explored.
Best case scenario for Conklin and the Browns is for the former All-Pro to get healthy and be ready for the season opener. But this is the last year that Conklin is under contract in Cleveland, so do not be surprised if the team preemptively prepares for the future.
But another option, although drastic, could be to move Jedrick Wills over to right tackle and slide Joel Bitonio out to left tackle. Bitonio is one of the very best guards in all of the NFL, as evident by his All-Pro nod in 2021, but he filled in at left tackle for two games last season and played at an elite level. The move would make sense from an in-house perspective, as the Browns have multiple quality backup guards already on the roster.
In the end, the move would be up to Bitonio. From a legacy perspective, a switch to left tackle at this stage in his career could pave a path to Canton. As someone who has always been a team-first guy, I do not think it is something you could just close the door on.