Signs point towards Cleveland Browns scrapping offensive plan

Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski works the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio.Stefanski1031
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski works the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio.Stefanski1031 /

The Cleveland Browns appear to be ready to scrap their base formation of two tight ends, two wide receivers, and one running back.

Welcome to the Air Watson era, as the Cleveland Browns appear to be ready to build a new offensive scheme around the skills of quarterback Deshaun Watson. Most of the time there will be only one tight end and one running back on the field, with three wide receivers and more liberal use of multiple wide receiver sets.

The centerpiece of the Stefanski offense was two tight ends, with Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant carrying the load. Not only did that make great sense for a team with Nick Chubb in the backfield, but a star tight end costs only about $12 million per year, whereas a star wide receiver is pushing $20 million per year these days.

Moreover, another even more economical run-first alternative is a fullback. Andy Janovich was an absolute stud who cost only $1.3 million per year. Hence, for those fans who are into Moneyball, this approach made a lot of sense.

This fan totally whiffed on the Browns’ draft plan, figuring that the Browns would draft a tight end and obtain a fullback somehow. Most of you in the Dawg Pound were saying the Browns were going to draft wide receivers instead, and you were right. In comes David Bell from Purdue and Michael Woods II from the Sooners, not to mention Amari Cooper via trade from Jerry Jones State, but no tight end via free agency or the draft.

Had the Browns intended to play the Stefanski offense in 2022, their roster should have been geared towards arriving at three tight ends, a fullback, four running backs, five wide receivers (including the slot receivers) nine linemen, and two quarterbacks — 24 offensive players, or something close to that.

But guess what?

The Browns have only two experienced tight ends on the roster (Njoku and Bryant), Janovich is gone and has not been replaced. If there is a fullback for 2022, we don’t know who he is.

At wide receiver, the Browns seem headed towards at least six: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Amari Cooper, and third-round draft pick David Bell as front runners for starting positions. The Browns are unlikely to cut free agent signee Jakeem Grant, last year’s number three pick, Anthony Schwartz, or this year’s sixth-round pick, Michael Woods II.

A seventh receiver, Demetric Felton, is shared with the running back room. You may classify him as a running back, but he earns his living by catching footballs rather than running with them.

The running backs room is stuffed to overflowing with the drafting of Jerome Ford, joining the likes of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D’Ernest Johnson. Hunt also lines up in the slot on a regular basis, underscoring the belief that the Browns have options at slot receiver, but not at tight end. The overabundance of running backs may be resolved by a trade before the end of the summer.

Although Baker Mayfield for whatever reason seemed very reluctant to throw the ball to Nick Chubb last season, this writer will go out on a limb and absolutely, positively guarantee that Deshaun Watson is hurling the pigskin at number 24 this season, and it is coming early and often.

Speaking of Mayfield, the Browns will probably break camp with three quarterbacks if he cannot be traded. He’s too dangerous to just give away to the Steelers for free by releasing him.

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The two-tight end look is not going to be completely in the trash can as long as they still have two very good tight ends in Njoku and Bryant. It will occasionally still be used. In any case, the Browns would be interested in adding a third tight end for depth, or at least carrying one or two on the practice squad.

They’re going to take a good hard look at undrafted tight end TE Zaire Mitchell-Paden from Florida Atlantic, a big kid at 6-foot-5 and 267 pounds. Crimson Tide alum Miller Forristall got in a few snaps last year, but will need to improve to make the active roster.

The way it looks now, the opening day roster will support two tight ends with no fullback, four running backs, six wide receivers, three quarterbacks, and nine linemen — 24 offensive players. The Browns simply do not have the personnel in place to operate last year’s run-first Stefanski offense.

They will be pass-first, Air Watson this season, for better or worse. The Browns base formation will probably be two wides, one slot, one tight end, and one running back or something similar. They can operate out of the run-n-shoot if they want to, or every offensive coordinator’s favorite formation, the empty backfield.

This is actually very Browns. They tried the Stefanski offense for two years and they didn’t win the Super Bowl, so it’s time to blow it up and start over. The Browns are done with Moneyball also.

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Instead, they are going to spend every loose dollar they have to try to win the Super Bowl in 2022, and worry about 2023 later. That means changing to a wide-open wide receiver-based offense immediately. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.