Just a few short weeks ago, John Dorsey was quoted at the combine as saying, “Last time I saw, we were [7-8-1], and we were in third place in the AFC North. That doesn’t mean you can go for it.” This led many to speculate that the Browns would be more conservative than aggressive in the offseason, despite having the 3rd most cap space among NFL teams.
It didn’t take long for John to flip that statement on its head, as the Browns completed 3 major deals that became official as the new league year officially began at 4 pm Wednesday.
The Browns traded Pro Bowl guard Kevin Zeitler for pass rusher Olivier Vernon, signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to a three year deal in free agency, and capped it off with a blockbuster trade for star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The moves signified the Brown’s commitment to the here and now, with divisional opponents Pittsburgh and Baltimore stepping back just enough to give Cleveland a window to squeeze through and make a serious bid for their first AFC North title since the division was formed in 2002.
Coming off of a 7-8-1 finish last season with one of the leagues youngest teams, expectations were already high for the 2019 season.1 These moves give the team players that not only fill holes but whose presence should make players around them better by lightening their load in a substantial way.
By adding Vernon and Richardson, pass rushers like Garrett, Avery and Ogunjobi cannot be double teamed or chipped with impunity. By adding Odell Beckham Jr., teams have far fewer tools at their disposal to address Landry, Higgins, and Njoku. Teams that in 2018 committed to stopping Chubb and Duke Johnson, now face the unenviable task of defending Chubb, Duke, and newly acquired Kareem Hunt out of a nickel package. Simply put, the Browns have obtained the ability to, more often than not, dictate to the opponent what the rules of engagement will be.
John Dorsey and the Browns correctly assessed that the team needed to leverage the cap advantage present with Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Baker Mayfield playing for well below market value due to the rookie salary cap. They acted on their assessment by acquiring high-quality veterans at critical positions by any means necessary, and they did it wisely – without mortgaging their future. Their 2020 draft pool is untouched, and 8 picks remain for them to work within the draft this April.
On paper, this team is the likely favorite to take the division. The soup to nuts rebuild that started in 2016 is now over. The Browns have gone from a bottom-feeding doormat of a team full of aging veterans and thin from years of poor drafting to one of the most talented and youngest teams in the NFL in just 3 years.
2019 promises to be the best season of Browns football in decades. For the first time in more than 30 years, the Browns will enter a season with the legitimate goal of not just making the playoffs, but of winning a Super Bowl. Long awaited by fans, the time is now for the Cleveland Browns.