Andrew Berry has certainly been active in the beginning stages of his first free agency atop the Browns personnel department. It’s exciting and fun to have some sports news to talk about, so let’s talk about some of these moves.
First, I can’t help but immediately think about how none of this would be possible without Baker Mayfield. There’s are many questions surrounding Baker Mayfield. However, he’s coming into his third year after being drafted first overall. So, those doubts almost don’t count. The Browns have to operate as if Baker Mayfield will be a great player or at least a serviceable answer at the most important position in all of professional sports. If they weren’t operating that way, I’m not sure they would have justified their two biggest signings thus far.
The Browns signed 25-year-old right tackle Jack Conklin away from the Tennessee Titans. He is a former 2016 first-rounder out of Michigan State. I get the sense that the Titans currently feel like Browns fans did after losing Mitchell Schwartz. Conklin isn’t a perfect prospect, but he’s coming off his fourth NFL season. He’s played 16 games in three out of four seasons, according to Pro-Football-Reference. He played nine in 2018 due to an ACL tear. Mitch was a high second-rounder, so it’s not a perfect comparison, and Conklin is getting a lot of money for a shorter period, but it still feels a bit like one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Next up is Austin Hooper, tight end from the Atlanta Falcons. I was a little bit surprised to see how much money Hooper got from the Browns, signing for four years and $42 million with $23 million guaranteed. In all actuality, it’s more like a three-year deal for $37 million. Prior to the 2023 season, the Browns could save almost $10 million in cap space if they cut him loose. We’ve seen the Browns take advantage of options like this before, so you never know. So, why did the Browns spend so much money on Hooper? Consider this.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski comes from the Vikings.
In 2019, Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith combined for 75 catches on 96 targets for eight touchdowns and 678 yards.
The Browns had Ricky Seals-Jones and Demetrious Harris combine for 29 receptions on 49 targets for seven touchdowns and 378 yards.
Tight ends are more important to Stenanski’s offense than they were to Freddy Kitchens’ disastrous offense. This also could mean that they’re not just paying lip service when they say David Njoku is going to have a clean slate and a chance to play this season.
I love the Case Keenum signing. I have no delusions about Keenum being able to challenge Baker Mayfield in the long run, except if Baker continues a downward trajectory. However, I think that he’s a backup who can actually play and win some games. I believe that if you find out that Baker doesn’t have it, he can hold the position down as a system guy until you find someone younger and better. Keenum is 32, was signed for three years and $18 million with $10 mil guaranteed. There’s nothing to complain about with this deal.
Karl Joseph seems like a good risk. Like Conklin, he’s another former high draft pick (#14) from 2016. He’s on a one-year prove-it deal.
Linebacker B.J. Goodson is a guy. We’ll see.
The Browns also traded for Andy Janovich and he’s a real football player, but he’s a fullback. His contract is a rounding error in terms of NFL salary caps. Three years and $5.7 mil with $3.22 guaranteed if you need to know. I’m not interested in him as a player as much as what the renewed focus on the fullback means for the Browns in Kevin Stefanski’s world.
In the end, all this is intriguing because the Browns are acting as a team with a bona fide starting quarterback. They’re acting like a team that has visions of competing for their division and a playoff spot. I don’t know if they can do it this year with all the changes, but if they can survive the learning curve of the early part of their schedule, they could be one of those teams that gets red hot and rips off 10 in a row. I wouldn’t predict it, but with the offensive talent on the roster, it’s certainly a possibility. It’s even moreso a possibility today after Andrew Berry’s rash of acquisitions.
That’s the best thing you can ever say about a front office. The team is better today than it was yesterday.