In our pandemic-induced sports-free state, NFL free agency seems more important than ever. It’s good to focus on something that points to life beyond the Coronavirus. While all high-fives are virtual for the moment, it is still good to talk (or argue) about who is going where and why it matters.
We aren’t done yet, and I’m eager to see what the other recent acquisitions will do for the team. So far, I am happy with the Cleveland Browns free agency additions. Here are my top five moves up to this point.
1. Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle
Now as much as I wanted to put Austin Hooper at the top of this list, the tight end position wasn’t a HUGE need for the Browns. While acquiring Hooper’s services will undoubtedly help the Browns offense, the addition of Jack Conklin will arguably help even more.
One of the biggest problems for the Browns uber hyped offense in 2019 was the offensive line, it doesn’t matter how open OBJ or Jarvis ‘Juice’ Landry is if Baker is lying on his back. Conklin was the best tackle available in this free agency class, signing from the Tennessee Titans Conklin blocked on the outside for one of the most dominant runners in the league in Derrick Henry. He was able to help Henry run the Titans into the AFC Championship game.
With so many options for Browns at the running back position going into 2020, the Browns and Browns fans should be very excited to see Conklin take the field. Whether it be blocking for Baker, Nick Chubb, or Kareem Hunt, Conklin is going to make an impact on the offensive line for the Browns in 2020. Conklin signed with the Browns for three years for a contract worth $42 Million (with $30 Million Guaranteed) so Browns fans can expect Conklin to be setting the edge for the foreseeable future.
The Browns made Austin Hooper the highest-paid tight end in the league when he signed with the Browns for four years with a contract worth $44 Million with $23 Million guaranteed. With his signing the Browns add another big target for Baker Mayfield. Considering how new head coach Kevin Stefanski liked to use Kyle Rudolph when he was an offensive coach in Minnesota; it looks like Hooper got his cake and can eat it too–his big-money deal and his presumed spot as the starter.
However, the start isn’t necessarily a lock but seems likely in light of Hooper’s payday. The Browns still have some talent waiting for Hooper in the tight end room. Notably, the former first-round pick, David Njoku who only was able to play four games last season due to a wrist injury. Will the other young players like Ricky Seals-Jones, Stephen Carlson and Pharaoh Brown create competition at the tight end spot this season for the Browns? That seems iffy, at best. Hooper comes in as a former two-time Pro Bowler (2018, 2019) and is coming off a season where he totaled 75 catches for 787 yards with six touchdowns. While he did miss three games with a sprained MCL Hooper is ready to go for the Browns in 2020 and Browns fans should be excited to see what Hooper can add to the Browns already high-powered offense this coming season.
Baker Mayfield had a rough season last year; I don’t think anyone will argue that. With the signing of Jack Conklin and Austin Hooper, I expect Mayfield to bounce back to his rookie ways and prove that his tough 2019 was merely a sophomore slump. However, the Browns signing of journeyman QB Case Keenum was a wise move.
Keenum brings starting experience to Cleveland. He’s started 75 games in his career with a multitude of teams including the Texans, Rams, Texans again, Rams again, Vikings, Broncos and most recently the Redskins. He’s 32 years old and can bring some valuable knowledge to the young Baker Mayfield. With more or less the same build as Mayfield (Both 6’1, roughly 215 lbs) I believe Keenum will be able to help Mayfield in ways that other veteran QB’s might not be able to.
I think Keenum joining the Browns bench adds a safety net at the quarterback position. Because, if something happens to Baker (knocks on every piece of wood in Cleveland) Keenum could step in as a steady veteran presence under center. Do I predict a quarterback controversy like some other voices around Cleveland? No, I do not.
The Browns need a safety, with Damarious Randall (at the time of writing) still a Free Agent and the only other true safeties on the roster being undrafted free agent J.T. Hassell and 2019 fourth round pick Sheldrick Redwine, signing Karl Joseph was a good move. Joseph, if nothing else, can share his experience with the young backs like Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Redwine.
Joseph is a valuable addition on the field as well, while he has been somewhat injury-prone since entering the league (he is yet to complete a full season healthy) Joseph has had the numbers in the past to prove worthy of his one year deal with the Browns.
Joseph’s best season was with the Raiders in 2017. He had 79 tackles (58 solo), a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. When he’s healthy Joseph can ball, it’s a matter of staying on the field. The Browns signing him to a one-year deal seems like a low-risk move by new GM Andrew Berry. Especially for a former 2015 first-round pick who still should have some gas left in the tank.
Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are the future of the Browns at the cornerback position, but you still need a good third man in the slot sometimes covering the speediest receivers on the field. The Browns filled that need by signing Kevin Johnson to a one-year deal. This appears to be (like the Karl Joseph signing) GM Andrew Berry banking on a former first-round pick to have some gas left in the tank.
Initially drafted by the Texans in 2015, he played in Houston until 2018. Johnson signed with the Bills, playing in all 16 games for Buffalo while starting one. He racked up 36 tackles and a sack in his time in Buffalo. He adds depth to the Browns cornerbacks and adds a solid potential slot corner onto the Browns defense.
There’s still plenty of free agency left. And here in Ohio, we are under a ‘stay at home order.’ Bring on some exciting moves, fellas. Marble racing isn’t as thrilling as it was last week.