After weeks of rumors (some credible, some otherwise), the Cleveland Browns actually traded for New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. All it cost Cleveland was the 17th and 95th overall picks in the 2019 NFL Draft and strong safety Jabrill Peppers.
It’s a fantastic trade for the Browns, and instantly makes them the favorites to win the AFC North. But Cleveland shouldn’t be content with just taking the division; this team has the talent to do much more.
Offensively, the potential is obvious. Quarterback Baker Mayfield set the NFL rookie record for touchdown passes with 27 in just 13.5 games. He was sensational in his first season, and rookie QBs tend to improve as they gain experience. Imagine, for a moment, that Mayfield improves anywhere close to as much as the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz did from year one to year two. He was arguably a top-15 QB for the second half of 2018, and now has a significantly better team around him.
The offensive line protecting Mayfield will be slightly different. Greg Robinson is back, as are Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter, and Chris Hubbard, at least for now. Kevin Zeitler, Pro Football Focus’s top pass-blocking guard, was traded to the New York Giants, and will be replaced by 2018 33rd overall pick Austin Corbett, who the front office is high on.
The Browns gave up a total of nine QB hits over the last eight games; for reference, the Indianapolis Colts gave up the second-fewest in that span, with 29. It’s unlikely that level of elite play continues, but head coach Freddie Kitchens has more than enough toys to be able to keep Mayfield upright.
At running back, the Browns boast Nick Chubb, who finished with 996 rushing yards last year despite starting only 10 games. They also signed former Kansas City Chief Kareem Hunt, one of the top five backs in the league. And don’t forget pass-catching threat Duke Johnson, who has been criminally underused for his entire career.
At receiver, Beckham gives Cleveland a true #1 option. In a vacuum, this is excellent. To make things even better, the Browns’ stable of receivers have now improved immensely, especially Jarvis Landry, who will benefit from Beckham drawing the defense’s attention. Add in possession receiver Rashard Higgins, deep threat Antonio Callaway, and tight end David Njoku, and Cleveland has a serious argument for the best skill players in the NFL.
On defense, the Browns have already gotten a lot better, although they still have a few holes to fill. Zeitler was traded for pass-rusher Olivier Vernon, who will combine with Myles Garrett to give Cleveland a terrifying edge rush. Inside, Larry Ogunjobi has a new partner in Sheldon Richardson, making the defensive line one of the best in football.
Joe Schobert is one of the best coverage linebackers in the game, and Christian Kirksey should return to form under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. After the release of Jamie Collins, Cleveland needs one more starting linebacker, although they have plenty of time to find one.
Denzel Ward is a great young corner and Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie are good depth players; a big, physical DB is needed, like Vanderbilt’s JoeJuan Williams. Damarious Randall is one of the better free safeties in the league, but needs a new partner with the departure of Peppers.
All this, and the Browns aren’t done yet. They still have over $50 million in cap space, and eight picks in the draft, including their second and third-rounders. Beckham may be the biggest move Cleveland makes this year, but he won’t be the last.
The Chiefs are expected to be serious contenders to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but their defense was terrible last year, and they have now lost three of their best four defenders, with the possibility of four of their last five leaving; Dee Ford, Justin Houston, and Steven Nelson have already moved on, with Eric Berry possibly being released. Yes, they have added Tyrann Mathieu, but they won’t be able to stop Cleveland’s offense. No one will.