This off-season, the Cleveland Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam has been preaching “alignment.” It has been quite the buzzword as the Browns have gone through another head coaching search and general manager search.
Ultimately, the Browns chose to hire Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to be the team’s head coach and Philadelphia Eagles’ Vice President of Football Operations Andrew Berry, one season removed from being the Browns’ Vice President of Player Personnel.
Last off-season as the Browns were going through a coaching search, yes this seems like a yearly tradition, Andrew Berry was heavily involved in the coaching search along with Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta. Reportedly, their process led them to Stefanski but were overruled by former Browns general manager John Dorsey.
When both Freddie Kitchens and John Dorsey were let go at the end of the season, Haslam spoke about aligning the front office and coaching staff and seeing their processes through this time around.
“It goes back to that alignment and making sure that people are properly aligned and everybody is heading towards the same goal and vision … Listen, there are no guarantees – you know that – but hopefully, we will have learned from our past mistakes and do a much better job,” Jimmy Haslam said in a press conference January 2nd.
He’s right. There is no guarantee that they got it right this time. But for the first time as owner of the Browns, Haslam has appeared to put his ego out of the way and allow the process to run its course.
Haslam could have been easily tempted to allow Josh McDaniels to come into the organization and completely re-haul everything. He did not do that.
There are signs that it is different this time around. Both Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski have five year contracts. The Browns have not had a coach or general manager reach a second contract since their reincarnation in 1999. If they want to change that, there are many areas that this new front office and coaching staff need to address.
Protecting the Franchise Quarterback
There is no question that Baker Mayfield struggled last season. While the failed scheme of Freddie Kitchens was part of it, the Browns’ offensive line played poorly, especially the two tackles: Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard.
Greg Robinson is a free agent after restructuring his deal last off-season and the Browns are likely to move on from Chris Hubbard. He will carry a $2.4-million dead cap hit if the Browns release or trade him before June 1st.
Berry and Stefanski have to work together to find a solution to protect the Browns’ franchise quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
Where will the solution come from?
Signing an offensive tackle in free agency will be costly, especially if you are looking for a proven one. Longtime left tackles Andrew Whitworth and Jason Peters are free agents but both are 38-years-old. Colts’ left tackle Anthony Castonzo is younger at 32, but reports are he is contemplating retiring. In terms of starting quality, that could leave New York Jets left tackle Kelvin Beachum as the only free agent option, but he’s questionable at best. According to Pro Football Focus, Beachum only allowed four sacks this season. He missed three games due to injury.
Now for the right side, there are more viable options in free agency for right tackle. Bryan Bulaga, Jack Conklin and Germain Ifedi are all options but with the Browns salary cap situation starting to approach, the draft might be a better route to go.
The Browns have four picks in the top 90 and two of those selections could most certainly be offensive tackles.
Louisville OT Mekhi Becton and Iowa OT Tristan Wirfs have been the hot names in terms of prospects. While the offensive tackle position is a deep one in the draft, going into the 2020 season with two starting rookie tackles could be a problem.
This will not be an easy decision for Berry and Stefanski but it is the biggest obstacle they need to overcome this off-season.
The Scho Must Go On
Browns linebacker Joe Schobert is a free agent this off-season and his communication with former general manager John Dorsey was certainly lacking. Now it is a positive sign for Browns fans who want Schobert to come back that Berry has returned to the organization.
Berry was part of the scouting staff that found Joe Schobert in the 2016 NFL Draft as a fourth round selection. While rookie linebacker Mack Wilson was average, there is no question that Schobert was the leader of the defense last season with Christian Kirksey sidelined.
Schobert’s ability in pass coverage is what makes him valuable as a linebacker and in today’s NFL with heavy passing and nickel schemes, Schobert has a lot of opportunity in that area to excel. With Kirskey likely being a cap casualty this off-season, the Browns have to keep their defensive leadership in the form of Schobert.
Finding Veteran Leadership
The Browns were one of the most undisciplined teams in the 2019 season that was summed up by Myles Garrett indefinite suspension for his role in the fight with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.
This Browns team needs veterans to take that next step towards the playoffs. Entering the 2019 season, the Browns were tied with Tampa Bay for the second youngest roster in the NFL.
The expectations for the 2019 were sky-high. But the lack of discipline from the team’s rookie head coach and young roster quickly turned a positive outlook on the season into a nightmare. Something has to be done this time around in terms of leadership in the locker room, veterans will help that.