Day one to the 2020 NFL Free Agency “Legal Tampering” Period shot off like a rocket with millions and millions of dollars being spent by teams in hopes of improving their rosters with the goal to win a Super Bowl.
The Cleveland Browns were no different signing three free agents on Monday.
– TE Austin Hooper: 4yrs/$42-million ($23-million guaranteed)
– OT Jack Conklin: 3yrs/$42-million ($20-million guaranteed)
– QB Case Keenum: 3yrs/$18-million ($10-million guaranteed)
New Browns general manager Andrew Berry did a fantastic job on Monday addressing some of the Browns’ positional needs in free agency while not breaking the bank on any one player.
Browns Add Another Weapon on Offense
Signing Hooper gives the Browns a dynamic tight end that new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski can pair with David Njoku, Pharaoh Brown or Stephen Carlson. With the Vikings last year, Stefanski deployed two tight ends in 55% of their total plays.
Drafted in the third round in the 2016 NFL Draft, Hooper has had two consecutive pro bowl seasons in 2018 and 2019 bringing in 146 catches for 1,447 yards (9.9 avg) and 10 touchdowns.
At this point, the tight end room seems complete but the decision still looms for Andrew Berry on whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option David Njoku.
Conklin Fills One Tackle Spot
Jack Conklin is the most important signing the Browns made on Monday. Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard were both not good last season and it was clear the Browns were looking to improve those positions this off-season.
Conklin, 25, was First-Team All-Pro as a rookie in 2016 but things have been rocky for the former 8th overall pick since then. In the divisional round in 2017, Conklin tore his ACL against the New England Patriots causing him to miss the first three games in 2018. Injuries plagued him the rest of the year allowing him to only play in nine games.
Due to the uncertainty of Conklin’s injuries, the Tennessee Titans decided to decline Conklin’s fifth-year option on his rookie contract making him a free agent after 2019. Conklin was able to recapture some of his form and had a good season helping the Titans make it to the AFC Championship Game.
The Browns have now filled one of their needs at offensive tackle with Conklin and will likely look to the draft to fill the other tackle position. Kendall Lamm will be the swing tackle for the Browns behind Conklin and whoever else they acquire.
The Browns signing Conklin should not prevent them from adding two more tackles to the mix, especially with his injury history.
After this signing, the Browns will probably be moving on from Chris Hubbard sooner rather than later.
Baker Gets a Veteran Backup
Baker Mayfield gets a veteran back-up behind him with the signing of Case Keenum. Stefanski was Keenum’s quarterback coach in Minnesota when Keenum started 14 games for the Vikings with an 11-3 record. They got to the NFC Championship Game and lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.
With Stefanski being Baker’s third full time head coach in three seasons, Keenum will bring a much needed veteran presence to the quarterback room.
The Browns did pay Keenum $18-million ($10-million guaranteed) over three years to be the backup which pushes the QB room cap hit to roughly $15-million this season and $16-million next season. While the Browns will have more quarterbacks in for camp, they will likely carry only Mayfield and Keenum the active roster this fall.
The Browns still have decisions to make on players such as Chris Hubbard and Olivier Vernon. Releasing both of them will save them approximately $20-million in cap space.
The Browns have to decide if they want to keep LB Joe Schobert and WR Rashard Higgins who both officially hit free agency after the tag deadline passed. In my opinion, it is more likely for Higgins to return to the Browns than Joe Schobert.
There are no starting quality left tackles in free agency so the Browns will have to look either trades (unlikely) or the draft to fill that position.
The Browns’ secondary needs an injection of talent after the departure of Eric Murray and Justin Burris. Damarious Randall, T.J. Carrie and Morgan Burnett are all free agents as well. The only safeties on the roster at the moment are Sheldrick Redwine, J.T. Hassell and Montrel Meander.
The Vikings decided to use the franchise tag on S Anthony Harris so unless the Browns want to trade for him, he is no longer a free agent. Tre Boston, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Vonn Bell and Karl Joseph are all options in free agency at safety.