Welcome back to the third installment of the series. I am taking a deep dive into the Browns roster and how they can best fill the holes in their roster. Every few days I will be releasing a different position room.
For every position room, I have outlined how the NFL structures that position on the roster, taking into account variations in the Browns scheme. The players we have in four categories: starter, rotation (play some snaps), depth (injury backup/special teams), and other (likely cut). Then I will lay out the options currently on the roster, available in FA as well as via the draft for all 53 spots.
The average NFL team has 5.7 WRs on their roster. The Browns used 3 wide receiver sets on 42% of snaps during the 2020 season, the 29th highest in the league. They carried six receivers throughout the season on the roster, I would expect this to be the direction they continue to go. There is an outside chance they fall in love with a third quarterback, this would likely result in the sixth wide receiver being cut.
Wide Receiver is the most intriguing position room for the Browns in the 2021 offseason as there is a realistic chance, each of the three starters on the roster doesn’t return.
Role Of Browns Two Starting WRs
The Browns play a predominantly 2+ tight end scheme, resulting in three wide receivers being are on the field under 50% of the time. This means you already have lots of skill players operating in the short to medium area with the running back and tight ends before you look at your wide receivers.
Your two starting wide receivers need to be able to operate in the deep and deep/medium area. Any wide receiver operating in the short/medium area can only be on the field at most 45% of the time. That’s if you play them on all the 11 personnel (RB/TE/WR/WR/WR) packages. You can’t have everyone operating short/medium with only one guy deeper. It squeezes the defense, putting too much pressure on Baker.
Starting WR – Deep (Approximately 90% snaps)
Starting WR – Deep/Medium (90%)
Rotational WR – Short/Medium (33%)
Rotational WR – Deep or Deep/Medium (33%)
Depth WR – Opposite of Deep or Deep/Medium Above (10%)
Depth WR – Special Teams (0%)
Just because a player also plays in the slot they don’t need to be slower, Tyreek Hill featured in the slot against the Browns and his diagonal run has been one of his most productive this season.
Starting WR1: ?
Roster – The Browns only have one legitimate choice currently on the roster as a wide receiver one and that is Odell Beckham Jr. Unfortunately Baker Mayfield’s play while he has been on the field hasn’t been good. The turnaround in Baker coincided with the OBJ injury.
While it may not be the reason why that happened, the team could certainly look in other directions and trade away his $15.75m contract without any dead cap. Possibly getting back a day 2 pick or an expensive veteran from another team.
FA – There are three main names available in free agency that the Browns could target to fill the wide receiver one role, Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, and Chris Godwin. They are all expensive deals, likely at over $20m a year. If the Browns move on from Beckham then one of these names would give them instant star power and production in the role of wide receiver one.
Draft – In the past few years, we have seen more and more talent coming out of college at wide receiver. More impressive has been these players performing at above average expectations in that first year. They don’t need to be as dominant in year one as Chris Godwin, Terry McLaurin, AJ Brown, Brandon Aiyuk & Justin Jefferson because they allow you to over-invest in your wide receiver two until they develop. The Browns could easily draft a first-round wide receiver if they decide to move on from Beckham.
Starting WR2: ?
Roster – Jarvis Landry is the only other starting-caliber wide receiver alongside Beckham under contract for the 2021 season. He is hampered by a lack of natural athleticism, limiting him to being a short/medium route runner. As we have mentioned above this isn’t a wide receiver that fits a multiple tight end scheme. Landry needs to be playing for a team that uses a slot receiver and 11 personnel (RB/TE/WR/WR/WR) on a regular basis.
On top of this, he is paid just over $15m a year which is #1 wide receiver money despite being a three in this scheme. Based on his play and when the deal was signed he should really have been paid around $8m a year. The disparity means there is likely no workable route to a contract extension that gets him down to that number in Cleveland. Could they add his replacement this offseason and keep him one last year to add a transition, possibly.
FA – The obvious name for the Browns to fill this role is Rashard Higgins, they could give him a multi-year deal in the $4-5m range. While he doesn’t regularly land on the highlight reel he can consistently be Baker’s second option for the foreseeable future due to their incredible chemistry. If they extend him this is the role he would fill as you can’t be paying $5m a year for rotational pieces.
If they drafted a wide receiver and wanted to invest heavily in a number two then there are a few names they could go after. The headline name is Corey Davis who has had a career year during his rookie year. At $16m a year, it is risky as he could easily regress to his past level of performance and you are left paying the big bucks. Will Fuller is another option that could also fill this role alongside around one rookie.
Draft – I struggle to see the Browns using a draft pick to address this position in 2021, it is more likely a veteran in this role and they add a rookie further down the order on the roster and develop them for a starting role in 2022. But if the value is right then don’t be surprised to see Berry invest an early pick in the second most important position behind the quarterback.
Rotational WR: Donovan Peoples-Jones
Roster – Since Week 13, Peoples-Jones has shown to be a solid option behind the starters at wide receiver. Expect him to continue his development, the pressure is off with so many other pieces around him as well as Stefanski’s scheme being light on wide receiver usage, that he can get better and better each week. Other than Beckham, he is the player I view as most capable of a highlight catch within this room. While that isn’t the key thing you search for, it is nice to have.
Rotational WR: ?
Roster – KhaDarel Hodge is a restricted free agent this offseason, I would expect the team to work out a deal that keeps him around. I can’t see them using an original round tender at $2.24m a year. The more likely route is a two/three-year deal that keeps him around for a few years with a lower cap number.
FA – If the Browns were to draft a wide receiver high and extend Higgins thus clearing around $22.5 million in cap space from their current situation then don’t be surprised if they invest in a rotational wide receiver on the roster in free agency, likely on a one to two-year deal. This wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of Hodge, he could easily be kept as a depth piece who can help on both special teams and offense, meaning we are five strong at the position. The names that draw interest here are Kendrick Bourne, Isaiah McKenzie, David Moore, Josh Reynolds & Noah Brown.
Draft – If the Browns make the decision to keep either Beckham or Landry then drafting a wide receiver on Day Two of the NFL Draft should almost be considered a lock. They need to inject young talent into the room and prepare for the future. It is much better to do this a year in advance than need a player to hit the ground running in year one, especially since they may be called upon when injuries happen.
Depth WR: ?
Depth WR: ?
Roster – These two positions are very much down to how a player performs in camp and who provides the most value on special teams. The only player currently under contract next season that I think could cover this spot is Ja’Marcus Bradley. We have spoken above about Hodge already who could also fill this spot if they load up on wide receivers which would be a good idea.
FA – The way the Browns fell in love with JoJo Natson last preseason, it wouldn’t surprise me if they bring him back again on another one-year, $1 million deal.
Draft – This position is likely to see several other pieces added during the 2021 draft, either as day three picks or UDFAs. Add as much competition as possible, likely with ten receivers, and may the best two men win.
Other: Alexander Hollins, Derrick Willies, Ryan Switzer
Where this is such a diverse room regarding the number of directions the team could take here is a chart looking at the seven different routes I consider realistic.
Check back Monday for the Tight End deep dive.
Any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JackDuffin. The DMs are open for any salary cap/roster construction questions you have.