The season is officially over but there’s no doubt that the future is certainly looking bright for the Cleveland Browns.
In the wake of the team’s 22-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round, there’s a message already being sent by the leaders and members of the core on the roster.
“We Will Be Back”
Baker Mayfield stated it in his postgame press conference and players such as Jarvis Landry and Jedrick Wills tweeted it out following the loss and they know just as the rest of the NFL found out down the stretch and during the playoffs: the Cleveland Browns are back and they aren’t going anywhere.
One of the youngest rosters in the NFL accompanied with one of the youngest head coaches and the youngest general manager have established a culture during the last twelve months and set the tone for what the organization is expected to be for at least the next several seasons. A playoff and eventual Super Bowl contender.
Sure there was skepticism a year ago when the Browns pegged Stefanski to be the head coach in the wake of the failed Freddie Kitchens experiment and bringing Andrew Berry back to the organization after John Dorsey departed after not being aligned with Paul DePodesta’s plan for the Browns.
Of course there was doubt that Baker Mayfield could be the franchise quarterback after a struggling sophomore season. The team did their part with putting him in an offense that was tailored to his skillset and upgrading the offensive line by drafting Wills and signing Jack Conklin along with hiring Bill Callahan whose track record spoke for himself.
Mayfield struggled early on but from Week 7 on, things started to click and the former first overall pick finally started playing like the franchise quarterback everyone expected him to be and was one of the best quarterbacks in the league from that Cincinnati matchup all the way through Sunday.
The Browns finally have their franchise quarterback and the pieces surrounding him have Mayfield set up to finally start entering that upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. Expect the organization to reward him this offseason with a contract extension much like his 2018 classmates Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are also expected to get.
With the offense being set for the immediate future, all eyes will be on how Andrew Berry will look to upgrade the defense this offseason because outside of Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, that side of the ball needs more talent injected.
All three levels will be undergoing changes with pending free agents such as Larry Ogunjobi, Terrence Mitchell, BJ Goodson, Oliver Vernon among others along with potential roster cuts such as Sheldon Richardson.
The secondary outside of Ward and the returning Grant Delpit will be the biggest area to watch because defensive coordinator Joe Woods likes to run five, even six defensive backs on the field and Woods just didn’t get to fully utilize the scheme the way he wanted because of injuries throughout the season.
The hope would be that both Delpit and Greedy Williams returning from injury would help the secondary but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Browns target both cornerback and safety in free agency as well as the NFL Draft. Ronnie Harrison was a solid addition but there should be concerns given the injuries throughout the season.
People can look now and say “The Browns have cap space” but there are looming extensions of Mayfield, Ward, as well as Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller so that cap space is going to dry up. Cleveland could look to ask Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry along with Joel Bitonio and JC Tretter to restructure to keep the core together as long as possible.
Surely this is something DePodesta and Berry have discussed and worked on several different scenarios in preparation for this offseason which will be another big one.
The upside is that teams will be making difficult roster decisions across the league because of the expected salary cap drop because of the pandemic and lost revenue due to lack of attendance. Cleveland could be in a position to get solid players on cheap deals because players would want to come join a rising franchise that has already proven to be a tough playoff team the way they did this season.
The Browns are back folks, and they certainly won’t be going away anytime soon.