Here is the third annual installment of my Browns offseason roster deep dive. Andrew Berry has had two offseasons so far as general manager of the Browns and has done a great job of addressing his main focuses.
In 2020, he addressed the offensive line and built the best pass and run blocking unit in the league the following year. Then in 2021, his attention was on the defense, finishing number one in PFF’s coverage metrics. This offseason’s number one focus will be the passing/receiving game.
For every position room, I will outline how the NFL structures that position on the roster and how the Browns might vary from the standard based on what we have seen in 2020 & 2021.
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 trade market is nearly impossible to predict so other than touching on a few names at Quarterback I will steer away from it.
It is important to balance where the Browns front office is coming from when looking at moves. Seth Wickersham gave us a brilliant insight into their ideas when he leaked the Browns Guardrails. Also, take a look at what the Eagles are up to, Andrew Berry spent time there and is known to be a huge admirer of Eagles GM Howie Roseman.
These articles will be released weekly on Mondays and Wednesdays, position by position, check back Wednesday for the next installment.
The average NFL team has 2.5 QBs on their roster.
2020 (2) – Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
2021 (2) – Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum
I have always been a fan of a three QB strategy. Due to Berry’s time with the Eagles, he has likely picked up the benefits as we know Howie Roseman is a fan. You have one starter, one experienced backup, and then a young prospect to develop. Obviously, if you have no young promising talent, then don’t waste the roster spot, put your third quarterback on the practice squad.
Starting QB: Likely Baker Mayfield
Roster – Baker is the only quarterback currently under contract who could fill this role in 2022. Baker regressed heavily in 2021 and it wasn’t just his injury to blame, several times it was his eyes and decision-making that created the problems. I’ve said time and time again that the front office will be chasing a quarterback who is constantly a top 10 player at the positions and everything Baker has shown through three years is inconsistent.
While all the noise publicly from both sides in the media has been positive they will both be assessing their options due to Baker only having one year left and a contract that is tradeable with no dead cap. Andrew Berry has shown he will look at every opportunity to upgrade the roster. Berry and Stefanski might not want to risk their future on Baker Mayfield because a bad year in the NFL can lose anyone their jobs regardless of previous performances and promising from the ownership. Also, Baker might decide he wants to engineer a trade this offseason to another team for a fresh start. If he has a great year he can secure a contract worth $160m over 4 years, rather than potentially bridge money around the league.
I would set it at around a 75% chance that Baker is starting for the Browns in 2022 but until he signs a contract extension in Cleveland everything points to the team trading up in the first round to draft a quarterback in 2023. So don’t be surprised if they trade down this season and add an extra pick in the first or likely second round of the 2023 draft. Actions speak louder than words and this much uncertainty at the position helps no one long term.
Trade – The three big names of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson have captured people’s imagination.
Rodgers is now likely to stay in Green Bay despite their awful cap situation. Wilson I feel will move and the hyper-aggressive Saints make the most sense based on his public wishlist of teams. Watson is the interesting one, if he is cleared and nothing will happen in the trade market until that is done then several teams will come calling. His price will be high, possibly three first-rounders but Berry knows the value of top quarterback play and won’t shy away. Berry will be sniffing around every trade and free agency deal this offseason as knowing the price of moves and the market is essential, even if you don’t desperately want that particular player so expect to see us linked to lots of players.
The second tier of potential trade targets is more interesting. The Browns could decide they have to move on from Baker due to his play or their job security and Baker might decide it is time to go. They could look to trade for someone due to the questionable quarterback talent in the draft this year, that doesn’t stop them moving for someone next year.
With the Vikings moving on from their GM & HC a new setup could want to move Kirk Cousins on, he has $35m in guaranteed money for the new year so it could easily be a salary cap dump and a cheaper trade for a one year bridge.
Derek Carr is going into his final year with a new HC & likely GM which can always result in change, I feel the new leadership team will keep him but he would be the surprise move of the offseason.
Jimmy Garoppolo could force his way to free agency with his no-trade clause and secure a longer-term deal, if he is cheaper and Baker wants out, he could be a useful one-year bridge.
Atlanta doesn’t have the cap space to trade Matt Ryan before June 1st so you can more or less write off him being traded unless a team is unhappy with their situation in June and Atlanta has sorted a backup. It could be a full rebuild if Ridley is traded too.
The last name is Jalen Hurts who could force his way onto the market if the Eagles get Watson, he would be a cheap player who could step up the new two years or be a two-year bridge into a drafted rookie quarterback. This would be the smartest option if available but Howie Roseman isn’t a fool in the trade market and it could be pricy.
FA – If Baker is forcing his way out and you potentially jump on the rumored but unlikely trade of Washington offering their first-round pick then there are two names you could approach to bridge the position if the trade market is Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater.
Winston would be my favorite, he finished 12th this season in EPA+CPOE composite grade and 19th for PFF. Most of the Tampa turnovers were on 3rd and long, he isn’t perfect and you don’t expect that from a free agent quarterback who could make less than $10 million but he is serviceable with high upside.
Bridgewater is completely uninspiring but has finished 21st, 29th, and 19th the last three years in PFF rankings so he could get you out of a hole. I can’t see this route playing out but I wanted to touch on it.
Depth QB: Likely Free Agent
Roster – Keenum will be cut before the 21st of March as he is due a $1 million roster bonus then. On top of that, he has a $5.5 million base salary which the team won’t want to pay so Week 18 was his final game in Cleveland. He is an example of why I would rather avoid paying big money to backup quarterbacks if you feel good about your starter.
Nick Mullens is out of contract but has a chance to be extended if the Browns make a splash and trade for a quarterback. They will want a cheap serviceable backup and he fits that category. If Baker stays as the starting quarterback then they will want a backup with more experience who can push him so Mullens will move on.
Trade – If Baker stays as your starter then one potential name to call about is Jordan Love. The Packers will likely want to keep him as he is a cheap back up and they are in cap hell but it might be a term of Rodgers staying. He is worth a punt as there must be something there so see what he has got as a low-risk gamble. (Kudos to Iain Wright for putting me onto this one)
FA – As above, you could make a run at Winston but he might choose to go to a team with a better chance of starting him if multiple offers are on the table. Marcus Mariota has played a total of 89 snaps the last two seasons and attempted 30 passes, hardly a player set to challenge Baker in 2022. The other name getting the most attention is Mitchell Trubisky who despite underperforming with the Bears was hampered by awful coaching, after a short stint in Buffalo, a one-year deal could be worth a flier as he has more upside than Keenum.
If you can’t get one of these backups with slightly more upside you are looking at a journeyman in the free agency market. The legendary Ryan Fitzpatrick or Andy Dalton or Cam Newton who Berry has enquired about before or another underwhelming name.
Depth QB: ?
Draft – Having seen the successful transition the Eagles were able to make between Wentz and Hurts the Browns could try the same formula. Take a quarterback in rounds 2-4 this year and develop him behind Baker and another veteran. Then next season he can either be a cheap backup at worst or a low-end starter at best. It is a low-risk approach that opens up as many possibilities for the Browns as possible considering they don’t know who their quarterback is in 2023.
Check back Wednesday for the Running Back/Fullback 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.