What Jackson’s Thinking: As The Combine Opens…….

As the NFL world flocks to Indianapolis this week for the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, the Cleveland Browns have made and will be looking towards making some key roster decisions as we’re close to two weeks away from the start of the 2022-23 League Year.

The Browns will be continuing the process of evaluating the 2022 NFL Draft prospects by getting to know them in their individual interviews while also watching them in their on-field drills at Lucas Oil Stadium.

They’ll also begin to lay the groundwork for potential free agent signings and trades as they meet with agents and other executives from around the NFL where this is usually the unofficial start to the new league year.

The Browns have been in the news this recent week so let’s get into it and share some thoughts on the recent news coming out of Berea.

Jarvis Landry

It was very apparent heading into the offseason that the Cleveland Browns were going to make a decision on wide receiver Jarvis Landry who is slated to make $16.3 million for the 2022 season.

Landry wrote a series of tweets talking about last season and how he dealt with injuries but stayed silent to get ready to play every game. Landry also stated that he’s told the Browns he would like to stay and the “ball is in their court”.

Landry’s representatives at Klutch Sports and the Browns are scheduled to meet this week according to a report and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Browns ask Landry to rework the final year of his deal and perhaps take a pay cut.

While Landry wants to be in Cleveland, he also probably wants to stay at his current salary and if the Browns ask him to take a pay cut, it’s more likely he asks the Browns to release him which wouldn’t be a surprise because if his best friend Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t like the situation with Baker Mayfield, it could mean that Landry might want to seek a new home also.

There’s no doubt that Landry was a huge part of the culture change when the Browns traded for him four years ago and while yes, he’s never lived up to the contract but no one should have ever expected him to play like an elite receiver because he was never an elite receiver in Miami but the Browns were put in a corner when the Dolphins franchised him prior to trading him to Cleveland.

He was a solid receiver and still is despite dealing with injuries the last several seasons and will land somewhere if he becomes a free agent. It’ll be interesting to see what teams would be willing to pay him and if he would take less to go to a serious Super Bowl contender.

Jack Conklin’s Future Becomes Somewhat Clearer

Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Jack Conklin (78) plays against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Many were wondering what Browns starting right tackle Jack Conklin’s future with the team would be following his season-ending patella injury against Baltimore last November but in a move that came out of nowhere, his status for 2022 became clearer.

The Browns and Conklin agreed to rework the final year of his contract on Saturday which guaranteed money for Conklin and cleared some additional cap space for Cleveland.

Conklin is entering the final year of his three-year, $42 million deal he signed with Cleveland back in 2020 after spending his first four seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

After earning First-Team All-Pro honors in 2020, Conklin dealt with injuries throughout the 2021 season including the season-ending knee injury.

If Conklin can be ready for the 2022 season and stay healthy, it’s a great scenario for the Browns who are expected to return the majority of the offensive line with center JC Tretter’s future still in the air. It also buys more time for the development of 2021 draft pick James Hudson who started down the stretch after Conklin’s injury.

Njoku Likely Staying with the Browns?

It’s looking more and more likely that the veteran tight end and 2017 first-round pick will be back with the Cleveland Browns as free agency approaches.

Cleveland.com reported on Sunday that the team is willing to pay David Njoku “double-digit millions” to keep him in Cleveland.

This became more apparent to me late last week when the Carolina Panthers signed Ian Thomas to a three-year extension worth $16.5 million dollars. Thomas has spent four seasons in the league with 802 receiving yards and four touchdowns. This seems like a major overpay and made me believe the tight end market is exploding.

If Thomas is averaging $5.8 million per season and he hasn’t eclipsed more than 350 yards in a season, Njoku was and is going to command serious money if he hits free agency.

Cleveland and Njoku are likely going to keep negotiating over the next week but if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, I fully believe the Browns will use the franchise tag ($10,834,000) on Njoku and continue to explore a long-term deal during the offseason.

This would also mark the end of Austin Hooper’s tenure with the Browns and I believe the Browns will designate him with a post-June 1 release which will keep him on the books until after June 1 but allow him to enter free agency and find a new home. The Browns would then likely find another tight end via free agency or the draft to accompany Njoku and Harrison Bryant in the tight end room.

The QB Position

Entering the offseason, there was a lot of hype and smoke that the quarterback position would get shaken up across the NFL and that the Cleveland Browns could potentially upgrade from Baker Mayfield.

As we enter combine week, it would appear that the talk was just that: hype and smoke.

While the world waits on Aaron Rodgers’ decision on whether he’ll stay or go, the rest of the rumored movement has seemed to die down. Russell Wilson has shown no signs of forcing his way out of Seattle, Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins seem to be staying with Las Vegas and Minnesota respectively, and will likely be getting contract extensions this offseason while Deshaun Watson’s legal matters still looming, that decision won’t be materializing anytime soon.

So Cleveland will likely be bringing Baker Mayfield back as the starter for the 2022 season barring something unforeseen in free agency or the draft. The question now looms on who Mayfield’s backup will be for the 2022 season. Case Keenum is due a $1 million roster bonus on March 21st and is scheduled to have an $8.43 million cap hit for the 2022 season.

Nick Mullens is a unrestricted free agent and could be a cheaper option to be the backup quarterback unless the Browns want to bring in serious competition for Mayfield such as Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, or Ryan Fitzpatrick among others. Reports have suggested the Browns will explore all options at quarterback but it remains to be seen if the options are indeed legitimate.

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