This isn’t me supporting or backing Watson, quite frankly I would rather he isn’t on the Browns based on what he is alleged to have done. I didn’t want Kareem Hunt either if anyone wants to check back on what I said at the time of that signing. But I genuinely enjoy writing about the NFL offseason and the roster moves teams can make and how different scenarios play out, so I have decided to look at what a trade to the Browns would look like, how they would treat free agency and then the draft.
Watson has apparently made it know he is looking for a team with a good offensive line, head coach and defence, three things the Browns certainly have. Any team is going to need to offer three first-round picks plus players, so a potentially deal could be:
What About Baker?
I think Houston want to give Davis Mills a shot at being their starting quarterback in 2022 and then if he doesn’t work out they should be in the top couple of picks in 2023 and able to grab the quarterback they want in a better draft. Adding Baker increases that floor and means they might not be in that position. Plus teams tend to overvalue what they have and I think they do that with Mills, despite him ending the year on a positive final few games.
Baker then gets traded to one of the desperate teams around the league like Carolina, Seattle or Indianapolis. We saw how much Washington were willing to give up for Wentz who isn’t as good as Baker so there would certainly be a market there. Let’s say it is Seattle that trades for Baker, the Browns get back:
The Watson Contract
A team trading for Watson would be taking on a 4 year, $136m deal, which is cheap when you compare it to Dak’s $160m/4 and Rodgers reported $200m/4. He no doubt gets suspended for about 6 games which would bring that down slightly and voids off his guarantees. The cap hits by year would be $35m, $37m, $32m & $32m. By converting base salary to signing bonus they can get the year one number down below $10m and even lower by adding void years as they have done in other deals.
Browns Salary Cap Position Pre Free Agency
We need to look at where the team would be at financially before we start spending money on players, after giving Johnson the tender today they would be at $16.2m of remaining cap space. They need $3.1m net to sign their rookie class after the trade of picks so let’s take that out now, leaving $13.1m remaining. Adding Watson’s deal at say $9.1m bring it down to $4m remaining before we free up some space. Here are some moves:
With these moves the Browns add another $78.1m in cap space, this gives them a total of $82m to work in free agency. Teams will want to have roughly $5m set aside for in-season moves because of injury etc so we are looking at over $75m if they want to be aggressive. They could also complete a Njoku extension and get his $10.9m cap hit down to $4.5m by backloading his deal too but I haven’t added that yet.
Let’s look a the roster before free agency to get an idea of where we are at:
Trading for Watson would create a massive buzz around the league and benefit the Browns in their free agency arms race because players would want to sign for a team seen as all in and ready to compete now, even in a loaded AFC. They would instantly be favourites to win the division. I expect a Watson trade before free agency kicks off, so just the next two days is a realistic timeframe. I am just going to go through the spots listed above one by one in the order they are, this isn’t important. I will likely spend over the $75m set aside for free agency but since the deals are backloaded with low year one cap hits, this would be perfectly fine.
QB2 – Nick Mullens, $2m/1 to be Watson’s backup. Knows the system and can fill in first 6 games as Watson is likely suspended.
WR1 – Allen Robinson, $52.5m/3 as we need a top receiver and would have promised moves in the trade negotiations to waive his no trade clause. It would be two years guaranteed so if it doesn’t work out it would be okay.
WR2 – Russell Gage, $34m/4 a second great option because without pick 13 we are going to rely on free agents to begin the season as rookies will need some time to develop.
TE2 – OJ Howard, $4m/1 grab a second super athletic tight end. Players will know Watson is going to air it out and we will see more passing so where Howard doesn’t get a chance to start he joins a team where TE2 has a real opportunity share.
OT3 – Cornelius Lucas, $3m/1 the team promised a great offensive line to Watson and make sure they have solid depth pieces encase of an injury so grab the best swing tackle on the market just encase Hudson’s development in camp isn’t as good as hoped.
ED2 – Trey Flowers, $8m/1 after being cut by Detroit Flowers sees Clowney cash in after one year opposite Myles Garrett and decides that is the best place for him to raise his stock.
ED3 – Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, $3m/1 a depth piece with high upside pass rushing ability. Gives them rotation and injury protection on Flowers. Filling the McKinley role from last season.
ED5 – Joe Jackson, $1m/1 nothing guaranteed on this deal but bring him back for camp as they seem to love having him around.
DT1 – Tim Settle, $4.5m/1 the Browns plan to be leading in most games so adding a pass-rushing DT to get after the quarterback is important.
DT2 – Taven Bryan, $2.5m/1 a former first-round pick who can come in and get starting time on a team to challenge for a ring after four years in Jacksonville.
DT3 – Sheldon Day, $1m/1 had a solid year with the Browns last year and is invited back for camp.
MLB2 – Josh Bynes, $2m/1 the Browns need insurance if Phillips gets hurt so having someone with AFC North experience gives them depth for Woods to play with.
LB6 – Elijah Lee, $1m/1 a special team on a non-guaranteed contract to come back for camp and fight for a spot. Special teams can be the difference and he always plays well on that unit. Much cheaper than the $2.5m they would need to pay Mack Wilson for 2022.
CB1 – JC Jackson, $80m/4 the Browns can instantly replace Ward with Jackson. A player that has played at a near identical level the last three years to Ward. A perfect tandem to Newsome.
FS1 – Marcus Maye, $6m/1 a prove-it deal with PFF’s number one secondary in 2021, he can come and thrive for one year before being extended instead of John Johnson or cash in elsewhere in 2023. He will allow JJ3 and Delpit to move nearer the line of scrimmage.
We are talking about $84m across 15 players so easily affordable based on the salary cap space for the team. Here is the roster pre the NFL Draft:
We head into the draft with needs on the roster filled which is something Andrew Berry has always preached, this means despite missing pick 13 we aren’t desperate for any particular players.
Pick 40 – ED Drake Jackson
Pick 44 – WR George Pickens
Pick 78 – LB Leo Chenal
Pick 98 – S Kerby Joseph
Pick 105 – C Dohnovan West
Pick 116 – ED Alex Wright
Pick 154 – RB Zonovan Knight
Pick 191 – TE Daniel Bellinger
Pick 220 – CB Chris Steele
Post draft and into camp here is how the roster shakes out:
That roster is loaded with talent to compete to win a Super Bowl in 2022 but also set up with lots of young high upside talent that can allow the Browns to compete for years to come. The rookies are all backing up veterans that they can replace in a years time if need be, smart and well run teams draft a year in advance.
Any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JackDuffin. The DMs are open for any salary cap/roster construction questions you have.