The Cleveland Browns’ 2021 season was a disaster. From Baker Mayfield’s injuries/illness/terrible play to Odell Beckham Jr.’s locker room sabotage to three one-score losses in four games, while the playoffs were still a reality, the Browns had nothing go their way. Kevin Stefanski is a good coach, but he didn’t have a good year. Still, the nucleus of this team is strong, and general manager Andrew Berry has the cap space and draft picks to address the Browns’ pending free agents and team needs.
Cleveland Browns 2022 Offseason Preview
Is Mayfield the franchise’s future? He will need 2022 to go far better than 2021 for that to be even a remote possibility. Mayfield missed time with COVID-19 plus shoulder and knee injuries. And even when he played, he probably shouldn’t have. Mayfield took a big step back after a solid 2020. And he did so at the worst possible time. He has one year left on his existing deal, and there’s no chance he gets anything close to the payday the Bills gave Josh Allen any time soon.
The Browns do not have to make a decision with Mayfield this offseason. They have another year to evaluate him and they need to make full use of it. It could backfire horribly if he has a huge year and improves his value a lot — think about Joe Flacco’s Super Bowl-winning year and shudder. However, signing Mayfield long term based on what we have just seen is arguably a greater risk.
The Browns have a roster good enough to compete at a high level. They just lacked a star quarterback to make the throws that were there in 2021. Mayfield probably will get one more year to make things right because this is a bad quarterback draft, and it’s hard to envision Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Deshaun Watson forcing their way to Northeast Ohio.
If the Browns decide they are happy riding Mayfield’s fifth year, they have to spend this year adding even more around him. They need to address their receivers and certain elements of their defense in the hope that if Mayfield improves, they are right there with a team ready to win.
Browns have $36.4 million in projected cap space
Source: Spotrac (as of Jan. 9)
The Browns’ cap space is, on the surface, modest. They have a number of needs to address but many of them can be addressed at a reasonable cost in terms of cap space. Given they will likely give Mayfield another year to prove himself, that takes out a major expense this offseason.
However, they do have flexibility. They could free up over $30 million more with just a handful of targeted cuts. The largest of those would be WR Jarvis Landry, who would clear $15.1 million in cap space if released. Plus, Mayfield ($18.9 million) and cornerback Denzel Ward ($13.3 million) are on their fifth-year options, and it wouldn’t totally be out of the question for either (or both) to be traded.
Browns’ pending free agents
Cleveland has just 11 unrestricted free agents, but the list features some pretty big names. The decision around Jadeveon Clowney is all going to come down to his asking price. If he wants a long-term, big-money deal, they have to look to move on and see what options lie elsewhere at the position. The decision with TE David Njoku is more clear-cut. He has failed to achieve on that potential and outside of a one-year, prove-it deal, there is no benefit to committing to him this offseason.
The Browns’ other UFAs: OT Chris Hubbard; DE Takkarist McKinley; DT Malik Jackson; LBs Malcolm Smith and Anthony Walker Jr.; WR Rashard Higgins; CB M.J. Stewart; P Dustin Colquitt; and S Ronnie Harrison. There are some interesting veterans there, especially Jackson, but none of those players are high-priority free agents this offseason.
How do the Browns’ free agents rank among the best available in 2022? Be sure out our list of top free agents available at each position to find out.
Browns’ team needs
You cannot totally disassociate Mayfield’s struggles with the talent around him. Once the Browns decided to cut Beckham, their wide receiver room became very, very thin. Landry was hurt much of the year, and even when he was available, he wasn’t particularly effective. He set career-lows in targets, catches, and receiving yards. The Browns desperately need someone who can stretch the field.
Assuming Clowney does leave, a pass rusher is certainly an area to target. They need someone who has the talent to capitalize on the attention opposing offenses give to Garrett on the other side. They also need to look at upgrading down the middle of the defense. Defensive tackle, linebacker, and safety are all positions they could look for an influx of talent this offseason.
Browns’ top five needs in the 2022 NFL offseason
- Wide receiver
- Edge defender
Browns’ 2022 NFL Draft picks
The Browns have a slightly above-average draft haul in 2022, thanks to a 2021 NFL Draft weekend trade with the Lions. Cleveland traded out of the fourth round last May, and as part of its compensation, got Detroit’s fourth-rounder this spring.
Here’s how the Rams’ 2022 NFL Draft picks currently stand according to the draft order:
- Round 1
- Round 2
- Round 3
- Round 4 x 2 (from DET)
- Round 5
- Round 6
- Round 7 (from DET)