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Two Minute Warning: How much do we believe in the 2019 Cleveland Browns?

Browns
Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA Today

Yes, Cleveland. The same Cleveland Browns that two seasons ago went 0-16. The same Cleveland that has struggled to produce any legitimate first-round talent. The same Cleveland that has been a factory of sadness sitting on the Great Erie coastline that has brought JOY AND WONDER TO THE SOULLESS CITY OF…

(Re-awakens from blackout)

Sorry, I must have lost my control. Anyways yes, that Cleveland.

While it’s hard to imagine the Browns being good since they’ve only finished above .500 twice since their return, there are factual reasons to believe it. Not only did general manager John Dorsey make excellent free-agent signings, but his draft overhaul in two seasons on paper is impressive.

And while everything right now is on paper, it’s hard to think the Browns are not the most improved team in the NFL after this offseason. It’s another year with young talent, and the addition of All-Pros in multiple positions make them more complete.

But websites are talking about this roster heading to the Super Bowl in Miami before we’ve seen the product in action. Think of the Browns as a test car right now waiting to be put on the market. Sure, the bells and whistle make it worth every penny. But until we see the internal wear and tear, they are just another hyped roster.

So the real question is: Just how much hype is the proper amount of hype when addressing the Cleveland Browns?

A quick review

Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s review what Dorsey’s masterplan looked like entering his second season of calling the shots. After a 7-8-1 season, Cleveland looked closer towards a contender just one season into the Baker Mayfield era than they’ve looked under every first-round quarterback taken combined.

While the Heisman Trophy winner corrected the age-old bout of quarterback concerns, the remainder of the roster still had holes plaguing the unit. Dorsey realized he had a starting guard in Austin Corbett, so his shipped off Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants for Olivier Vernon to give Myles Garrett a pass-rushing parallel.

Emmanuel Ogbah didn’t like that, so Dorsey sent him packing to the Kansas City Chiefs in favor of safety Eric Murray. Safety became a need after Jabrill Peppers was brought home to New Jersey as the centerpiece of the trade that would give Mayfield a true No.1 receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.

Using leverage by trading away relatively easy contracts for the addition of key players, Dorsey added to the team’s receiving corp, secondary and pass rush without giving up the bank. If a first-round pick were all it would take for the acquisition of a top-five receiver, most teams probably would have offered the same deal.

Throw in the addition of defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, running back Kareem Hunt the selection of cornerback Greedy Williams and replacing Jamie Collins with the potential steal of the draft in Mack Wilson, Cleveland have loaded up for the present and future.

Does it work?

Overnight, the laughing stock Browns revamped the organization from “oh boy, another season?”  to “oh boy, another season!”. The hype has grown thanks to the new additions but let’s also keep in mind of the pieces in place. In 2018, Dorsey drafted five players who have the potential to become franchise stars.

Mayfield set a rookie record with 27 touchdowns, the addition of Beckham Jr. while running back Nick Chubb was just four yards shy of being the third rookie runner to rush for 1,000 yards. Antonio Callaway finished fifth among rookies receiver in receptions, and Genard Avery proved his pass-rushing potential with 4.5 sacks.

Throw in Denzel Ward, who collected three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and was fantastic in coverage; the Browns young core has them trending in the right direction. The veteran talent could boost them to a playoff-caliber roster this season, but it’s the young guns who will keep them in contention.

Without the recent acquisitions, Cleveland likely would still be a contender if healthy. The Cincinnati Bengals did nothing to fix their league-worst defense in free agency while the Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with 3/4th’s of the Killer B’s in the past two offseasons. The Baltimore Ravens look to be contenders with their defense but will need another impressive year from fellow second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Taking a look at Cleveland’s out of division schedule, this is where things get interesting. Mayfield and the Browns’ offense will face off against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and Ravens all before Week 13.

The confidence? Each team features a quarterback drafted in the first round of last year’s draft. To add insult to injury, two of those rosters have top 10 secondaries that are known for creating turnovers. If each quarterback continues to grow as expected, the Browns could lose at least three of those five games in tight battles.

Knowing the AFC North, you can’t count out Pittsburgh so long as Ben Roethlisberger is under center.

Verdict

Multiple teams get better every offseason thanks to cap space and proper drafting. Sure, Cleveland benefited this offseason but so did teams such as Buffalo, New York, and Baltimore; all teams with young quarterbacks. With the assumption second-year players go through a “sophomore slump”, we might indeed see what the Browns, along with other rosters future entail.

Cleveland certainly has the hype heading into the season, but there’s little evidence at the moment to crown them the next Super Bowl Champions. As new egos enter the locker room, so do clashing personalities. Everyone remember the “Super Team Eagles?”

How’d that pan out?

The Browns should be in playoff talks thanks to a successful offseason. That’s where the conversation should end. With games also against the Tennessee Titans, San Fransisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, and Russell Wilson‘s Seattle Seahawks, none of these games are guaranteed wins.

Freddie Kitchens is in a good spot after turning the Browns into the league’s top offense once he took over for Todd Haley in week 8. As a head coach, we’ll see some growing pains early on as he tries to balance the job out.

Cleveland is a contender for the long haul, but let’s tone down the ticker-tape parade talks entering training camp. We’ve got a long season to go.

Listen, gang, this is dead time in the NFL, and we’re trying to make the most of a crappy situation so bear with us this week on the Two Minute Warning. Let’s get you caught up on what’s happening around the league as training camp is soon set to begin.

Update on Zeke in the Big D

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will not be suspended by the NFL after his investigation surrounding the incident in Las Vegas last May. He, however, is not out of the woods just yet as Kyle Johnson, the security guard who was in involved in the altercation, is now pressing charges.

According to reports, Johnson said Elliott assaulted him and opted to press charges because he believes Elliott and the NFL are trying to downplay the confrontation. TMZ Sports posted a video earlier this year of Elliott being handcuffed for using his body to push a security guard backwards before using his forearm to knock him to the ground.

In a recent interview, Johnson said that he “wasn’t hurt”, but stated that Elliott’s apology “didn’t seem sincere at all”.

While Elliott will not miss time, he will end up steal dealing with a matter that should have been placed to bed ages ago. Initial reports stated that Johnson did not want to press charges at the time and Elliott would not be arrested for the outburst. Now, after further evaluation, he’s retracting his statement.

Gordon said what now?

If you haven’t checked out this website recently, I spoke about the situation going on with Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and his organization. According to reports, Gordon will not head to camp and is treating on sitting out this season due to contract negations heading into the upcoming season. He will be a free agent after this season after Los Angeles elected to pick up his fifth-year option.

I am one who agrees that Gordon should be paid after the success he’s had the past two seasons. Unfortunately, it’s hard to back someone who makes comments like this. When asked about his situation at SportsCon 2019, Gordon said that “you can’t just replace a great back.”

“You can replace average backs,” Gordon said. “Yeah, just plug them in. But a great back? You can’t just replace a great back.”

Pray for me as I grab the Pepto-Bismol and start chugging.

Gordon is an excellent back in the NFL. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl running back who averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns a season ago. He also missed four games with lower-body injuries last season, all four games in which the Chargers won.

To add more context to the statement, Todd Gurley could be a defining reason why that statement is false. Last season, Gurley was limited in the postseason due to a lingering knee injury. The Rams turned to veteran CJ Anderson, who rushed for 189 yards, two touchdowns and helped send Los Angeles to the Super Bowl.

Yes, Melvin, all running backs are replaceable. While Gordon is deserving of a higher contract, it’s hard to agree with the statement. With NFL rosters looking to upgrade through the air more than the ground, Gordon could be playing a dangerous game.

NFL Expansion

Listen, I’ll get this out of the way. I’m all for the NFL expanding. I applaud the league looking into that option.

Oh, you mean games? No, oh God no, I was talking about teams. Did you see San Antonio in the debunked AAF? Yeah, they can handle an NFL roster.

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said Friday the players union has yet to see a workable 18-game schedule plan from NFL owners as part of the ongoing talks about a new collective bargaining agreement.

“I don’t see an 18-game schedule — under any circumstance — being in the best interest of our players,” Smith said according to ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe. “If somebody wants to make an 18-game proposal, we’ll look at it. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think that it would be good for the players.”

While fans are looking to see more regular-season games and less of a preseason, players are not behind it just yet — Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive end Cameron Heyward is expressing his disinterest on adding two more games to the regular season.

Parting Shots

10) New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon will be suspended for four games due to the league’s substance-abuse policy rule. Herndon had pleaded guilty to a DUI in June of 2018 which led to the sentencing. One of the rising tight ends, the 2018 fourth-round pick finished with 39 receptions for 502 yards and four touchdowns last season.

9) Herndon isn’t the only player that will be suspended. The NFL also announced that Oakland Raiders offensive guard Richie Incognito pled will be suspended for the first two games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The troubled offensive lineman pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct related to an August 2018 incident at a funeral home after the death of his father.

8) Anyone else tired of the bottle cap challenge? Seriously, it’s more played out than Old Town Road by Lil Nas X.

(This video and Mason Ramsey “Old Town Road” verse come out at the same time.)

That was stupid. I love these videos, and I’m going keep finding them until I can’t anymore!

7) Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson hired super-agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him in hopes that he can be traded away from the organization. Johnson had stated he would like to be moved after the team elected to sign Kareem Hunt in the offseason. The Browns had stated in the past that they would like to keep Johnson on the roster despite him missing workouts, OTAs and extra minicamp for the new coaches.

Rosenhaus is one of the sport’s best agents, not just football. Brace yourself running back needy teams; Johnson could be coming your way because he’s certainly out of Cleveland.

6) EA Sports announced their top players for Madden 20 that will be released soon. Four players graded out with a 99 as the highest players in the game and the highest at their respective positions.

Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald, Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack, Seattle Seahawks Bobby Wagner, and Houston Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins each graded out with a 99, making them among the elite for the upcoming season. Congrats to all four on their achievements on the field, EA Sports has been paying attention.

5) Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown must have also been paying attention to EA Sport’s reveal because…well…he wasn’t too happy with Hopkins being rated over him. Naturally because, why wouldn’t he, Brown took to Twitter to vent about his thoughts of the rating.

“Madden shorted me on my check for the Madden 19 cover, and now they short me on my ratings,” Brown said. The tweet has since been deleted but was discovered on SilverandBlackPride.com.

4) Former NFL running back Ricky Williams believes that the NFL will soon back off their strict rules and make marijuana legal for players. While speaking at SportsCon 2019, Williams continued to back his long-time advocacy stance to the legalization of its usage.

“I just think our whole country has come a long way in the past 15 years,” Williams said over the weekend. The fact that before I was shunned and considered a pariah, and now ESPN invites me to talk about cannabis on television. We’re moving forward, and I think the NFL is eventually going to catch up.”

The NFL has been controversial about the usage of the drug, consistently sending players fines and suspension if caught using.

3) Earlier this week, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was seen launching touchdowns to receivers off boats in Lake Tahoe.

Well, Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers just couldn’t be shown up by a second-year quarterback, could he?

2) If there’s one video you watch this week, let it be this one. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas opened up about coping with the death of his sister and helping spread mental health awareness throughout the country. In the video, Thomas speaks about a new suicide prevention hotline to help those struggling with depression and mental health issue.

If you or someone you know have been dealing with suicidal thoughts or are dealing with mental health issues, we hear at Pro Football Network advise you to call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.

1) Make sure you check out the PFN’s Podcast network. This week, Corey wonders what would happen if two stars from the AFC joined forces in the NFC West while Travis speaks on potential landing spots for the disgruntled Duke Johnson.

Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson

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