After drafting Baker Mayfield 1st overall in 2018, optimism was at an all-time high for the Dawg Pound faithful who had endured numerous years of struggle watching their beloved Browns.
Following a 0-16 season in 2017, all hope was close to evaporating among the Cleveland faithful, forcing owner Jimmy Haslam to make numerous changes, which included replacing controversial general manager Sashi Brown with John Dorsey, a man who previously worked wonders in Kansas City.
The Dawg Pound was optimistic the success could be replicated.
It proved so in the end as Dorsey pulled off several masterstrokes trading for longtime Miami Dolphin wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Green Bay Packers safety Damarious Randall before drafting future franchise quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield alongside 2018 standouts running back Nick Chubb and cornerback Denzel Ward.
More importantly, though, the belief was back that the Browns could contend in the AFC North for the first time in what seemed to be an eternity. Those beliefs proved to be well-founded as the Browns finished 7-8-1, their best record since 2007. The Browns revival unsurprisingly coincided with the improvement from Mayfield and the introduction of Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens as a coaching tandem.
That revival proved to be enough to hand Kitchens sole claim to the Browns’ kingdom at the expense of Williams, who departed to coordinate the Jets’ defense. This led to the appointment of former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks to coordinate a defense that ranked 30th in team defense in 2018. Todd Monken was appointed to replace Kitchens as offensive coordinator, essentially giving the Browns an all-star coaching trio.
The defense largely looked to be Cleveland’s biggest deficiency in 2018 and rectifying it looked to arguably be the biggest priority for the first-time head coach Kitchens. The desire to improve was an emphatic statement as the Browns added Oliver Vernon and Sheldon Richardson to bolster a pass rush that was largely dependant on defensive end Myles Garrett for much of 2018, before adding Greedy Williams in the draft to fortify the Browns defensive backfield.
However, the Browns rollercoaster of an offseason was far from near a conclusion, as Dorsey sensationally pulled off a trade for the exceptional wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr in exchange for a meager fee, in truth. Before adding to the backfield with the signing of former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt giving Kitchens’ second-year quarterback another weapon to an already reasonably good offense.
Beckham Jr. himself couldn’t hide his delight of being a Brown describing that he “felt like a little kid” in an interview with ESPN. Although it could mean the former Giants wideout sees fewer targets this season when he is alongside longtime buddy Jarvis Landry, it makes for a mouthwatering prospect for Mayfield in having such a dynamic receiving corps at his disposal.
Nevertheless, confidence had briefly been halted in and around the Browns franchise after a report from NFL Network’s Michael Silver that Todd Monken’s arrival “has not gone as smoothly as planned.” This before Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer quickly downplayed those rumors stating that Kitchens’ greater role on offense was a normal part of an offseason process.
A continuous storyline for the Browns, however, has been the status of running back Duke Johnson Jr., who has repeatedly demanded to be traded and according to reports has been involved with a bust-up with Mayfield. Despite this, Kitchens has stated in an interview with Cleveland.com that he believes Johnson has a role to play and expects him to have a “big year.”
Nevertheless, two years after embarrassingly failing to register a win, the Browns arguably have the best roster in football. Years of languishing in the basement of the AFC looked to be paying off as the Browns seem destined to finally break a 16-year playoff drought.
The demise of the Pittsburgh Steelers killer B’s trio and an exodus on the Baltimore Ravens defense that ranked 1st in the league last season has pried open the race for the AFC North crown. The Browns now have a sensational opportunity to seize claim as the cream of the crop in the north and truly emerge as a force in the AFC for years to come.