Shopping for Wide Receivers

This could be a coincidence, but the day after Browns WR Jakeem Grant was ruled out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, I could have sworn I saw Browns General Manager Andrew Berry browsing at the local flea market. I noted that he seemed to spend a lot of time at the booth marked “NFL Free Agent WRs, prices and condition vary-will negotiate.”

As far as I could see he was just browsing, but he may have been looking for someone to fill a spot in the Browns’ wide receiver room. That room was not exactly bursting with talent when training camp started, but it seems to be getting thinner with Grant’s loss and rookie David Bell still out with a foot injury. Besides newly acquired Amari Cooper, a legitimate star, they have Donovan Peoples-Jones and his 48 career catches (with a nice 18.8 average yards per catch) and…

Yeah, that’s where it gets really dicey. There’s Anthony Schwartz and his 10 career receptions, Javon Wims with 28 catches over three seasons, 6th round pick Michael Woods II, who is nursing a hamstring injury and a group of undrafted rookies.

There were some familiar names in that booth still looking for a home, but keep in mind, that there are good reasons why it is approaching mid-August and they are still unsigned.

In the “Handle With Care” section there was Odell Beckham, Jr., Antonio Brown and Cole Beasley. Browns fans are familiar with Beckham, who played well AFTER he left Cleveland last year and is recovering from a torn ACL in the Super Bowl. Signing him doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, especially with Deshan Watson’s playing status still undecided. Antonio Brown-seriously? I did see a tag on him that said, in fine print, “therapist not included.” Hard pass. Beasley was in a section by himself since he’s not vaccinated. He’s 33 years old. He would be a potential possession receiver option if his price is right.

There were some interesting options on the table in front of the booth that were being actively marked down; Will Fuller, Emmanual Sanders and T.Y. Hilton. Fuller played only two games last year after signing a $10 million contract with Miami. He is a former first-round pick who had five productive years with Houston, although he did miss 25 games over that time. Of course, his QB there was DeShaun Watson; the Browns HAVE to kick the tires on him if he is priced reasonably.  Sanders is 35 years old but was still productive with Buffalo last year. He could be a good one-year fit in Cleveland as a strong veteran presence. T.Y Hilton has missed 14 games over the last three seasons and his production really dropped off last season. He may have enough left in the tank to help the Browns, but there is still a chance he could return to the Colts.

There are two primary challenges Cleveland faces in fortifying its wide receiver group. First, they are not the only team out there looking, which makes one again wonder why all of the players I’ve named here have not already found a home. Temperament and/or the price could be obstacles.

The other challenge is answering the broad question of what the team’s realistic aspirations are for the 2022 season. Of course, that is impossible to answer definitively until there is clarity about Watson’s availability. With the possibility, if not likelihood, of Watson’s suspension stretching beyond the six games, how do they address this season? I’ve seen San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s name connected to the Browns and they have the salary cap room to trade for him. Would that be a good use of cap money, however? Would it be better to let that unused money roll over to absorb the larger hit from Watson’s salary next year without having to let other players go they want to keep and maybe sign a WR with more upside than those I’ve listed?

I would say yes, discretion would be the best approach. If the Browns can sign Fuller, Sanders, or Beasley to a reasonable, one-year contract, go ahead. The team should be competitive with Jacoby Brissett at QB even for an extended period given the strength of their running game and defense.

It seems to me, though, that 2022 is NOT the year to try and go all-in when you know up front your franchise QB will be unavailable for an extended period.

Do the best you can with what you have and plug a couple of holes in 2022, then have the cap money to go all in for 2023 and 2024. It won’t kill Browns fans to wait another year with the QB of the future already locked in.

That’s easy to say from the outside. Let’s see what approach the Cleveland brain trust takes.

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