Before the Browns have to commit a large contract to Baker Mayfield, their strategy is evident. Stack their offense while they still can. But, that strategy on defense will either blow up badly or pay dividends.
Within the past few years, the Browns have invested heavily in their skill players, which were a problem for a number of years prior to 2018. In the past two years, the Browns have drafted Mayfield, traded and extended Jarvis Landry and added the likes of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham Jr., and recently Austin Hooper to add to Mayfield’s evergrowing group of weapons on offense.
While aside from that, the Browns drafted Jedrick Wills in the first round to be Mayfield’s blindside protector, committed a large long-term contract to Jack Conklin to keep their franchise quarterback upright and paid decent backup money to Case Keenum.
The offense has had heavy investment, but the strategy on defense will either pay dividends or blow up badly. Unlike on offense where the Browns have long-term pieces in place, the defense is mainly made up of rookie deals, short-term deals and minimum contracts.
Larry Ogunjobi, Oliver Vernon, Karl Joseph, BJ Goodson, all projected starters, will likely hit free agency in 2021, as will probable key rotation players like Kevin Johnson, Terrence Mitchell, Andrew Sendejo and Andrew Billings, leaving the Browns with little commitment down the line and could also be a sign of a temporary retooling before targeting defense in next’s years draft.
Signing undervalued players on cheap deals give the Browns some flexibility in terms of picking up future compensatory draft picks. In the new collective bargaining agreement, free agents who sign one-year deals that still make at least $1.75 million factors into the gains and in the losses of the compensatory formula.
Unsurprisingly, every free agent signed on a one-year deal by Andrew Berry meets that threshold, all aside from recently signed returner JoJo Natson from the Rams.
Cleveland’s priorities in free agency were evidently on offense having committed $63 million to Hooper, Conklin and Keenum combined, but have quietly focused on rectifying a defense that had underwhelmed towards the end of the year after Myles Garrett’s suspension.
Nonetheless, the aim is clear that the Browns need to improve their defense in the short-term having finished 23rd in NFL efficiency last season. The additions of Joseph, Goodson, Johnson and Sendejo should bolster the unit.
The former Raider was a 1st round pick in 2016, who still has untapped potential. Alongside him, Sendejo is versatile enough to play either strong or free safety and has experience in a starting role should Grant Delpit falter. Goodson was a solid two-down linebacker with the Packers and will slot in nicely alongside Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki.
Johnson, who has had struggles staying healthy but when fit, is an effective tackler out of the nickel, will prove useful to new defensive coordinator Joe Woods. And Billings gives the Browns solid depth on the interior of the defensive line behind Sheldon Richardson and Ogunjobi.
The offense is expected to be heavily improved in 2020 after offseason surgery but will need a strong display from its defense to return to the postseason for the first time since 2002.