2020 Browns TC
2019 Cleveland Browns: Progress
The 2019 Cleveland Browns can easily be described as a pleasant surprise. After finishing the previous season at 4-12 while ushering in yet another new regime (this time led by lifelong fan and former Houston Texans boss Paul Willis), not much was expected from a Browns unit that lacked playmakers on offense or a dominant leader on defense. On top of that, Willis pulled a no show for the first four weeks of the season while working out a "personal situation". Despite being ruddlerless for the first quarter of the season, the Browns managed a 2-2 start that included a road victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. The team later dropped two in a row against division rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati after winning 5 of 6 and found themselves sitting at 6-5 with any potential tiebreaker against them. Despite all odds, the Browns ripped off five straight victories and got the self destructive assistance from the Bengals and Ravens that they needed in order to clinch the first AFC North title in franchise history.
Despite finishing 2-4 in the division the Browns managed to earn a home playoff game against the San Diego Chargers in the wild card round. The Browns secondary found themselves in unfamiliar territory when Blaine Gabbert started his day by shredding the defense through the air. Despite this, the defense managed to hold San Diego to field goals as opposed to touchdowns, and Gabbert was knocked out of the game for over 2 quarters by a violent sack from defensive rookie of the year candidate Eddie Goldman. In Gabbert's absense, 5th round rookie Kyle Washington proved less than up to the task. The Browns managed to amass a modest 13-6 lead by the time Gabbert returned late in the game. Picking up where he left off, Gabbert went on to lead a game tying drive late in regulation. Up to this point in the game, quarterback Boston Mallett was outperformed by even Kyle Washington. Fortunately for the home fans he chose the right time to get it straight and was able to lead the Browns down the field for a last minute game winning field goal that earned the team a trip to visit Tennessee in the divisional round.
Willis moved on in the playoffs to the matchup he both dreaded and embraced. Tim Nissen and the Titans were the arch rivals to Willis' Houston Texans for years and the two are not strangers to postseason battles. The first Nissen/Willis playoff encounter ended in a 3 point Titans victory and the rematch ended with the same result. Tennessee's defense completely smothered the Browns offense and although they kept the game close, the Cleveland defense just couldn't quite match the feat versus the Titan offense. Vince Rogers was held to just 24 yards on 14 carries but Christopher Henderson kept the offense on the field long enough to amass a 16-3 lead late in the 3rd quarter. Henderson's one big mistake was an ill advised throw over the middle that FS Anthony Harris snagged for a pick six and the only touchdown of the day for the visitors. The turnover made the score 16-13 but should have tied the game. On the prior drive the Browns managed to get as close as the Tennessee 1 yard line. On fourth and goal, rather than kicking a field goal to close to within 7 points, the team opted to run a toss that was easily stopped short of the end zone. The defense would give the offense one last chance at glory, but Boston Mallett finished out a horrendous day with a horrendous comeback attempt and the Browns went home deserving losers.
Despite the unceremonious exit from the playoffs the season can be considered nothing less than a rousing success on the whole, particularly for the defense. Cleveland finished 9th in yards allowed for the year but 1st in points allowed thanks to their league leading 54 sacks and 36 takeaways. Leading the charge up the middle was rookie 2nd round defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, who finished the season with 11 sacks in 11 starts. We can only wonder what kind of numbers Goldman would have finished with had the front office seen fit to put him in the starting lineup from the beginning of the year. As it is, Goldman is a legitimate defensive rookie of the year candidate, but will likely lose out to teammate Emerson Dupree. Rumors from Berea were that Cleveland was very disappointed they traded down from 1.5 and missed on the opportunity to take CB Buford McKay. Instead, Cleveland ended up with CB Emerson Dupree, the previously mentioned Goldman and OG Octavius Warren from the deal. In retrospect the Browns have to be delighted with the return they got for dropping five spots. Dupree broke the GZL rookie interception record with 7 and added 18 deflections to 34 catches allowed. While certainly not perfect, he showed the kind of promise that not even the most optimistic fan could have hoped for. Rounding out the defensive heroes was new MLB Shea McClellin, who was imported from Denver for former 3rd round pick FS Sully Santos. McClellin never managed more than 46 tackles as a Bronco and could be said to have been something of a bust. In his 7th season he energized his career by stepping in to a starting role and delivering with a 121 tackle, 18 deflection, 2 interception, 3 forced fumble season. The 6'3" 270 pounder has surprising speed for a man his size and appears to be a perfect fit for the defense. The best part of the deal is that he still has two years left on his contract.
Offensively, the Browns focused on playing it safe and chewing up the clock. Boston Mallett, who had the worst statistical season of his career the year before, bounced back with a respectable campaign. Despite the improvement, his 83.0 QB rating is as mediocre as it gets and Cleveland rarely put up big numbers through the air. The hero of the receiving corps was tight end Lance Kendricks, who had his best season since 2014, finishing 5th in the league among tight ends despite dropping 10 passes. Newcomers Ryan Swope and Oliver Coleman both had opportunities to start opposite veteran Carlton Mitchell but neither could provide the consistent deep threat the Browns were looking for.
Montee Ball was a priority free agent and was expected to contend for the rushing title by those within the building. Ball was underwhelming as the lead back over the first 6 weeks and was benched in favor of relative unknown T.J. Salaam in week 7. The 6' 242 pound Salaam is a former 3rd round pick of the Chargers and was signed as something of an afterthought after Ball was acquired but once given an opportunity he proved to be the better fit. Salaam finished the season with 1225 yards in 11 starts and was the only consistent offensive performer in the playoffs with 225 more yards.
Restricted Free Agency: Center of Attention
Restricted free agency is always a favorite of GM Paul Willis and this offseason was no different. The only target in 2020 was Buffalo center Demetrius Conway, who had the lowest tender applied and would cost nothing to sign but money. Conway lost his starting job 2 seasons ago and has struggled in limited opportunities since but is the kind of athlete that Willis covets and performed well enough as a rookie to give the Browns the confidence to allow Alex Mack to walk out of town.
Match-Eligible Free Agency: Lame
Paul Willis traditionally skips the match eligible free agency period but Cleveland had so much cap to burn this season that he went in on three players with what he thought were respectable offers. Unfortunately, the Rams matched on OT Ernie Bowman, the Packers matched on DE Bjoern Werner and the Bengals matched on CB Brent Parrish. The Browns did not exercise the match option on any of their own and this period ended with zero fanfare.
Pre-Draft Trades: Skip the Draft
The real story of Cleveland's offseason was a trade with the Miami Dolphins. Prior to that deal happening, the Browns were believed to be close to acquiring HB Gerard Campbell from Carolina but were eventually outbid by Denver and hesitated to make a better offer than 1.26 and Montee Ball. The team quietly shipped off OLB Sean Spence and a 6th round pick to New Orleans for their 3rd rounder and WR Norm Grace but the gamechanging deal happened just before draft day.
Willis was eager to acquire Miami WR Ulysses Moore after hearing Ben Harbinger was looking to move him but had committed their first round pick to Carolina as part of the Gerard Campbell deal that fell through. When it became apparent that Carolina was going with another offer Cleveland made its pitch but Miami was rethinking letting the athletic 6'4" wideout go. After scouting the draft class and coming away unimpressed, Willis countered with an offer that would send 1.26, 2.1, a future 1st and HB Montee Ball to Miami in return for Moore and HB Le'Veon Bell. After stewing on the offer for a few days, Harbinger and the Dolphins accepted. Bell, entering his sixth season, is an aging halfback on an expiring contract. This didn't stop the Browns, as he is still easily one of the most gifted backs in the league and the team had no players on the roster on the last year of their deal, so Bell will be back past this season. Cleveland is expecting very big things after the performance that T.J. Salaam, who some might call a poor man's Bell, was able to manage in 2019. Ulysses Moore is raw as they come but has the kind of athleticism that should allow him to flourish despite his lack of polish. After his offseason workouts with the team, scouts insist that there are only 6 players who match his combination of size, speed and acceleration. When you throw in his tremendous leaping ability, there's no one who compares to him.
Following the draft, the Browns were able to secure a bookend and mentor for the raw youngster in the form of Demaryius Thomas. The long time Bronco turned Seahawk was a cap casualty after just one season in Kansas City and is already showing signs of regression. That said, even at this stage in his career he is still an elite physical specimen and reminds the staff of Andre Johnson, who was around in the glory days when Willis' Texans were the top offense in the league. Cleveland is hoping the addition of 3 playmakers of the caliber of Thomas/Moore/Bell will help transform a bottom 12 offense in to a top 5 in an offseason's time.
The Draft: Skipped
2.26 -- CB Gabe Khristiansen -- The Browns debated between Khristiansen and QB Patrick Towles here. The corner was the pick largely because he can play a role early on in his career, whereas Towles might never start despite his great potential. Khristiansen compares favorably to 1.17 Kendall Fuller and will have the benefit of mentor Pete Nickerson. Likely a dimeback to start but could see nickel reps in the right matchups.
3.9 -- QB Tony Bohannon -- The Browns were disappointed but not completely surprised to find that Patrick Towles was taken at 2.30. The backup plan was Bohannon, who will serve as Boston Mallett's backup. Odds are Bohannon will not play any significant downs anytime soon barring injury or complete disaster and may never actually develop in to a viable starter in the league.
3.26 -- OLB Cody Dupont -- Dupont was drafted in large part due to his versatility, as he is large enough to switch to DE if the team so desires. After the signing of LE Cornelius Washington, it is much more likely that Dupont will be the primary backup across the linebacking corps.
(by P_Willis on 01/08/2016)
Replies - 1 :: Views - 20
At A Glance