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Offseason Primer: Cleveland Browns to Build on First Trip to Playoffs with Baker Mayfield & Co.

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Coming off a dream season that saw the franchise reach an 11-5 record and win its first playoff game in 27 years, the Cleveland Browns enter an offseason of optimism ready to reload and hungry for more.

While the roster was relatively unchanged from the one that underachieved in 2019, the difference for the 2020 Browns was first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski, who helped Cleveland reach its full potential and unlocked quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield had an excellent season under Stefanski’s leadership and play calling, passing for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns with a career-low eight interceptions. Mayfield’s protection of the football was his most crucial improvement, as he tossed just two interceptions over Cleveland’s final eleven games.

Surprisingly, Mayfield’s play truly took off after the Browns lost star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a torn ACL. In addition to the decreasing turnovers, he threw 20 touchdowns to close out the regular season and in Cleveland’s two playoff games, all without Beckham.

The Browns also recommitted to their punishing ground game in Beckham’s absence. Running back Nick Chubb was dominant in 2020, rushing for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns, while averaging an insane 5.6 yards per carry. His backfield partner Kareem Hunt was no slouch either, 1,145 scrimmage yards and eleven total touchdowns of his own. The backs were great, but the credit must first be given the outstanding Browns offensive line that boasted at least three All-Pro selections.

Cleveland’s success in Beckham’s absence raises an interesting dilemma. Do the Browns need Beckham? Would it behoove them to trade Beckham and his $15,750,000 cap hit away this offseason? Such a move would not only free up additional cap space, but also likely provide a hefty return as well, considering the assets clubs have recently acquired when trading away star wideouts.

Cap space and assets gained in a potential deal for Beckham would allow the Browns to immediately address their porous secondary, which surrendered six 300-yard passing games this season. Beyond cornerback Denzel Ward, Cleveland can improve across the board in back end. If they decide against resigning corner back Kevin Johnson and safety Andrew Sendejo, they could look to boost their secondary via trade, free agency or April’s raft.

The Browns’ defense was led by edge rusher Myles Garrett, who had another dominant season solidifying himself as one of the NFL’s best players. Garrett posed 12 sacks, ten tackles-for-loss and four forced fumbles in 2020, while also recovering a pair of fumbles. By all accounts, the defensive end will be a menace for years to come.

With a renewed confidence that they have finally put their decades of mediocrity behind them, the Browns will look to reload through the free agency and their seven draft picks, as they continue to purse their first ever AFC North title.

Notable Free Agents:

DE Olivier Vernon
CB Kevin Johnson
CB Terrance Mitchell
S Karl Joseph
ILB B.J. Goodson
RT Kendall Lamm
SS Andrew Sendejo
OLB Malcolm Smith
WR Jojo Natson
DT Larry Ogunjobi
K Cody Parkey
WR Rashard Higgins
OLB Elijah Lee
WR Taywan Taylor
WR KhaDarel Hodge (Restricted)
DT Vincent Taylor
WR Marvin Hall
LB Tae Davis
CB Tavierre Thomas (Restricted)
S Tedric Thompson

Cap Commitments:

Cleveland has an active cap of $192,084,011 entering the 2021 offseason, according to Spotrac. The Browns have the 13th-most cap space in the league at $12,775,658.

NFL

Mic Drop: Hating Tom Brady is Simply Jealousy

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Do you hate Tom Brady? If you answer yes to that question, ask yourself why you hate Tom Brady. Mike Asti explains why it’s time for football fans to just stop hating Tom Brady and realize that their hatred is simply rooted in jealousy for the greatest quarterback of all-time.

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NFL

Le’Veon Bell Doesn’t Regret Sitting Out 2018 Season with Steelers

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Le’Veon Bell doesn’t regret the path he took to leave the Pittsburgh Steelers, he told reporters on Tuesday.

It seems to have worked out pretty well for Bell, who will play in Super Bowl LV this Sunday, the first Super Bowl of his career, in his second season after signing a contract that took him away from Pittsburgh.

Bell sat out the entire 2018 season after refusing to sign the Steelers’ second consecutive franchise tender. Instead, he waiting for free agency and signed a four-year contract with the New York Jets worth a guaranteed $35 million.

A year and a half into that contract, the contract wasn’t working out for either party, as Bell had failed to recapture the individual success he had in Pittsburgh and the Jets were well on their way to a second straight losing season. Bell asked for a trade from New York, and when the Jets couldn’t find a partner, they released Bell.

He caught on in Kansas City, signing a contract for the rest of the 2020 season to help the Chiefs take the load off rookie starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He ended up starting two games for Kansas City and playing in nine, rushing for 254 yards and two scores.

But even during the worst of his run with the Jets, Bell said he never considered sitting out in Pittsburgh to be a mistake.

“No, that never crossed my mind,” Bell said. “Me sitting out, I feel like it helped me on the back end of my career. … It kind of like reset my body. I feel like it’s going to help me for the end of my career and elongate my career.”

Bell expressed some disappointment in not being able to play the Steelers in the postseason. Pittsburgh was unbeaten when Bell signed with the Chiefs, and it looked like the teams were on a collision course in the AFC, but the Steelers lost five of their last six games to close the season.

“We thought we were going to have to see the Steelers at some point, which I was excited about,” Bell said. “Obviously, it didn’t end up happening.”

One member of Bell’s Steelers that he will see this week is wide receiver Antonio Brown, who also manufactured his exit from Pittsburgh, demanding a trade in the 2019-20 offseason that took him from Pittsburgh to Oakland. Brown was then cut by the Raiders, signed with New England, got suspended and was released again before eventually signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“It’s crazy to think as long as we’ve been playing together, we’ve never made it to this point, but playing against each other is going to be fun,” Bell said.

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Steelers Opponents

Ravens Assistant David Culley Hired as Houston Texans Head Coach

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Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach and former Steelers assistant coach David Culley has been hired as the new coach of the Houston Texans, according to a report by John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Culley, 65, will be a head coach for the first time. He was most recently assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach for the Baltimore Ravens in 2019-20.

He was the Steelers’ wide receivers coach from 1996-98, serving under head coach Bill Cowher and offensive coordinators Chan Gailey and Ray Sherman.

A 26-year NFL assistant, Culley has also worked as wide receivers coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1994-95), Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2012) and Kansas City Chiefs (2013-16) and was quarterbacks coach for the Buffalo Bills (2017-18), working under current NFL head coaches Andy Reid and Sean McDermott.

A native of Sparta, Tennessee, Culley is a Vanderbilt alum, and coached collegiately at his alma mater (1979-81), Austin Peay (1978), Middle Tennessee State (1982), Chattanooga (1983), Louisiana (1985-88), Texas A&M (1991-93).

Culley is the fourth Baltimore assistant to depart for a promotion this offseason. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen will be the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, linebackers coach Mike MacDonald has been hired to be the defensive coordinator at Michigan and Vanderbilt tapped defensive backs coach Jesse Minter as the Commodores’ new defensive coordinator.

The Ravens will receive two third-round draft picks as compensation for the Ravens hiring away Culley as part of the NFL’s Rooney Rule enhancements, one in 2021 and another in 2022.

The Texans have come under fire from inside and outside of their organization for the way the team approached its offseason, in which it needed to hire a new general manager and head coach after firing Bill O’Brien early in the 2020 season.

Star quarterback Deshaun Watson has reportedly demanded a trade after feeling that his issues were not heard before the team hired Patriots executive Nick Caserio as general manager. It’s unclear if the hiring of Culley, who will become the third Black head coach in the NFL for 2021, will have any impact on Watson’s decision.

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