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
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.