2019 Contenders: Cleveland Browns(?)
Updated: Aug 10, 2019
No, this is not click bait. Yes, I am actually saying that the Cleveland Browns could compete for a title. Am I saying they're gonna win the Super Bowl in 2021? NO! Not at all. Yet the odds for that to happen are certainly the highest since... well, since before their hiatus from the league from 1996 to 1999. (Yes, the Browns were re-birthed the same year the Monica Lewinsky scandal reached its peak, The Phantom Menace was released, and Vladimir Putin became President of Russia. A sign of things to came, maybe?)
But, John Dorcy obviously has a plan, and that plan doesn't involve doormats or cellars. Dorsey put together a team last season that went from 0 to 7 in one year (the 1977 Bucs and 2009 Lions each only managed two wins in their follow-up winless seasons). Not only that, but there were four games last season that the Browns were in position to win or tie late in the fourth or overtime (Cleveland could have finished 10-6 or 11-5).
Coming into this off-season, The Antonio Brown landing spot seemed like the “should be” highlight of the off season moves. John Dorsey made sure that wasn't the case. This team has a lot of potential, but this potential relies on a lot of parts working together, including a first time head coach, and the meshing of big egos. Nonetheless, the Browns are entering the new year as AFC North favorites... F.A.V.O.R.I.T.E.S!
The Browns traded the 17th pick of the 2019 draft and an offensive guard for the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. This trade comes one year after trading for Jarvis Landry, OBJ's college teammate from LSU. This gives the Browns potentially the best wide receivers tandem since Marvin Harrison and Reggy Wayne. Both WR's are dynamic in their own right, and neither has reached their prime yet. Adding OBJ allows Antonio Callaway to slip into the number three spot, where I feel the lowered pressure will only help his development, as he kinda dropped off in an otherwise productive 2018. David Njoku, while not quite an elite tight end, is still a solid option. Dorsey also took a gamble on signing former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who we now know will have to serve an eight-game suspension for domestic abuse. With a backfield that includes Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson (who now is demanding a trade), the Browns (on paper at least) could have the most explosive offense in the NFL. But that comes with a lot of ifs, and we can certainly start with the egos.
Beckham and Landry are NFL divas, and OBJ especially has a history of explosive displays of emotion at times. It was also obvious from what was said, that OBJ wasn't happy with his quarterback in New York. But Beckham and Landry knowingly get along well; they were college roommates after all. No, the big question comes from whether or not OBJ can mesh well with Browns QB, Baker Mayfield, who's also displayed a bit of an ego. One doesn't need to look very far back to find a similar scenario that has recently failed. The trio of Rothlesburger, Brown, and Bell, despite the massive amount of talent between the three, ended in a colossal mess. The disaster in Pittsburgh will go down as one of the NFL's biggest failures, both from a production stand point, as well as a chemistry stand point.
However, if these three mesh... like frat boys, then expect some of the best fireworks in the league, for a few years at least. As mentioned, this team is loaded offensively. If the passing and running games can work in tandem, then NFL fans could be watching the most efficient offensive attacks since those early 2000's Colts teams (this coming from a Saints fan). Still, as good as those Colt's teams were, there was one thing that held them back for so long.
Though never a strong point in 2018, there were times when the Browns defense, under the guidance of Greg Williams, had some truly solid efforts. Their scoring defense in particular helped them win some close games down the stretch, keeping them in the playoff picture late into the season. The Browns, despite trading away Emmanuel Ogbah, brought in DE Olivier Vernon and DT Sheldon Richardson to line up with Myles Garrett, giving them one of the league’s best D-lines. They picked up safety Eric Murray in the Ogbah trade, while signing safety Morgan Burnett in free agency. The defense isn't stacked, but the returning crew does have noticeable names. Denzel Ward, the second of last year’s first round picks, is joined in the secondary by TJ Carrie and Terrance Mitchell (Second round pick Greedy Williams was first round talent that fell into Cleveland's hands). Chris Smith and Larry Ogunjobi add depth to a now fortified line while Generd Avery leads a respectable line backing crop (Slone Takltaki and Mack Wilson were added through the draft; Wilson, a fifth round pick, could be a late round steal). The defense as a whole isn't great, but it is solid.
The Browns aren't going to shut the league down, but they should be able keep the opposing offense out of the end zone enough to allow their offense a chance to score points–plenty of points. The 2006 Colts, 2009 Saints, 2010 Packers, and the 2012 Ravens were able to do just that on their way to a Super Bowl win.
The Browns might not be the most talented team top to bottom, and who cares; talent by itself is meaningless. Having a stacked roster didn't help the Chargers, Chiefs, or Rams beat an old and aging Patriots team. The Patriots, despite having more talent AND better coaching, lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl, twice! Pittsburgh's trio of superstars never even got to the Super Bowl. Cleveland, I do not believe, will win the Super Bowl... this year. John Dorsey clearly has a vision, one that is still in-complete. The team that Dorsey has put together could be deadly... could be. The pieces still have to mesh well in order to work, with the addition of OBJ being the biggest question mark. As stated above, with the offense that's being put together, the defense doesn't need to be elite in order for this team to win. However, the one thing still missing from the defense is a true anchor, someone who stands out as a leader: Von Miller, Richard Sherman, Ray Lewis, Dwight Freeney, and so on and so forth (though Garret looks as though he could play the part pretty soon).
The Browns really focused on defense in this year’s draft, with five of their seven picks being on that side of the ball (Greedy Williams, Slone Takltaki, Sheldrick Redwine, Mack Wilson, and Donnie Lewis). Another strong draft by Dorsey should really put this team in a position to seriously compete at a high level year in and out. I can actually say... I'm excited to watch the Browns. Something about that doesn't sound right.
By John Behrens