Apparently, the Cleveland Browns enjoy chaos. Already with a former No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland front office made the risky move of acquiring Deshaun Watson.
Cleveland gave up three first-round picks as part of the package to acquire the former Houston Texans quarterback. With sexual assault lawsuits still pending against him, the belief is a long suspension is coming for Watson. There have been reports that the suspension could be for the entire season.
With Mayfield asking for a trade not long after the Watson deal was finalized, the Browns could be facing the possibility of beginning the 2022 season with Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs as the options at quarterback. Making matters worse, the Browns have negatively impacted the trade market for Mayfield by not trading him before acquiring Watson. Now teams might wait until Cleveland cuts Mayfield rather than trade assets to acquire him.
With so much uncertainty at the highest profile position on the team, it is no wonder that the NFL betting lines haven’t set an expected regular-season win total for the Browns yet even with the season just 2½ months away from kicking off.
Since the Browns re-entered the NFL in 1999, only Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel have coached at least 50 regular-season games with the Browns. Third-year coach Kevin Stefanski can reach that number in 2022 assuming he makes it through the entire season.
The Browns (+250) are third behind Baltimore and Cincinnati in the current odds to win the AFC North Division title. According to the NFL predictions, Cleveland (+2000) is tied for fifth among AFC teams in the odds to win the Super Bowl.
2021 record: 8-9 (tied for third in AFC North)
Playoff result: Did not qualify.
Season opener: at Carolina Panthers, Sept. 11, 1 p.m. ET
Playoff teams on 2022 schedule: HOME – Cincinnati, New England, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay; AWAY – Buffalo, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh
Key newcomers: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Amari Cooper, DE Chase Winovich, OL Ethan Pocic, DE Isaac Rochell, LB Dakota Allen, QB Jacoby Brissett, DE Sephen Weatherly, WR Jakeem Grant, CB Martin Emerson (third-round pick); DE Alex Wright (third-round pick), WR David Bell (third-round pick); DT Perrion Winfrey (fourth-round pick).
Key losses: OL JC Tretter, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Rashard Higgins, TE Austin Hooper, LB Mack Wilson, CB M.J. Stewart.
Award candidates: Myles Garrett, +700 in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds; Nick Chubb, +1600 in the NFL Offensive Player of the Year odds; Deshaun Watson, +2200 in the NFL Offensive Player of the Year odds; Amari Cooper, +8000 in the NFL Offensive Player of the Year odds; Denzel Ward, +8000 in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds; Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, +8000 in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds; Martin Emerson, +10000 in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year odds; Jerome Ford, +10000 in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year odds.
Cleveland is loaded at running back with the return of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and De’Ernest Johnson. The Browns added former University of Cincinnati back Jerome Ford in the 2022 draft.
According to the sportsbook, only three running backs have better odds to be the NFL Offensive Player of the Year than Chubb.
Speaking of offensive additions, the Brown acquired receiver Amari Cooper from the Dallas Cowboys. He’ll team with young receivers Donovan People-Jones and Anthony Schwartz.
Since catching 56 passes during the 2019 season, tight end David Njoku has just 60 catches in 33 games. He has the talent to become a key piece of the passing attack. Perhaps that will happen in 2022.
Cleveland finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game in 2021 and was one of three teams to average at least five yards per carry. That speaks volumes about the job done by the line. Center Ethan Pocic was brought in and he will team with guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Tellier as well as tackles Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin.
That leaves a potentially combustible quarterback situation. Watson is a top-notch talent but the Browns must have known the myriad of legal issues he was facing. Mayfield is far from perfect, still in 2020 he did lead Cleveland to its first playoff victory since 1994.
Cleveland attempted and made the fewest field goals in the NFL a season ago. The hope is that fourth-round pick Cade York will help change that.
Let’s start with Myles Garrett. If he is not the best defensive end in football, the list of players better than him is pretty short. He was third in the NFL in sacks last year. Those who bet online are giving him strong consideration in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year race. Former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney was re-signed after recording nine sacks in 14 games.
The interior of the defensive line is a work in progress. Perrion Winfrey was drafted out of Oklahoma while Taven Bryan was brought in from Jacksonville.
Linebacker Anthony Walker made an immediate impact during his first season with the Browns as he had a team-best 113 tackles. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah had flashes of brilliance as a rookie.
Starting with taking cornerback Denzel Ward fourth overall in 2018, Cleveland has used four top-50 selections to improve its secondary.
Ward teams with fellow cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Greg Newsome as well as safety Grant Delpit in the back end of the Cleveland defense.
— PFF (@PFF) June 17, 2022
The Browns didn’t have a first or second-round pick this year as a result of the Watson trade. They took Mississippi State cornerback Martin Emerson 68th overall.
The early portion of the schedule is pretty manageable as the Browns play Carolina (5-12 in 2021) and the New York Jets (4-13) in the first two weeks. After playing host to division rival Pittsburgh, which has some quarterback questions of its own, a matchup against Atlanta is coming up in Week 4.
Ten of Cleveland’s 17 games come against teams that missed the playoffs last season. After being touted as a team talented enough to make some noise in the postseason in recent years, the expectations aren’t quite as lofty this time around.
Once there is some more clarity regarding the situations with Watson and Mayfield, there will be a better idea of what to expect from this year’s Cleveland team.