2022 Cleveland Browns Offseason Preview
The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house.
Browns 2021 Recap
Few teams got more speculative preseason Super Bowl hype heading into the 2021 season than the Browns. Their odds to win it all moved from +2500 before free agency to +1400 ahead of Week 1. The team bounced around .500 for most of the season but came out of their bye week with a win over Baltimore, putting them at 7-6. The Browns would then lose three straight games, all three of which featured weak to inept Baker Mayfield performances, to get eliminated from playoff contention. Mayfield’s frustrating mistakes and a lack of weaponry for him to work with often made the offense look lifeless. On the other side of the ball, the defense couldn’t live up to the lofty expectations many had for it. Because of this, Cleveland was unable to hide Mayfield’s flaws in low-scoring wins, bringing the house of cards crashing down.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.5 (20th)
- Dropback EPA: .01 (21st)
- Passing yards per game: 195 (27th)
- Rush EPA: .02 (5th)
- Rushing yards per game: 145 (4th)
Like most teams, the offensive success (or lack thereof) starts with the quarterback. After a promising 2020 campaign, Mayfield seemed poised for a breakout in his second year under Kevin Stefanski. Instead, Mayfield crashed and burned. Among 31 quarterbacks with at least 300 plays, Mayfield ranked 28th in completion percentage over expectation and 26th in success rate (plays with positive EPA). He never scored more than twice in a game and threw 13 interceptions in 14 contests. The ground game was stellar, nothing new there. Cleveland was one of just five teams to gain positive EPA when running the football. That was despite Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combining for 12 missed games.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 21.8 (13th)
- Dropback EPA: .04 (15th)
- Passing yards per game: 202 (5th)
- Rush EPA: -.01 (28th)
- Rushing yards per game: 109 (12th)
Surprisingly, the defense was also a pain point. Myles Garrett remained dominant, notching 16 sacks in 17 games, but the rest of the squad failed to match his lofty standard. Cleveland’s defense finished the year 19th in EPA per play and 18th in points per drive. They were particularly awful in the red zone, allowing opponents to score a touchdown on 65 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. For a team built in the old-school style of winning close games with a punishing defense and a dominant ground attack, those numbers didn’t cut it.
Browns 2022 Offseason
Total Draft Value
Notable Free Agents
Notes: Cleveland’s total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.
Landry’s 6.6 yards per target ranked 80th out of 91 receivers with at least 50 targets in 2021 and the Browns only take a $1.5 million hit on his dead cap if they cut him. Keenum is currently one of the highest-paid backups in the league, though, with the way Mayfield played last year, that might be a necessary expense. If the Browns are really looking to be prudent spenders, they could cut Hunt with no dead cap hit and replace him with D’Ernest Johnson, who was incredible in his brief appearances last year. Johnson, an RFA this year, was only tendered at an original-round level. Because he was a UDFA, the Browns have the right to match any offer he receives.
After granting Landry permission to seek a trade, the veteran wideout is all but gone. The trade for Cooper more than offsets this loss, but, if Cooper doesn’t rebound from his 865-yard outing, the Browns could be looking to move on from him as early as next offseason. Cutting him in 2023 would save Cleveland $20 million against the cap without forcing them to take on any dead cap hit. The Browns still need an injection of youth into their receiving room.
The Browns are losing both starting defensive tackles in free agency and neither are strong candidates to be re-signed. Pro Football Focus ranked Jackson and McDowell outside of the top 100 defensive linemen. Both players were also weak against the run and Cleveland ranked 28th in EPA per carry allowed.
The Browns have one elite pass-rusher but multiple threats will make them exponentially more difficult to suppress. Clowney is a free agent but could be re-signed. He was the only Cleveland defender besides Garrett to rank inside the top 50 in TFLs or sacks. McKinley’s departure would also create a need for depth, even if Clowney comes back.
The only change for the Browns’ staff will be the loss of special teams assistant coach Doug Colman. There are plenty of changes that the current staff can make, however. Even as a spreadsheet-based analyst, I can admit that the Browns should be running more than the average team. They even gained expected points on their average rush attempt. As a compromise to “the analytics”, it would make sense for them to choose their spots better. Cleveland earned positive expected points on runs on second, third, and fourth down. They ranked 19th in the league with a -.114 EPA per rush attempt on first down. This makes it all the more frustrating that they ran the ball at the sixth-highest rate on first downs. Cutting the yardage they need on future plays by passing on first downs more often will only boost the inevitable (and often successful) runs.
The Browns are a mostly complete team but have one question in front of them. Is Mayfield the answer? Mayfield is on the fifth-year option and then the team faces franchise tagging him, extending him, or letting him walk after the upcoming season. Because of his poor outing in 2021, the team is in a holding pattern right now. In defense of Mayfield, he was a walking injury report for much of the season. He suffered a torn labrum that required offseason surgery and that same shoulder was also dislocated multiple times with a fracture for good measure. Per the Browns’ injury report, Mayfield also dealt with knee, foot, and groin issues throughout the year.
A clean bill of health will give Mayfield a fresh start next year but that won’t matter if he isn’t given better options to throw to. Subbing out Landry for Jones is a start but it’s not enough to say the receiving core is fixed. Adding in a first-round talent with the No. 13 pick will give the team a long-term plan at the position. It also ensures that, if Mayfield fails, the Browns will know without a doubt that it wasn’t because of a lack of surrounding talent.