The Cleveland Browns had big expectations for the 2019 season but it ended with an all too familiar feeling for fans: heartbreak. Top-dollar acquisitions and draft choices on both sides of the ball under performed. Injuries and suspensions also hampered the team’s efforts. History will repeat itself in 2020 if the Browns are not careful.
Here is a foolproof five-step plan to ensure a 17-year playoff drought comes to an end:
1. Fire Freddie Kitchens and hire someone to hold the team accountable
The Browns are a much more talented team than the record suggests. Kitchens’ bad decisions include personnel changes, clock management and an overall lack of flow to the offense. The team’s recipe for success is clear: establish the run, allow quarterback Baker Mayfield to establish a rhythm and then get others involved. Instead, Cleveland came out, threw the ball to their shiny new toys and sunk themselves in early deficits.
There has been no discipline displayed by the team or its coach. The growth of Mayfield during the second half of the 2018 season was one reason why Kitchens was hired. The former No. 1 overall selection has actually regressed this season. The franchise can ill afford to waste years of Mayfield on a rookie contract, but that is exactly what they are doing.
2. Create some salary cap space by parting with a few veterans
It is not always easy to balance the salary cap within the NFL, and tough decisions have to be made on occasion. Defensive end Olivier Vernon and outside linebacker Christian Kirksey are model professionals. They have both been productive when on the field, but the best ability is availability. Kirksey is scheduled to earn $9.95 million in 2020 but has missed 23 games in the last two seasons. Vernon is scheduled to earn $15.5 million next season. Over the past three years, he has missed 15 games. Cleveland could approach both with the opportunity to restructure their current contracts and remain with the team, but that often does not work.
It will not be long before new deals for defensive end Myles Garrett and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi come due. The money has to come from somewhere, although it sounds likely that the new collective bargaining agreement will bring in considerable revenue for all parties.
3. Trade for veteran offensive tackle Trent Williams
To general manager John Dorsey’s credit, he worked hard on a potential deal for Williams in 2019 but Washington would not budge. The Redskins probably surrendered some of their leverage by not trading him sooner. It may only take a second- or third-round pick to land the seven time Pro Bowl selection.
Cleveland desperately needs to fortify the offensive line. Williams has one year remaining on his contract that will pay $14.5 million.
4. Address the tight end position
Tight end David Njoku has missed 12 games with various injuries this season. He was not drafted by Dorsey, so his spot is a little precarious. The tight end position is crucial to what Cleveland wants to do on offense. There needs to be some insurance regardless of whether or not Njoku returns next season, which he .
“That’s a good question,” Njoku told Cleveland.com when asked if there’s a place for him if Kitchens remains. “I don’t want to answer that yet. I’m not sure, so no comment.”
With the changes laid out above, Cleveland should have the assets to improve several positions including outside linebacker, safety, tight end, offensive tackle and the defensive line.
5. Extend inside linebacker Joe Schobert
Schobert is a great teammate and leader. Over the past three seasons, he has produced 372 tackles, eight sacks, seven forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and six interceptions. There are not many linebackers with similar production. There is enough uncertainty among the outside linebackers. It would not make a lot of sense to add inside linebacker to the list of needs when there is already a more than qualified candidate within the building.
Dorsey may look to part with him for no other reason other than he was drafted by the previous regime, but that would be a mistake.