The Cleveland Browns have been the center of offseason discussion, criticism, and controversy for how they have handled their quarterback room.
Incumbent Baker Mayfield has effectively been frozen out of the team since the $230m signing of Deshaun Watson, although his murky playing status and a possible looming suspension appear to have forced Cleveland to reconsider what to do with the 2018 first-overall draft pick.
So, with a potential absentee under center, a frustrated and exiled leader, and a talented supporting cast— the Browns’ upcoming season is one of the most interesting untold stories in football.
Working in their favor
The Browns have become synonymous with an elite running game and stout offensive line in recent seasons, spurred by both their excellent talent acquisition and tremendous performances on the field.
Cleveland finished last season ranked seventh in the Offensive Hog Index, a measure of the O-line’s impact and blocking success, and Offensive Rusher Rating, despite injuries to starting tandem Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
The Ohio faithful also created trouble for opposing gunslingers, finishing the year ninth in defensive real quarterback rating; this is a credit to both their elite secondary, headlined by four-year cornerback Denzel Ward, and the pressure up front, a majority of which comes from two-time First-Team All-Pro defensive lineman Myles Garrett.
Garrett’s unit helped Cleveland finish eighth in the Defensive Hog Index, putting them in the upper echelon for pass-rushers.
Cleveland also made a key offseason upgrade at wide receiver, enlisting Amari Cooper, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, to become the true number-one option since the departures of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
The biggest question mark remains the availability of Deshaun Watson, whose offseason scandals and unresolved situation could lead him to be suspended, potentially for a long period, though the league has given no indication yet.
At his best, Watson is one of the most impactful players in the entire league, both because of his deadly accuracy and innate ability to roll out of the pocket and extend plays with his legs.
In 2021, Watson, whose Houston Texans finished 4-12, overcame a poorly-constructed roster and inadequate coaching to reach fifth in Real Quarterback Rating— for comparison, the teams surrounding him were the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all of which were Super Bowl contenders.
Aside from Watson’s questionable playing status, Baker Mayfield appears more likely to protest the Browns’ treatment of him and refuse to suit up than to step back in if needed, as he has publicly sought a trade to a new home.
Several key players on the roster, such as the newly-signed Cooper, have also been inconsistent and injury-prone, which are terrible qualities for teams looking to get over the hump and achieve postseason success.
The story is still unwritten in Cleveland, but if nothing else, it could be the centerpiece in the past 20 years of the team’s history.