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Free agency about done, so how should we look at the draft? Terry’s Talkin’ Browns

ABOUT THE BROWNS & DRAFT



a group of baseball players standing on top of a grass covered field: Harrison Bryant was the highest-rated tight end on the Browns 2020 draft board. That's why they took him in the fourth round despite not having a need for a tight end.


© Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com/Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com
Harrison Bryant was the highest-rated tight end on the Browns 2020 draft board. That’s why they took him in the fourth round despite not having a need for a tight end.

QUESTION: Now that the Browns signed Jadeveon Clowney, doesn’t that impact their approach to the draft?

ANSWER: No.

Q: No?

A: No.

Q: So what is going on?

A: Now that the Browns have become a playoff team with an 11-5 record, the idea of the draft to immediately change the course of the franchise is over. When you hear free agency, think short-term fixes.

Q: Clowney on a 1-year contract?

A: Exactly. The same with signing defensive end Takk McKinley to a 1-year deal. GM Andrew Berry pursued both players for more than a year. He tried to sign Clowney in the summer of 2020. He tried three times to trade for McKinley. Now he has both.

Q: So he doesn’t need to draft a pass rusher?

A: At No. 26, he was unlikely to find a plug-and-play defensive end. Berry knew that. But he’d probably love to draft a defensive end in the middle rounds, a player to develop. They did that in 2020 with Jordan Elliott, a third-rounder who has a future as a defensive tackle.

Q: But last year, the Browns took Jedrick Wills and started him at left tackle.

A: Wills was a No. 10 pick. The Browns and other NFL teams have the stats showing the top 10 picks are most likely to yield Pro Bowl-caliber starters. By the bottom of the first round, 20-32, you hope to find a solid starter. The vast majority of starters are in the top 50 picks.

Q: Your big point is?

A: The draft? Think long-term building. It’s players on team-friendly contracts. It’s the Browns taking Harrison Bryant in the fourth round in 2020, even though they didn’t need a tight end. Bryant was the top tight end on the draft board.

Q: Oh, no … not the “best available player” song.

A: That’s how good teams stay good and improve. They have enough veteran talent in key spots to draft players they like, even if there isn’t a “need.” In the sixth round, the Browns took Donovan Peoples-Jones last season. Did they need another receiver? Nope. Is Peoples-Jones intriguing? You better believe it.

Q: Will those guys play in the future?

A: It’s highly unlikely the Browns will have two high-priced receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. back for the 2022 season. That assumes both are with the team this season. So they are developing Peoples-Jones. They probably can keep signing Rashard Higgins to 1-year deals. Don’t be surprised if they take a receiver in the middle rounds.

Q: It’s almost like they are putting together two teams.

A: Exactly. They took Nick Harris in the fifth round. Did they need a center? No. But they had a much higher grade on Harris than his draft position. It also allows them to possibly move on from J.C. Tretter after the 2021 season. He’s 30 and has two years and $17 million (not guaranteed) on his contract, according to overthecap.com. If the Browns need cap space in 2022, they could drop Tretter as they did veteran Sheldon Richardson on Friday.

Q: So the Browns could draft for offense?

A: First, let’s stick with the two teams concept. The Browns signed eight significant free agents. Only two – John Johnson III and Troy Hill – signed multi-year contracts. Everyone else is a single season, most for $3 million.

Q: But they did give Johnson a 3-year, $27 million deal.

A: The Browns consider him a “clean free agent.” That means he’s coming off a rookie contract and in his middle to late 20s, the prime of his career. In 2020, Austin Hooper and Jack Conklin fell under that heading. These three are expected to start for several years.

Q: What about Troy Hill?

A: The defensive back from Youngstown signed a 2-year, $9 million deal. But according to overthecap, only $4.5 million is guaranteed. It’s not a rich contract.

Q: Back to the draft, you sound like they will add to the offense?

A: I expect them to do so. Look for an offensive lineman to be picked. I’d like to see them take a quarterback in the low rounds. I like Stanford QB Davis Mills. I’ve seen fourth-round projections on him. If he lasts that long, I’d take him for depth.

Q: What about a linebacker?

A: The Browns re-signed veteran Malcolm Smith. They added veteran Anthony Walker. They really like Jacob Phillips, a third-rounder from 2020. Sione Takitaki had some nice moments in 2020. Mack Wilson is back for a third year, but his roster spot isn’t secure. This team values safeties more than linebackers. I expect them to pick a defensive back before a linebacker, unless that linebacker is almost like a safety in terms of pass coverage.

Q: What do you think of ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s picks for the Browns?

A: He has them taking Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis in the first round (#26) and Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge (#59) in the second. I’d be surprised if they draft a receiver that high. He has Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste going to Buffalo (#61). I can see him with the Browns before Eskridge.

Q: What about in the first round?

A: The Browns have plugged all the media leaks from past regimes. If you hear anything between now and the draft, it probably will be misinformation. I wonder if the Browns like Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year who has safety coverage skills. That is the kind of linebacker they’d want. But he could be gone by No. 26. Lots of projections of him from the middle to late in the first round.

Q: How much work did you do on this draft?

A: Very little because for once, it wasn’t like the Super Bowl for Browns fans. So I don’t have many strong opinions on the college players, but I do like Owusu-Koramoah for the orange helmets.

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New Browns face masks for sale: Here’s where you can buy Cleveland Browns-themed face coverings for coronavirus protection for adults and youth, including a single mask ($14.99) and a 3-pack ($24.99). All NFL proceeds donated to CDC Foundation.

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