Baker Mayfield is an easy guy not to like, but when healthy he is a solid quarterback. However, it is not hard to understand why the Browns acquired Deshaun Watson. Watson’s a tremendous talent and an upgrade most NFL teams would not mind having, even with a suspension looming. He certainly makes the Browns a more attractive wager for Ohio sports bettors than Mayfield.
But with it looking more likely that a suspension of multiple games could be coming, going all-in on Watson is not looking like a great idea. It’s also causing most sportsbooks to hold off on releasing some futures odds. That means his $10 million salary cap hit for this season turns into dead money, money the Browns could have spent on players that will see the field in 2022.
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Players the Browns Could Have Signed Instead Of Deshaun Watson
According to Spotrac.com, the Browns have about $15 million in cap space remaining. Combine that with the $10 million in cap space Watson’s contract eats this year, and there’s about $25 million in the metaphorical war chest. The option of backloading a contract as they did with Watson (he’ll have a roughly $55 million cap hit the next four seasons) exists, of course.
But to keep this exercise from getting bogged down with when money will get paid, let’s operate under the assumption that there’s $25 million to spend. So let’s talk about some of the guys the Browns could have acquired:
Interior Defensive Line Help
No big-name interior defensive linemen were available when free agency got underway, but there were several good ones the Browns could have acquired for anywhere from $5-7 million like Harrison Phillips (signed with the Vikings; 3-years, $19 million), DaQuan Jones (Bills; 2-years, $14 million), and Al Woods (Seahawks; 2-years, $9 million).
Phillips was the 15th-best defensive tackle last season but had the sixth-best run grade (78.9) at PFF.com. Jones was not nearly as good against the run (59.5) but graded out at 66.4 (34th out of 109 graded players). Woods was one of the best run defenders in the league last season (80.3 run defense grade; 75.4 overall).
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Offensive Line Depth
Jack Conklin’s injury in the latter half of the 2021 season shows how important it is to have some solid depth backing up your starting offensive lineman. The Browns could have made a play for La’el Collins after the Cowboys cut him. Collins signed with the Bengals (3 years, $21 million). Several solid veterans are still on the market, i.e., Duane Brown, Nate Solder, Eric Fisher, and Riley Reiff.
Overall, the room looks good. Amari Cooper is a solid No. 1, Jakeem Grant is a decent speedster, and they took two promising young receivers in the draft (Purdue’s David Bell and Oklahoma’s Michael Woods II). It would not be shocking to see Bell turn into a solid No. 2 relatively soon, but until he gets up to speed, it would be nice to have someone better than Donovan Peoples-Jones as the No. 2.
Jamison Crowder has had lackluster quarterbacks his entire career (in Washington and with the Jets). While he signed on to play with one of the best (Josh Allen) this season, he may not play much in Buffalo. Cleveland could have given him a chance to play with a good quarterback and more than the $2 million he’s getting with the Bills.