After last year’s promising end to the season under interim head coach Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, there were high hopes for the Cleveland Browns this season. That was especially so after the high-profile trade for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr from the New York Giants, with many predicting Cleveland to end their long running playoff drought.
However, as so often with Cleveland football, those dreams have failed to materialise. What does the franchise need to do between now and the start of the 2020 season to make good on a roster full of promise?
Build depth on the roster
One of the big concerns of the Browns signing and trading for high profile veterans like Beckham, Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson, was the amount of cap space they would take up, restricting the ability of the franchise to sign players who can ensure the Browns have quality second string players, or alternates, when required.
With the playoffs out of reach, Kitchens should look to increase the playing time of the younger players on the roster, particularly the team’s 2019 draft picks. For instance, inserting and maintaining cornerback Greedy Williams as the team’s starter opposite All Pro Denzel Ward, will help clarify if this is the main weak spot on an otherwise talented defense. The same could be said for fourth rounder Sheldrick Redwine, especially with fellow safeties Damarious Randall and Eric Murray currently pencilled in as free agents next offseason.
The Browns should have around $60 million in cap space at the end of this season, and though the temptation might be to go out and splash the big bucks to solve the problems that have derailed them this season, general manager John Dorsey would be wise to spread the wealth by improving the roster behind the glitzy starters.
‘Run’ the offense through Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb is one of the best young backs in this league, and he will soon be joined by Kareem Hunt, to further add to the talent level in the backfield. Controversy aside, Hunt can play in the NFL, as we’ve seen from his time in Kansas City, whilst Chubb is averaging 5.2 yards per carry so far this season.
When Hunt is cleared to return to the field, Kitchens needs to make the run game the focal point of the offense.
This season, quarterback Baker Mayfield is simply trying to do too much and we’ve seen the impact on the Browns offense, which is a shadow of what it was last year. The past three games, Chubb has carried the ball 20 times, which raises the question of whether he is on a pitch count. As Hunt returns, it will benefit the former Georgia Bulldog, keeping him fresher through the rest of the season.
Do your due diligence on coaching candidates
The Freddie Kitchens experience simply hasn’t worked out. The hope of Dorsey when he promoted the long-time position coach to the top job, was that the continuity would be beneficial to Mayfield.
That was arguably the main factor in Kitchens’ favour, as well as the fact that his short spell coordinating the offense made him a hot property that Cleveland wanted to retain. This season that has been undone with the head coach’s play calling questioned and Mayfield clearly regressing.
Another mark against Kitchens is the fact that the Browns lead the league in penalties, with NFL.com’s analytics expert Cynthia Frelund noting that this has put the Browns into a lot of 2nd/3rd and longs. That lack of discipline comes directly back on the head coach.
If Kitchens wants to save his job, he may want to put his offense in the hands of offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
The former Tampa Bay coordinator managed to spark life into the Bucs offense when given play calling duties by then head coach Dirk Koetter. What Kitchens has dialled up so far this season clearly hasn’t been effective. What does he have to lose by giving Monken a shot?
In the meantime, Dorsey and Browns’ owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam might want to get shortlisting potential coaching candidates if Kitchens can’t get the team firing on all cylinders.
That list may include Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley who could be tempted into the league by the prospect of reuniting with Mayfield, as well as the talent on Cleveland’s roster. Another option might be Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, who would certainly tackle the issues around penalties, though how he would manage Mayfield is another factor. Even Mike McCarthy could be an option as the former Packers head coach showed he can run an effective offense until the last few years went pear-shaped in Green Bay.
Either way, the Browns can’t afford to waste the quality they currently have on the roster, which may push Dorsey to act sooner rather than later.