The Cleveland Browns have long been the laughingstock of the NFL. Coming into 2018 the Browns had one just 1 of their last 32 games. They hadn’t had a winning season since 2007. While the Browns still lost more than they won in 2018, they finished the season with a promising 7-8-1 record thanks to a few years of strong drafting and a change of head coach.
The introduction of talented players like Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb added talent across the field, but the addition of Baker Mayfield at quarterback really turned the tide of mediocrity and made the Browns a competitive team for the first time in years.
All this optimism has fans dreaming of a playoff spot in 2019, but in Madden 19 you can make that dream a reality a year early. The Browns start Madden 19’s Franchise Mode with a very modest 79 overall rating. This is made up of an 83 rated offense and an 81 rated defense, but the team is more talented than the numbers suggest. They are an incredibly playable side and while there are still holes across the roster that need filling the challenge they present is extremely rewarding compared to just starting with the ultra-talented Eagles or the perennial winners in New England. In order to drive the Browns to the top of the NFL you’re going to have to add talent to the roster, and this means dealing with the contracts of current players and making sure you are always in a healthy salary cap position.
Cleveland Browns Salary Cap
The Browns start Franchise Mode with 61 players on their roster and $33.1 million in cap space. This isn’t a lot for a team that is not competing at the sharp end of the NFL, but recent free agent investments and big contract extensions have cut into the space rather considerably. There are 26 players that can be cut without incurring any cap penalty, including free safety Damarious Randall who can be released to open up $5 million in cap space. However, you don’t really need to make such harsh cuts to open up space. You have to drop 8 players to get down to the 53-man regular season roster and that should free up around $5-6 million in space.
The Browns cap is certainly healthy enough to dip into the free agent market straight away and add players like Jeremy Maclin or Cliff Avril on a one-year deal if you want to add more depth, or even make a trade for someone like Andre Hal or Shane Ray who are all usually found on the trade block for a cheap price.
Cleveland Browns Impending Free Agents
The Browns have 22 players entering the final season of their contract when you start Franchise Mode. The benefit of having such a bad team in your recent history is that very few of these players are any good.
There are a handful of useful players like free safety Briean Boddy-Calhoun and cornerback EJ Gaines that should be offered a new deal just to keep your depth charts relatively healthy, but most can be allowed to walk in free agency and are easily replaced with equally or more talented players.
The most important player is left tackle Greg Robinson. He is currently playing on an extremely cheap one-year deal, and while he isn’t great at 74 OVR you should consider retaining him and then looking to improve on him in the draft.
Another player you may want to hold on to is Breshad Perriman, whose 95 speed rating is hard to come by.
Other key impending free agents: Tyrod Taylor (QB), Greg Joseph (K), Trevon Coley (DT)
Cleveland Browns Roster Needs
This is a far shorter list than it was two years ago. Most of the premium positions are taken care of thanks to the last few draft classes. Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, and Denzel Ward are excellent prospects and all have at least three years left on their contract.
The next spot you need to lock down is left tackle, and this should be your priority when it comes to using your first round draft pick. If there isn’t a suitable prospect available, then a second cornerback would be an excellent addition, as would a star middle linebacker to take away the middle of the field.
Elsewhere on the roster, the Browns could use some talent at wide receiver to supplement Jarvis Landry. Antonio Callaway only has a “normal” development trait so relying on him improving is unwise, while Perriman’s speed will only do so much. Another defensive tackle would also be nice. Larry Ogunjobi is good but there is very little next to him in the heart of the defense, and another edge rusher would be a superb compliment to Garrett.
One more safety would be good too. Jabrill Peppers can play either free or strong safety well, and while Damarious Randall is solid he isn’t going to improve much further. Since you will be in sub-packages an awful lot in Madden 19 having a third safety that can play in the Big Nickel Over G formation and fill in for injuries will be very useful.
The Browns aren’t that far away from competing in Madden 19. They have good team speed and Baker Mayfield’s combination of accuracy and athleticism makes the offense potent. If you draft well and deploy your cap space intelligently then you should be able to take this team to the top of the AFC by season 3. That might sound like a long, arduous slog, but it is far better than the prospects of many teams and will be more rewarding than starting with the Steelers or Chiefs.