The Los Angeles Rams started the ball rolling with trades, and over the weekend the Cleveland Browns showed they weren’t afraid to throw some draft picks around and make a few deals.
Cleveland came into this offseason with 12 draft picks and a lot of cap room, but as ever with a huge number of needs and a desperately thin roster. New general manager John Dorsey got the ball rolling with several big acquisitions though.
Buying a passing game, sort of
The Browns traded a third-round pick to Buffalo for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and a fourth-round pick to Miami for wide receiver Jarvis Landry. The moves give them upgrades at both positions, but they aren’t exactly dominant purchases.
Taylor is a career 62.4% passer who has posted just 7.2 yards per attempt in his three years as the Bills starter. That’s not bad, but it is far from brilliant. Taylor’s biggest positive is that he limits turnovers. He threw just 16 interceptions in his three seasons, which is amazing compared to what Cleveland have had 54 in that timespan. If Taylor ends up starting for them in 2018 he isn’t going to set the world on fire and turn their passing game around like Deshaun Watson or Carson Wentz have for their teams, but he will at least lift the Browns from the foot of the NFL into the middle of the efficiency rankings.
Cleveland have ranked 27th, 29th, and 32nd in passing offense DVOA the past three years, while the Bills were 12th, 18th, and 28th. That precipitous drop in 2017 includes the Nathan Peterman implosion though. Adding Taylor to a solid offensive line is only going to see the Browns fortunes improve.
As for Landry, he is playing under the franchise tag at the moment, and the Browns have all the cap space in the world to extend him, but I’m not certain they should. He is a very talented underneath player and has caught 400 balls for a hair over 4,000 yards in just four seasons, but his lack of downfield play is a worry. There is nothing wrong with having a threat underneath, and every team needs one, but you can’t be paying someone elite money from just 10.1 yards per catch.
Cleveland would be sensible to use this year to see how Landry fits into their offense and if he can provide any threat downfield or on the outside. A change of offensive scheme and different usage may uncover something in Landry, but he has been vocal about wanting to be paid like the best, and if that’s what it will take to secure his long term signature right now then it is not worth the risk for Cleveland.
Along with buying up a passing game the Browns made a few moves on defense. They sent Deshone Kizer to the Packers for cornerback Damarious Randall, together with a swap of fourth- and fifth-round picks, and then sent former first-round pick Danny Shelton off to New England for a 2018 fifth-rounder and a 2019 third-round pick.
Both moves make sense, with the Browns woefully thin at cornerback adding an average player gives them the building blocks of a nice rotation, and getting value for Shelton when they were unlikely to re-sign him is nice as well.
The defense still has a long way to go, but the Browns gave themselves a head start with these trades.
How it affects free agency and the draft
Trading for Taylor gives Cleveland options at the top of the draft. If they have fallen in love with Saquon Barkley it allows them to take him at #1 and not worry too much if their favorite quarterback comes off the board before they pick again at #4.
Adding Landry in year that lacks elite receiving options in both free agency and the draft is a move that lets them not have to take risks with their picks, and adding Randall eases some pressure in completely restocking the cornerback cupboard this year.
Cleveland still need a lot of new talent before they can think about challenging Pittsburgh at the top of the AFC North, but they are taking the steps necessary to change the perseption of the team around the league. They can win multiple games with Tyrod Taylor, they can take their time over developing a rookie quarterback, and they can focus on rounding out the defense.
They may not have added All-Pro’s like the Rams did, but for where they were last year they are already a lot better.
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