We’re riding strong into 2019 with three of your questions to kick off the new year.
You got it.
Let’s start with the understatement of understatements: The Browns roster has come a long way from this time last year. Dorsey’s work began long before the draft, adding key pieces via trade -- Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor and Damarious Randall -- and signing a number of starters in free agency -- Darren Fells, T.J. Carrie, Chris Hubbard, Terrance Mitchell and more. Almost all of those players, many of whom were regular starters in 2018, are poised to return in 2019.
Then there was the draft.
The biggest question was solved with the No. 1 pick, as Baker Mayfield gave the Browns everything they could have wanted from a rookie quarterback in a season that only got better as it progressed. Answering a conundrum that’s plagued the Browns ever since they returned as a franchise in 1999 goes a long way toward how a team can approach its future. We’ll get a clearer picture of that during this upcoming offseason.
There were more hits, of course. At No. 4, the Browns landed a lockdown cornerback in Denzel Ward. He made big plays at the start of the season and then got shown the ultimate sign of respect throughout the second half when teams simply stopped throwing his way. That’s how you get invited to the Pro Bowl. Coupled with the strong seasons from Mitchell and Carrie, it’s hard to find a Browns position group that improved more than cornerback.
Running back Nick Chubb, a second-round pick, nearly rushed for 1,000 yards without starting the first six games. Fourth-round receiver Antonio Callaway led the team with five touchdowns and finished third with 586 yards. Fifth-round linebacker Genard Avery was a force as a pass rusher and played a ton of snaps because of injuries to veterans Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert. Three players who didn’t see the field much -- OL Austin Corbett, DL Chad Thomas and WR Damion Ratley -- are still with the team and viewed highly by their teammates as players who will contribute in the future. Simply put, it’s hard to do much better than Dorsey did in his first draft.
Which brings us to this upcoming offseason.
The Browns have just a few of their own players set for free agency. The two drawing the most attention from fans are left tackle Greg Robinson and wide receiver Breshad Perriman, both of whom seemed to resurrect their careers with the Browns. Dorsey said Monday he hopes to bring them back.
If the Browns want to make the kind of trades they made before the start of free agency last year, they have the assets to do so. Cleveland boasts 10 draft picks, including two third-rounders, thanks to the handful of trades Dorsey has executed over the past year. For free agency, there’s plenty of cap space to add veterans and pad depth across the roster. It’s important to keep in mind the Browns will be mindful in how they use that salary cap space. There’s a lot of young talent on the roster that, in time, will be due for extensions.
It all adds up to making the Browns’ head coaching vacancy one of the most attractive in the league.
“You have a young quarterback. You have a young pass rusher. You have a young team, a very dynamic team,” Dorsey said. “I think you have a really good locker room in there. I think you have assets in place with regards to the salary cap. You have assets in place for the draft. You have strong ownership, a committed ownership. Then you have a committed fan base. There is a bright future with this organization. Hopefully, they can see what we see here.”
Now that the season is over and the search for the next head coach has begun, if a new coach wants his own people in place will they keep Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens? -- Paul N., Finksburg, Maryland
Asked about Kitchens remaining on staff if he’s not hired as head coach, Dorsey addressed this topic in a general sense when he met with reporters Monday.
“Ultimately, whoever that head coach will be in the future, I think he has to have the ability to hire his staff,” Dorsey said. “Will we make suggestions? Yeah, that is what all people do. At the end of the day, whoever that head coach is, it is going to be his decision if he stays or if he leaves.”
Williams has already interviewed for the job, and Kitchens is expected to in the coming days.
What are your thoughts on the O-Line getting the Team MVP Award? Seems as if it has been years since four O-Line starters played as many snaps without injury and only the LT had a one time substitution mid-season. Nearly had a 1,000 yard WR and a 1,000 yard RB. Looking very bright for 2019! -- Philip H., St. Clairsville
You’re not kidding. The four starters who didn’t miss a snap -- Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler and Chris Hubbard -- are all set to return for 2019, too. As mentioned above, the Browns hope to bring back Robinson, who brought stability to left tackle. There were a lot of factors at play, of course, but the unit allowing just five sacks during the second half of the season is truly an incredible feat.
“I think it was just a combination of everything,” Bitonio said. “When you give up a bunch of sacks, it is not always the O-Line’s fault on everything, and when you protect all of the time, the credit does not always go all to the O-Line. It was a group effort. I think Gregg did a great job coming in there. I think Hub improved as the season went on. I think our continuity as an O-Line really improved as the weeks went on, as well.”