As promised, the second part to our Browns Mailbag from Friday, as the questions are furiously flowing into our inbox.
Browns made a bigger splash than expected with Free Agency. They retained most of their receivers including Hollywood Higgins, which is huge! They also re-signed Malcom Smith, who was a very good signing at linebacker last year, not to mention taking a flyer on a 1-year deal with Takkarist McKinley. Safety room looks fantastic after getting stud SS JJ3! Now it begs the question: Do Browns trade up to get "their guy" at DE, LB or CB? And what would it cost to trade into the mid-teens? Also, could the Browns make a surprise pick and take an offensive lineman in the second round? — Joe K., Lima
Lot to unpack here, but we love the enthusiasm. That's why your question(s) are getting the big answer treatment.
Let's start with the discussion about trading up from No. 26. The Browns certainly have the assets — nine picks, including multiple selections in the third and fourth rounds — to make a move up in the draft if they want. Teams with far less to offer have made significant moves and have typically parted with a mix of current and future assets to do so. As the Browns have learned on a number of occasions over the past few years, future picks can be acquired at a premium rate during the throes of the draft. Just last year, the Browns acquired a third-round pick in this year's draft from the Saints for simply moving back 14 spots in the third round and throwing in a late seventh-round pick during last year's draft.
It's understandable to wonder if the Browns are more likely to make such a move after a season like last year's and a free agency period like the one they just experienced. There's a feeling by some fans of being "one player away" after adding a number of potential starters to the defense and bringing back most everyone from the offense. General Managers, though, can't think that way. For the Browns, such a move would have to make sense for the team's present and future and include a player who fits the mold of what they want: smart, tough and accountable. EVP of Football Operations Andrew Berry has been adamant his front office will be "aggressive" in acquiring the kinds of players it believes can make the team better. He's yet to have to execute a trade to move up a significant amount in the early part of the draft to do it, but that doesn't mean he won't.
As far as the cost, we'll let recent history guide us. Last year, the Chargers went from 37th to 23rd in a deal with the Patriots by throwing in a third-round pick (No. 71). In 2019, the Steelers moved up from No. 20 to No. 10 in a trade with the Broncos that required Pittsburgh to part with its second-round pick in that year's draft and a future third-round pick. That same year, Green Bay went from 30th to 21st and only needed to part with a couple of fourth-round picks. And in 2018, the Saints moved from No. 27 to No. 14 by parting with a fifth-round pick and a future FIRST-round pick.
Now, to the final part of your question … and we're going to take some liberties with it. The collective draft world, at this point, would be surprised if the Browns went with an offensive player in the first round. We say that because in our weekly roundup of mock drafts there have been exactly zero predictions of the Browns taking a player from the offensive side of the ball. But you're asking about the second round, offensive linemen in particular, and that's where we start to embrace our inner Kevin Garnett and say "anything is possible." The Browns are no longer in a position where they need to hammer away at pressing needs in the draft. That opens things up when you're on the clock, and that means the Browns could truly go in any direction when it's their turn to pick — no matter the round. That's how good teams stay good. Let the draft fall to you, draft the best player available (even if it's an area at which you're currently strong) and see the team become better over the long haul because of it.
If he is available at 26, I feel very strongly about grabbing Zaven Collins, as he can help at both end and linebacker … your thoughts?? — Greg B., Roswell, Georgia
Collins is an intriguing prospect who has been pegged to the Browns on more than one occasion, the most recent and notable of which being Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft. Though he's 260 pounds and looks a lot like a defensive end, Collins is projected by most to stay at linebacker. It's the position at which he thrived as a senior at Tulsa, winning the Nagurski Award, which goes to the nation's best defensive player. The Browns made some moves in free agency at linebacker by bringing back Malcolm Smith and signing Anthony Walker but that doesn't mean they're done addressing the position. It makes sense why Kiper and others think Collins and the Browns could be an ideal match at No. 26. We'll have to see what happens a month from now.
How big of presence is John Johnson III? Not only from his position, but from his leadership skills? Can he be the quarterback of the defense? How has Curtis Weaver been rehabbing? Will he be ready for training camp? — Joe A., Cincinnati
A two-parter to wrap things up.
We've got a whole bunch of "yes" to your questions about Johnson. His leadership was a huge draw to the Browns, who were pleasantly surprised to see him become available in free agency. Players like this don't become available all that often, and Johnson has embraced being the on-field play-caller of the defense. We'll see if he carries that role with Cleveland but he's certainly in the running.
As for Weaver, he's close to a full year removed from the injury that led to his exit from Miami and his 2020 season spent on the injured reserve. He was with with the Browns all year long, though, and endeared himself to Kevin Stefanski and the coaching staff.
"Curtis, it is really his first year really with us because he spent so much time rehabbing so it is first year with us and second year in the NFL," Stefanski said. "Those are the type of guys that we are going to give them every opportunity to grow, and they have to put the work in to make it happen.
"I love Curtis, and really, you can put him with the second-year players or you can put him with the rookies and say this is truly his first year with us."