We're back after a brief hiatus and poised to knock out TWO mailbags this week.
Those questions are piling up, and we're going to chip away with five of them on this special Wednesday edition of the Browns Mailbag.
Is the placekicker competition wide open? Has Cody Parkey ever hit a 50+ yd FG? — Scott S., Los Angeles
The Browns recently added Chase McLaughlin to the roster but they've had multiple kickers all throughout the offseason. McLaughlin took the spot of Matt McCrane, who was waived in a subsequent transaction. With two kickers on the roster, a competition will occur — just like every other spot on the field. It's a little different from last season, when the Browns — limited to a smaller number of players because of COVID-19 protocols — carried just one punter and one kicker during the buildup to the season. The Browns clearly like what they have in Parkey, who re-signed with the team after one of the best seasons of his NFL career. That said, most NFL teams carry multiple kickers throughout training camp to provide competition to the incumbent, so what the Browns are doing is nothing out of the ordinary.
To the second part of your question: Though Parkey did not attempt a kick of 50 yards or more in 2020, he's certainly equipped to handle it. For his career, Parkey is 8-of-10 on kicks from 50+.
The defensive tackles are a group of major interest. Can the group replace the starters effectively? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
You're right about the major interest. I'm particularly intrigued, at least. This group has undergone a pretty significant facelift over the past couple of months. It started with the departure of Larry Ogunjobi, who signed with the Bengals at the start of free agency. Then, a few weeks later, Sheldon Richardson was released, ensuring the Browns would enter the season without their two main starters at the position. Veteran Malik Jackson was added in free agency and Andrew Billings is back after opting out from the 2020 season. And then, starting with the selection of Ohio State's Tommy Togiai in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, the Browns added four more to the position group in a one-week span with the additions of Marvin Wilson, Damion Square and Malik McDowell. All told, the Browns are carrying eight players at a spot where they typically carried four throughout the 2020 season.
Jackson, Billings, Square and Sheldon Day all carry significant playing experience. Togiai, Wilson and McDowell have never played in an NFL game. Jordan Elliott is coming off a rookie season in which he was a key rotational player. It's a strength-in-numbers approach the Browns hope will pay off when it's time to narrow the roster to 53 players.
"I think (Executive Vice President of Football operations and General Manager) Andrew (Berry) and his staff looked at every position and were trying to make decisions to improve the ball club. I think there were some opportunities there recently that came about with a couple of players," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Andrew and the crew do a really nice job of making sure we are trying to improve the ball team in any way we can."
With a talented backfield already (Chubb, Hunt), how might the Browns find a way to use versatile 6th round draft pick Demetric Felton? — Brooks P., Cincinnati
You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned Felton's versatility. That's what intrigued the Browns about him, and there's always room for a player who can do multiple things and line up at multiple spots within an offense. This is a player, mind you, who set a UCLA record with 55 receptions as a running back in 2019. Anyone who regularly watches the college game knows how unique that is for a running back. For example, Colts RB Nyheim Hines finished third among NFL RBs last season with 63 receptions. In his final year at NC State, Hines caught 26 passes.
"Part of the appeal to Demetric was his ability to line up all over, speaking of versatility," Stefanski said. "We list him as a running back, but we need to get him on campus and see what he can handle and see what he can do. You have plenty of reps you can look at down there at the Senior Bowl where he is lining up all over. That is to be determined in the role, but you can pencil him as a running back at this moment."
Felton has embraced the fact he's entering a running backs room that includes Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, arguably the league's best running back tandem. He knows he'll have to carve out a niche that goes beyond just carrying the ball, and he appears more than ready for the challenge.
"I hope they recognize that I am someone who can be used in a lot of different ways," Felton said. "I hope they take advantage of it, and I am able to show just that."
In addition to picking up free agents and drafting college players, the Browns will also be looking at some bonus players who didn't play last year — all those who opted not to play because of the Covid situation. Could you talk about those players, I assume they will be returning this year. What's the prognosis for them sticking with the team? — Greg P., St. Louis
Of the five players who opted out for the 2020 season, three remain on the roster: Billings, G Drew Forbes and G Colby Gossett. Forbes and Gossett will be competing for spots in a loaded Browns offensive line room that features all of last year's regular starters. Billings, as mentioned above, figures to be at the center of a crowded competition for spots at defensive tackle. Billings has years of experience as a key player on Cincinnati's defensive line while Forbes and Gossett have seen minimal action throughout their respective careers.
With the "comings and goings" in free agency, how do the Browns stand relative to compensatory picks in 2022? Also, how does the process work in 50 words or less?! — P.J. R, Bowling Green
We leave this stuff to the experts because it's a bit complex. OverTheCap.com does a great job tracking these happenings with their frequently-updated compensatory pick projections — emphasis on "projection." The simple rule of thumb with compensatory picks, though, is if you sign a larger number of free agents compared to the number of your own free agents who sign elsewhere, you're probably not getting many compensatory picks — especially if the players you sign produce at a higher level than the ones who departed. The value of the player is also factored into the equation and largely dictates where within the third-sixth rounds those compensatory picks are allocated.
The Browns have not had any compensatory picks since the 2017 NFL Draft, and that checks out based on the team's free agency activity over the past few years. This past offseason, the Browns signed five compensatory free agents — S John Johnson III, LB Anthony Walker, DE Takkarist McKinley, CB Troy Hill and DE Jadeveon Clowney. They had four compensatory free agents sign elsewhere — DT Larry Ogunjobi, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Terrance Mitchell and T Kendall Lamm.