After a busy month or two of news from free agency, draft and rookie minicamp, the Browns Mailbag is finally back.
I'll be stepping in for Andrew Gribble in this space, and I'm thrilled to dive into your questions now and for the foreseeable future as we prepare for OTAs and inch closer toward mandatory minicamp. We have PLENTY to discuss, so keep the good questions coming.
We're tackling three here, with more to come
Who is going to cover slot receivers now that Troy Hill has been traded? – Bob Ruple, Novelty, Ohio
Who will be the slot WR and who will be the slot CB? – Binyamin Dickman, Lawrence, New York
We're starting this off with two questions about two positions set to hold new players in 2022.
Let's begin with cornerback. The Browns traded Troy Hill, their slot CB last season, to the Rams, and have a couple of options on the roster to replace him in 2022. Kevin Stefanski addressed this directly last Friday during rookie minicamp and didn't single out any individual cornerback for the role just yet.
"I think we have multiple guys who can fill that role and have filled that role in there," he said. "I think that is why we talk about versatility. If you're playing corner or if you're playing safety, you're going to be trained to play in the slot and play our nickel position. I think we have multiple guys who can do that."
One of them is Greg Newsome II, who started learning the position early in training camp last year as a rookie and occasionally slid over to the role in the regular season. Newsome had minimal experience in the slot at Northwestern but embraced learning the position and proved to be a valuable, versatile piece to the secondary.
The Browns might try the same project with third-round rookie Martin Emerson Jr. He almost exclusively played outside corner at Mississippi State, but the Browns are intrigued by his 6-foot-2 frame and long arms that can help throw receivers off their route at the beginning of the snap. They could give him a look inside during OTAs and training camp, but they don't need to rush him into any role in the cornerback room with Greedy Williams and A.J. Green also able to provide experienced depth.
Now for wide receiver.
Jarvis Landry manned the slot role the last four seasons but signed with the Saints in free agency. The frontrunner to be next for the role could be third-round rookie David Bell, who had three seasons of top-tier production at Purdue and possesses a strong set of hands that should work well in the position. The Browns appear ready to work Bell in both slot and outside roles, but the slot role could be primarily his if he performs well in training camp.
"I think he has versatility outside and inside," Stefanski said during rookie minicamp. "I do think he has a natural competitiveness both in route-running and in route-catching, and the ability in the route-running game to set people up and drop your weight. Those types of things."
Check out photos of all the Browns rookies in Cleveland — and catch them live on 'Browns Live: Meet the Rookies' on May 18
What are the chances that the Browns go after 1 of many free agents that are left unsigned to help bolster their depth at any of the positions? Because there are plenty that are not signed as of yet – Lou Slepski, Salem
You're correct — lots of talented free agents remain available, a higher amount than normal at this point in the offseason, and the Browns do have a chunk of cap space available to possibly pick from them.
The Browns added a few players to some of their top positional needs in the draft, but they still could explore additional D-line and WR options to shore up depth and create competition in training camp. DE Jadeveon Clowney, of course, is one of the top players available, and the Browns already know what kind of damage he can do in the same defensive line with Myles Garrett. Other notable D-line options include DTs Akiem Hicks, Ndamkung Suh and Linval Joseph and DEs Tre Flowers, Carlos Dunlap and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Julio Jones, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders are some of the top receivers available. So is Will Fuller, who enjoyed some of his best NFL seasons thus far when QB Deshaun Watson was his quarterback in Houston.
The Browns will obviously keep tabs on the market and feel good about the roster now, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see them make another addition or two with so many talented, veteran players still available.
What scheme will our offense realistically run now that we have Deshaun? – Shlomo Jacob
That still remains to be seen, although the Browns will likely have a much better idea of the direction they want to go in after mandatory minicamp (June 14-16) is completed.
Here's what Stefanski said about that question at the start of the offseason workouts in April:
"We're just diving into that. We're talking as a staff. We're talking with Deshaun. Understanding some of our concepts that we're tweaking and those types of things. Those are ongoing, but it's April. We will continue to work through all of that this spring."
The Browns have had minimal time to evaluate Watson so far with only light workout portions of the offseason program complete. Phase Three of the offseason program begins Tuesday, though, and will stretch over the course of the next three weeks leading to mandatory minicamp. The Browns will have plenty of time to watch Watson then.
It's obvious that the Browns want to mold the offense to maximize Watson's skills. Whether that means any drastic changes from the wide-zone scheme Stefanski has utilized in past seasons isn't clear, but the Browns will feel confident in what Watson, strong-armed and mobile, can do in any system.
"Our goal is always to play to that player's strengths,"
QB Coach Drew Petzing said in April. "The nice part is that it is very vast (with Watson), so I think the thing that's going to be hard for us is to make sure we don't do too much. We know he can excel in every area, but where is he exceptional, and where does that align with our roster when we hit Week 1?"