On this Opening Day in Cleveland, we’re tackling five of your questions heading into the weekend.
Does drafting Saquon Barkley mean losing Duke Johnson Jr. to free agency next year? If Barkley turns out to be as good as everyone predicts, the Browns will have three really good running backs in Duke, Carlos Hyde, and Barkley. Are these too many mouths to feed in the backfield? -- Brent H., Cambridge
I think that’s jumping to a bit of a conclusion. Look around the NFL: Some of the best teams in the league boast backfields that feature two or three players they deploy in their running and passing games. The Saints paired Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to perfection last season, a tandem that gave New Orleans one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Johnson has been certainly capable for the Browns as a runner, but his biggest value has been in the passing game, where he’s amassed 188 catches for 1,741 yards. He’s the ideal complementary back to have in a multi-faceted backfield, and I’m not quite sure the arrival of a new bellcow would mean the end for his time in Cleveland.
With the flurry of trades and free agent acquisitions, where are the Browns in terms of cap space? -- Elmer L., Bangor, Maine
Even after the Browns made a number of signings in free agency and took on larger salaries via trades, they remain atop the league with the most cap space at just a shade over $74 million, according to OverTheCap.com. That doesn’t count the money Cleveland will allocate to its upcoming draft picks. When he talked about the Browns’ free agency situation in January, general manager John Dorsey stressed the team would be aggressive when necessary but also “prudent” with the team’s abundance of resources because you don’t want to put the team in a precarious position beyond 2018. It appears that mission was accomplished.
Why not take JT Barrett in the draft? -- Chris R., Ashtabula
I wouldn’t have any issue adding Barrett to the quarterback room as a late-round pick, which is where he’s projected by most analysts. He just simply isn’t in the mix as one of the top signal-callers in the draft.
If Minkah Fitzpatrick, Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley are available at 4, would you take Fitzpatrick over Chubb? Or draft Barkley? -- Dusty F., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
If this situation arises, which certainly appears to be a distinct possibility after the Jets made a move up from No. 6 to No. 3, the Browns are in an ideal spot. Not only could they have the pick of the litter at whomever they view as the best non-quarterback -- if they take a QB at No. 1, of course -- but they’d also be in a great position to swing a trade with numerous teams vying for one of the last top-tier quarterbacks available. Clearly, it’s an enviable spot, and the Browns honestly couldn’t do wrong with any of the three. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out detailed examinations of these players, laying out the pros and cons for selecting them. For now, here’s one good reason for and against each of the prospects.
Pro: Most analysts believe he’s the top overall prospect. If that’s the case for the Browns, you don’t hesitate. You grab a player many believe to be a generational talent, plug him into a new-look offense and watch him lead your team for years to come.
Con: He’s a running back. Yes, a number of teams have used high draft picks on running backs in recent years, but the Browns have bigger needs to fill. Also, this is a deep, deep class of talented running backs. General manager John Dorsey proved just last year it’s possible to take a game-changing running back in the later rounds when he selected Kareem Hunt.
Pro: You can never have enough pass rushers, and most believe he’s by far the best in this year’s draft. The Eagles certainly proved it on the way to the Super Bowl this past year. A player with talent like Chubb has a place in any defense, no matter the depth chart. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams would have so many more possibilities with Chubb, Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah and more.
Con: About that depth chart … is it really worth it to select another defensive lineman in the early part of the draft? The Browns used a first-round pick on a defensive tackle in 2015, the No. 32 pick on a defensive end in 2016 and the No. 1 pick in 2017. The Browns were comfortable enough with their depth to be able to trade Danny Shelton last month. It’s a young, talented group, and an argument can be made the Browns would be better served to address other areas where there’s more obvious opportunities for an immediate impact.
Pro: He can play anywhere in the secondary. That kind of versatility is hard to find, and he’d provide Williams with a valuable, Swiss-Army knife style of player for the back end of the defense. If the Browns view him to be capable enough to play cornerback, he fills a need at one of the most important positions on the field.
Con: He’s versatile, but is he necessarily the best safety? Florida State’s Derwin James would beg to differ. And is he the best cornerback? Ohio State’s Denzel Ward would disagree. A lot has changed for the Browns in the last month, too, as they filled a massive need with the acquisition of free safety Damarious Randall and added four cornerbacks with starting experience through free agency.
Will the Browns announce who they will take with the first pick before the draft? -- Joe M., Medina
That doesn’t seem likely based off these comments from Hue Jackson at last month’s owners meetings in Orlando.
“That could happen,” Jackson said, when asked if the decision would go down to the wire. “Knowing John that could happen. John’s outstanding that way. He plays it real close to the vest … We’re going to exhaust all (possibilities) because I think it’s important too. This is a real important time in Cleveland football, let’s just be honest. We have to make the right decisions. I don’t think we need to make any knee-jerk reactions to anything. Let’s really dig into all of this and talk through it and make the right decision for us.”