Thanks to the many offseason moves made by general manager John Dorsey, the Browns appeared well off at tight end.
There was former first-round pick David Njoku, new addition Demetrius Harris and a host of faces who were very capable of serving as a third tight end for the Browns. The group seemed reliable with the potential to create explosive plays and cause nightmares for opposing defenses.
Then, Demetrius Harris suffered a concussion in training camp, keeping him out for a lengthy amount of time. Pharaoh Brown started to show his value as a blocking tight end. The team waived Orson Charles before the end of the preseason. And when it came time for final cut downs and waiver claims, gone were Seth DeValve and Stephen Carlson.
A name arose that intrigued the Browns, a player who had a bit of history with head coach Freddie Kitchens: tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.
Seals-Jones went undrafted out of Texas A&M in 2017 but landed with the Arizona Cardinals, where Kitchens had served as a tight ends and quarterbacks coach before taking the role of running backs coach in 2017. He wasn't far from Seals-Jones, who was a cut-down day casualty but landed on Arizona's practice squad and was eventually promoted to the active roster. He ended up catching 12 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games as a rookie, then bested those marks a year later with 34 grabs for 343 yards and one touchdown.
He was again a cut-down day casualty in 2019, though, as a result of a new coaching staff in Arizona. Dorsey and his staff, Kitchens included, wisely put in a claim on the tight end and landed him before the start of the 2019 season.
It has proven to be one of the savviest moves of the year.
Seals-Jones has replaced Njoku's pass-catching ability, which was lost when Njoku suffered a broken wrist and concussion on a frightening play that resulted in Njoku getting flipped upside down in the Week 2 win over the New York Jets. He's also become the most productive pass-catcher on the team in regards to scoring touchdowns.
To tight ends coach John Lilly, little of this was a surprise.
"I am really glad we got him. Obviously, he had done some things," Lilly said. "I remember Ricky when he was in high school. He was a receiver. It is funny because you thought he could potentially grow into a tight end. Obviously, I could not tell you everything specifically everything about the way his role evolved in Arizona and all that, but it is certainly one of those things here that you hate that you did not have him through April, May, June and training camp to be able to really detail some of the things we are doing. He has done a nice job of working hard and obviously has found a little niche doing some things for us here. I think he has gotten better every week really."
Lilly's point about Seals-Jones unavailability during the minicamp and OTAs period of the offseason is especially interesting, because Seals-Jones is producing without having that extra time to work on the finer details. He's finding soft spots in defensive coverages, catching passes in the open field and adding yards after catch, has established visible chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield — and he's doing most of it on the fly.
"John Dorsey and those guys do a great job of putting the right people in the rooms, and you coach who is in there," Lilly said. "I think with all those guys, certainly the dynamic change a little bit when David got hurt and everybody had to pick up a little bit more of it. I think one of the really neat things about our team so far this year really across positions is when guys have gone down, there has been somebody else ready to step in and play at a high level. That is why they are all here."
He has some legitimate competition for most valuable reserve on the Browns, with Terrance Mitchell, T.J. Carrie and Jermaine Whitehead giving him a run for his money, but Seals-Jones might be the most important under-the-radar offensive addition on this team. He's producing like it so far.
What's next, though? Njoku can return from injured reserve in Week 12 — a little over a month from now — meaning until then, Seals-Jones will continue to be counted on, as will Brown in the blocking game and Harris in both. The Browns could have weathered losing Njoku without Seals-Jones, sure, but they wouldn't have maintained the offensive potential of the position group without him. And as a group of three, these tight ends are proving to be valuable commodities for an offense looking to establish rhythm and consistency.
In talking with these coaches, these seems to be the desired improvement across the board. Seals-Jones is at the very least setting the pace.
"I used the word consistency," Lilly said. "You can take a look, breakdown play after play. One play we do a great job at the point of attack. It comes up again and we may get beat at the point of attack in the running game. Another play, we do a great job on the backside and (RB) Nick (Chubb) gets a 52-yard run, and then a quarter later, we have essentially the same opportunity and we do not get it done and it is a gain of one. It is fine line. Every inch matters. In this league, most of the games are really, really close."
Perhaps a Seals-Jones touchdown could serve as the difference in the games ahead. Time will tell.
Check out photos of the Browns working during their bye week by team photographer Matt Starkey