2016 NFL Offseason: Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns (Last Year: 3-13)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Robert Griffin, G Austin Pasztor, ILB Demario Davis, S Rahim Moore.
Draft Picks:
WR Corey Coleman, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE/DT Carl Nassib, OT Shon Coleman, QB Cody Kessler, DE/OLB Joe Schobert, WR Ricardo Louis, S Derrick Kindred, TE Seth DeValve. Browns Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Johnny Manziel, WR Travis Benjamin, WR Brian Hartline, OT Mitchell Schwartz, C Alex Mack, DT Randy Starks, ILB Karlos Dansby, ILB Craig Robertson, S Tashaun Gipson, S Donte Whitner, S Johnson Bademosi.

2016 Cleveland Browns Offense:
The Browns are a mess. And that’s putting it nicely. They don’t seem to have any sort of viable plan at quarterback. They acquired Robert Griffin this offseason and spent a third-round pick on Cody Kessler, but neither is a viable solution.

Griffin has been atrocious since his rookie campaign. While he played well in 2012, he has declined since for a number of reasons. He is very brittle and has trouble staying healthy as a consequence. He also refuses to watch film and improve upon his flaws. He has a knack for fumbling as well. The Redskins grew so tired of this that they opted to bench him prior to the beginning of this past season despite announcing that he would be the starter.

When Griffin inevitably fails, the Browns will have to turn to either pedestrian journey-man Josh McCown or Kessler, whose arm strength is so weak that he makes Alex Smith look like John Elway. Most teams pegged Kessler as a late-round prospect, so it was quite puzzling as to why Cleveland used a second-day selection on him.

None of the three quarterbacks have a chance because they have nothing to work with outside of Gary Barnidge. There’s no guarantee that Barnidge will even repeat what he did last year – 79 catches, 1,043 yards, nine touchdowns – given that he never caught more than 13 balls prior to 2015. The Browns certainly have a history of one-year wonders (see Peyton Hillis, Derek Anderson), so this could be another case. But even if Barnidge performs well again, he could be the only viable weapon because the Browns have three rookie receivers atop their depth chart. Sure, Corey Coleman was taken in the first round, and he could be effective in his first season, but third-day choices Ricardo Louis, Rashad Higgins and Jordan Payton may not produce for a while. The fact that Griffin, McCown or Kessler will have to rely on these players is quite troubling. If only Josh Gordon were focused on advancing his career rather than partying with an alcholic loser.

The offensive line isn’t in great shape either, as it took a hit this offseason. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, one of the better players at his position, left for the Chiefs in free agency. His replacement will be either practice squad-fodder Austin Pasztor or third-round rookie Shon Coleman. The good news is that All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas is still around, and there’s no reason to think that he’ll suffer any sort of decline.

Schwartz wasn’t the only talented blocker who isn’t with the team anymore. Stud center Alex Mack inked a deal with the Falcons, leaving Cameron Erving in his wake. Erving was woeful as a rookie, but there’s a chance he could improve. He was stationed at guard in 2015, so he could be better at his natural position. Plus, he was a first-round selection, so it’s not like he doesn’t have talent. Erving will be flanked by a couple of skilled guards in John Greco and Joel Bitonio. The latter didn’t perform up to expectations this past season, but he endured an ankle injury that caused him to miss six games. He should be able to rebound this upcoming year.

An offensive line missing Schwartz and Mack won’t have as much success blocking for the running backs, which is a problem because the Browns don’t have the greatest players at the position. Isaiah Crowell, a scumbag cop-hater, gained a disappointing 3.8 yards per carry with Schwartz and Mack, so he could be even worse in 2016. Duke Johnson, meanwhile, was even worse with a 3.6 figure, but he at least was a major factor in the passing game, logging 61 receptions as a rookie. He’ll need to catch more balls with Travis Benjamin no longer with the team.

2016 Cleveland Browns Defense:
The Browns lost some key players on this side of the ball as well. And as with the offensive talent who happened to depart via free agency, the front office didn’t make the appropriate replacements.

Tashaun Gipson was perhaps the best defender to depart. Gipson is a great safety, and the Jaguars will benefit from his play going forward. Donte Whitner, a decent performer, is also gone, so the Browns will have to go with the duo of Rahim Moore and Ibraheim Campbell unless fourth-round rookie Derrick Kindred emerges as a starter. Campbell saw action last year, but struggled. As for Moore, he was brought in from Houston, where he was only slightly better than Campbell.

Fortunately for the Browns, the cornerback situation remains unchanged. It seemed like it would be pretty good last year with Joe Haden and Tramon Williams heading into the season as the two starters. Williams was just OK, but Haden was limited to just five underwhelming games because he dealt with an ankle injury. Haden hasn’t been quick to recover; he was still in a walking boot as of this writing.

Another major player Cleveland lost was inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. While Dansby, currently with the rival Bengals, is bound to decline soon – he’ll turn 35 in November – it’s not debatable that he’ll be missed. He was the best player at the position last year for the Browns, and it wasn’t even close. Christian Kirksey, a 2014 third-rounder, split time with Craig Robertson in 2015, but will be asked to be a full-time starter going forward. Robertson would’ve been fine as the second linebacker, but he’s not with the organization anymore either. Demario Davis, signed over from the Jets, is the favorite to play alongside Kirksey. This is a problem, however, as Davis was atrocious last year.

Cleveland didn’t sustain a huge loss on the defensive line in free agency, but it won’t have Randy Starks back. Starks wasn’t great, but at the same time, he was one of the top players up front. The front office will hope that third-round rookie Carl Nassib can be a viable replacement because there aren’t any other great options to play alongside Danny Shelton and what should’ve been Desmond Bryant, but he is out for the season. Xavier Cooper and John Hughes are the other options with Bryant gone, but they were woeful last year. Shelton wasn’t any good either, but as a first-rounder in 2015, he at least has potential.

Speaking of applying pressure on opposing passers, two rookie edge rushers were added: Emmanuel Ogbah and Joe Schobert were chosen in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. These were important additions, as Cleveland’s pass rush was lacking in 2015. Paul Kruger did a decent job of generating heat despite his meager sack total (2.5). and that was about it. Barkevious Mingo couldn’t accomplish this, though he did make up for it by doing well in coverage.

2016 Cleveland Browns Schedule and Intangibles:
The Dawg Pound is just not an intimidating place to play. Since their expansion year in 1999, the Browns are a dreadful 50-86 as hosts (23-41 the past eight seasons).

Long-time kicker Phil Dawson isn’t on the team anymore. Travis Coons did not do a good impression of Dawson; he went 28-of-32, but was 0-of-2 from 50 and missed two of his 24 extra-point tries.

Andy Lee, acquired from San Francisco for a 2017 seventh-round choice, has ranked 15th in net yardage in each of the past two seasons.

The Browns were actually solid on special teams, outgaining their foes on both kickoffs and punt returns. Losing Johnson Bademosi will hurt, however.

Here are some of the winnable games Cleveland has on its schedule: Eagles (road), Ravens (home), Dolphins (road), Titans (road), Jets (home), Giants (home) and Chargers (home). However, the Browns aren’t favored in any contest per the preseason Vegas point spreads.

2016 Cleveland Browns Rookies:
Go here for the Browns Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2016 Cleveland Browns Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 Cleveland Browns Analysis: The Browns are undoubtedly one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their quarterback situation is a disaster; they have very few offensive play-makers; and their defense will be much worse this year because of several key departures. I like Hue Jackson as a coach, but he won’t be able to get more than four victories with this abomination of a roster.

Projection: 2-14 (4th in AFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: The Browns have the worst roster in the NFL right now, thanks to all of the departures this offseason. Almost every position must be addressed, so Cleveland needs to just take the best player available. That sounds simple, but let’s see if the Browns reach at all.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: When the Browns said that they would be using analytics to draft, no one was quite sure what that meant. Well, as we’ve learned, they prefer players who were highly productive in college. Their initial three picks – Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib – were especially active on the football field this past season. The same can be said of seventh-rounder Scooby Wright, who was one of the late steals of the draft.

There were three things I disliked about Cleveland’s draft. The first was that the team passed on Myles Jack atop Round 2 when it became clear that he wouldn’t need microfracture knee surgery. A losing franchise like the Browns definitely needed someone like Jack to point them toward the right direction, so eschewing him was a huge mistake. Second, several mid-round choices – Ricardo Louis, Derrick Kindred, Seth DeValve – were reaches. And third, Cody Kessler was an absolute abomination of a draft pick, as he should’ve been chosen in the sixth frame at the very earliest.

I think I’d give the Browns a “C” or so in a vacuum. However, like the Titans, Cleveland deserves a big bump for obtaining extra selections in the 2017 NFL Draft, which is a superior class (check my 2017 NFL Mock Draft.) The Browns picked up a one and a three from the Eagles, then snatched a two from Tennessee. That’s outstanding maneuvering.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

15. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor B+ Grade
The Browns needed a play-maker. Actually, they needed about five play-makers. Well, one down, four to go.

This is a bit higher than I’ve seen Corey Coleman projected, but part of that was the fit. Most teams like larger receivers, so it was difficult to slot him. However, Coleman is an athletic freak, and he’s exactly what Cleveland had to acquire. Even better, the Browns moved down to snag him, which definitely helps this grade.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

32. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State I CHANGED MY MILLEN Grade
I said I’d give the Browns a Millen if they didn’t take Myles Jack at No. 32. Well, OK, I guess I lied, but I’m still marking Cleveland down for not taking perhaps the best talent in the 2016 NFL Draft atop Round 2. The reason this is not a Millen is because I like Emmanuel Ogbah. However, I don’t know about his scheme fit in a 3-4, so this is still pretty bad. I don’t get why Cleveland didn’t pick Jack.

Actually, you know what? I changed my mind. This is a Millen. The Browns are a losing franchise and needed a winner like Jack. This is a Millen.

65. Carl Nassib, DE/DT, Penn State B Grade
Carl Nassib is a 1-year wonder, but he certainly had one incredible season in 2015. Taking such players can be risky, but several teams we spoke to slotted Nassib in the third round, so this is the right range for him. The Browns needed help up front entering the draft, meaning Nassib makes sense.

76. Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn C Grade
I can’t say I’m a big fan of this pick. I don’t hate it, as Shon Coleman has some good ability. He’s also a nice story, as he has recovered from leukemia. However, some teams had dropped him because they don’t think he’ll be ready to play right away. The Browns can wait though, as they won’t have a realistic shot at the playoffs until at least 2018.

93. Cody Kessler, QB, USC D Grade
The good news is that the Browns traded down for this pick. The bad news is that they used this pick on a horrible quarterback prospect. Cody Kessler is a small signal-caller with a weak arm. He could be a nice backup in the NFL, but I don’t see how Cleveland could ever envision him as a starter. The Browns told Robert Griffin that he’d have to compete with a young quarterback. The only way he’ll ever lose to Kessler is if he shows up both drunk and high to practice every day, and even then, it’ll be close.

99. Joe Schobert, DE/OLB, Wisconsin B Grade
A point was made that the Browns have drafted players with high levels of production thus far. That’s Joe Schobert in a nutshell. He’s not a good athlete, but he’s a solid football player and should be able to bolster a weak Cleveland pass rush. Not a bad way to start Day 3.

114. Ricardo Louis, WR, Auburn C Grade
The Browns obviously needed a second receiver, and definitely a third as well. Ricardo Louis is a reach, however, as he easily could’ve been chosen two rounds later. Louis has incredible athleticism and possesses major upside, but he hasn’t been a good player. He drops way too many passes, which will agonize Cleveland fans.

129. Derrick Kindred, S, TCU C Grade
Derrick Kindred was projected as a sixth- or seventh-round prospect, but it’s not a terrible thing to reach at the end of the fourth frame. Kindred seems like he’ll be good in run support, but his coverage skills are questionable, at best. I’d say the Browns needed a safety, but they needed everything except a left tackle entering the 2016 NFL Draft.

138. Seth DeValve, TE, Princeton D Grade
Leave it to the Browns to use a fourth-round pick on a player no one has ever heard of. I didn’t rank Seth DeValve in my top 400 prospects, and I imagine that most teams had him as UDFA fodder. I don’t get it, though it should be noted that Facebook friend Luke T. joked that he though the Browns drafted someone named Safety Valve.

154. Jordan Payton, WR, UCLA B- Grade
Here’s the third receiver for the Browns that I was talking about, and it’s interesting that he’s the complete opposite of Ricardo Louis. Whereas Louis struggled in school and tested well, Jordan Payton was very productive for UCLA, but didn’t have good measureables. I don’t think Payton will be able to beat coverage and separate, but if I’m wrong, he’ll be a good receiver for the Browns.

168. Spencer Drango, G/OT, Baylor C+ Grade
This is a bit earlier than I would’ve taken Spencer Drango. The Baylor product makes sense from a perspective of the Browns choosing productive college players, given how many starts he accumulated at Baylor. However, Drango showed that he’s one of the worst athletes in this class with his horrific Combine performance. Perhaps he can overcome that at guard, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he doesn’t develop into an NFL player.

172. Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State B+ Grade
Many were wondering why Rashard Higgins has been mocked in the fifth round, but NFL teams were worried about both his lacking athleticism and lean body type. Higgins has no explosion, and he also seems like he could be snapped like a twig. However, he was a good football player at Colorado State, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he panned out for the receiver-desperate Browns.

173. Trey Caldwell, CB Louisiana-Monroe C Grade
The Browns hadn’t drafted a cornerback yet, so Trey Caldwell makes sense in terms of a needs standpoint. However, this is too early for him, as he wasn’t ranked in the top 400. He figures to be a slot corner for Cleveland, and he might actually make an impact, given that the team is hurting for talent everywhere.

250. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona A Grade
This is a lot like the Tyler Matakevich pick. If you were to just look at Scooby Wright as a pure football player and ignore all measureables, he would’ve been a second-round pick for sure. However, Wright, who is coming off an injury, tested so poorly that it knocked him all the way down to No. 250. The Browns figure to benefit from this, as Wright is a great football player who might be able to overcome his lacking athleticism.

Season Summary:
The Browns hit the reset button once again. They fired their general manager and coach, a tactic that has been utilized far too often with this franchise. Based on historical trends, this new regime will be out of a job after the 2017 campaign.

Offseason Moves:
  • Browns cut WR Brian Hartline
  • Browns re-sign OLB Scott Solomon
  • Browns cut S Donte Whitner
  • Browns sign QB Robert Griffin
  • Browns sign G Austin Pasztor
  • Browns sign S Rahim Moore
  • Browns cut WR Dwayne Bowe
  • Browns cut ILB Karlos Dansby
  • Browns sign ILB Demario Davis
  • Browns waive QB Johnny Manziel
  • Browns re-sign ILB Tank Carder
  • Browns cut DT Randy Starks
  • Browns cut TE Jim Dray

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Back in December, it appeared as though Johnny Manziel would be given another chance next year. And then he transformed into a blond-haired Billy Manziel, flying out to Vegas and missing team meetings. Manziel is a self-destructive alcoholic and can no longer be trusted. It appears as though Jared Goff is in play at No. 2 overall. Signed Robert Griffin

    2. Two Wide Receivers: Only one receiver will be needed if Travis Benjamin is re-signed. Cleveland has to find a No. 1 wideout. It’s almost a guarantee that the team will be spending a second-day selection on this position, especially if Goff (or Paxton Lynch) is the choice at No. 2 overall.

    3. Rush Linebacker: The Browns were in the bottom five in terms of sacks in 2015. Their greatest defensive priority is finding someone who can get to the quarterback besides Paul Kruger.

    4. Defensive End: The Browns expected a lot from Randy Starks, but he proved to be a major disappointment as a free-agent signing.

    5. Right Tackle: Mitchell Schwartz played well at right tackle last year, but his contract is expiring in March. The Browns will have to find a capable replacement if Schwartz isn’t brought back.

    6. Two Safeties: Cleveland’s top free agent this offseason is Tashaun Gipson. He didn’t play very well this past season because he was dealing with an injury, but losing him would be huge. Signed Rahim Moore

    7. Running Back: The Browns have too many needs to address this, but they can do better than Isaiah Crowell. They’ll have to roll with him for another season, however.

    8. Inside Linebacker Depth: Another player is needed here if Craig Robertson leaves via free agency. Signed Demario Davis

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Robert Griffin, QB, Redskins. Age: 26.
      Signed with Browns (2 years)

      It would’ve been impossible to believe three years ago that Robert Griffin would turn out to be a bust, but here we are. Griffin had an amazing rookie year, but numerous injuries, a prima donna attitude and lethargy overcame him. Griffin is still worth taking a shot on because of his high talent level, but he always gets hurt, and he’d rather be a star than a football player, as evidenced by his unwillingness to master the mental part of the position.

    2. Demario Davis, ILB, Jets. Age: 27.
      Signed with Browns (2 years, $8 million)

      Demario Davis played well in 2014, but struggled mightily this past season. He definitely missed having Rex Ryan around to coach him up.

    3. Rahim Moore, S, Texans. Age: 26.
      Signed with Browns

      Rahim Moore used to be a solid player, but he nearly lost his leg two years ago because of lateral compartment syndrome. He hasn’t looked like the same player since. However, he’s still young (just turned 26), so he deserves one more chance. He’ll have to sign a 1-year “prove it” deal.

    Cleveland Browns Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Alex Mack, C, Browns. Age: 30.
      Signed with Falcons (5 years)

      You’d have to be living in a pretty secret world to not be aware that Alex Mack would be opting out of his contract. Mack, who is just 30, is one of the top centers in the NFL and has plenty left in the tank. He signed a 5-year, $42 million offer sheet two offseasons ago, so he should receive a similar sort of contract this spring.

    2. Tashaun Gipson, S, Browns. Age: 26.
      Signed with Jaguars

      Normally one of the NFL’s better safeties, Tashaun Gipson was hindered by an ankle injury all year. He struggled as a consequence, but should be able to rebound in 2016. He’ll turn just 26 in August.

    3. Mitchell Schwartz, OT, Browns. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chiefs (5 years, $33 million)

      Mitchell Schwartz didn’t play very well in 2014, and there was even some speculation that he would be moved to guard. Schwartz silenced those criticis this past season, performing on a Pro Bowl level. Removed from Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme, Schwartz thrived, and should continue to do so in the right system.

    4. Donte Whitner, S, Browns. Age: 31.
      Donte Whitner played well this past season, particularly in terms of coverage. However, the Browns are starting over, so they felt as though saving $4 million against the cap would be important. The Browns will miss his play, though it’s possible that as a 31-year-old, Whitner would be set to decline soon.

    5. Travis Benjamin, WR, Browns. Age: 26.
      Signed with Chargers

      Travis Benjamin entered the season as a mere situational deep threat. He blossomed, however, emerging as a viable No. 2 receiving option.

    6. Karlos Dansby, ILB, Browns. Age: 34.
      Signed with Bengals

      Karlos Dansby was once one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL. That’s not the case anymore, as he’ll celebrate his 35th birthday in November. However, Dansby still performed well last year, particularly in coverage. He should still have two or so quality seasons remaining.

    7. Craig Robertson, ILB, Browns. Age: 28.
      Signed with Saints

      Craig Robertson was given a second-round tender last offseason. He didn’t have quite the 2015 season the Browns were looking for, however, as he missed a chunk of it with a sprained ankle.

    8. Randy Starks, DT, Browns. Age: 32.
      Randy Starks had a terrific 2013 campaign, but didn’t play as well the following year, perhaps because of a back injury he dealt with in the middle of the season. Starks also struggled in 2015, and given tha he turns 33 in December, it’s fair to wonder if he’s done.

    9. Brian Hartline, WR, Browns. Age: 29.
      I’m not sure why Cleveland’s analytics told them that it was a good idea to cut a receiver who posted consecutive stat lines of 6-77, 8-74, 8-83 and 8-107 last season. Hartline, 30 in November, did this despite terrible quarterbacking this past year, proving that he can still play.

    10. Johnson Bademosi, S/ST, Browns. Age: 26. — Signed with Lions
    11. Johnny Manziel, QB, Browns. Age: 23.
    12. Austin Pasztor (RFA), G, Browns. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Browns
    13. Tank Carder, ILB, Browns. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Browns
    14. Scott Solomon (RFA), DE/OLB, Browns. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Browns
    15. Terrelle Pryor (RFA), WR/QB, Browns. Age: 27. — Tendered by Browns
    16. Jim Dray, TE, Browns. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills
    17. Dwayne Bowe, WR, Browns. Age: 31.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

    Fantasy Football Rankings - May 23

    2025 NFL Mock Draft - May 21

    NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

    NFL Picks - Feb. 12