There’s a lot of hype surrounding the Cleveland Browns going into the 2021/22 season. Of course, that could be said for the whole AFC, with the Kansas City Chiefs having strengthened their offensive line with the aim of making up for their Super Bowl loss. The Baltimore Ravens are also a legitimate threat and will hope to have Lamar Jackson as good as he was last season.
The Browns, though, have been touted as the AFC team boasting the best roster on paper by ESPN’s Marcus Spears. The popular analyst reckons Cleveland has the most complete team in the conference.
The supremely talented Baker Mayfield will lead the offense from the QB position, with the likes of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt taking care of things in the backfield. Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., and Austin Hooper are pretty dependable when it comes to catching the ball too.
“On paper right now in the NFL on the AFC side, the Cleveland Browns have the best roster… Quote me!” Spears declared after going through some team highlights last week. Discrediting the analyst’s assessment will take some doing as the Browns really do appear to have one of the most formidable offensive lines in the entire NFL. Cleveland is also one of the top NFL futures picks for the Super Bowl next term, and with sound reason.
The team has also made defensive upgrades in the offseason, adding Jadeveon Clowney to a defensive line already boasting Myles Garrett. The Browns would also be boosted by Denzel Ward’s return from injury. The cornerback will be an important piece in the secondary unit.
Despite talking up the Browns’ prospects, Spears noted the Chiefs are his favorites to win the Super Bowl next year but, should Cleveland live up to his expectations, it could be a pretty entertaining AFC battle come 2021/22.
As mentioned above, the Browns have rebuilt their defense and could have up to eight starters in that department. That number isn’t confirmed just yet as one of the linebackers set to return could be considered a starter based on circumstances. Also, there’s every possibility that Sheldon Richardson returns.
It’s been reported that the Browns had an understanding with Richardson which makes it so that they could work on another deal after he was released. The parties parted ways amicably, on the basis that he could be re-signed late in the offseason but he is garnering interest from a number of other teams. The Browns view Richardson as a valuable piece as his performances on the field and leadership qualities off it are considered to be well above standard. The player also seemed to enjoy his two seasons in Cleveland and could choose to go back there, especially given the team’s prospects for the upcoming campaign.
“The Browns defensive tackle room has gotten crowded over the past few months, but they have room for one more in Sheldon Richardson, who was released on April 16 in a salary cap move that saved the club $12 million,” Mary Kay Cabot wrote for Cleveland.com on Sunday.
“The Browns parted ways on good terms with Richardson, with the agreement that he could be re-signed later in the offseason. There’s been interest from other teams in the ninth-year pro, but he enjoyed his two seasons here, and might prefer Cleveland to starting over again elsewhere. A first-round pick of the Jets in 2013, Richardson spent a year with the Seahawks and a year with the Vikings before signing with the Browns as an unrestricted free agent in 2019.”
Cleveland has since signed Malik Jackson as a replacement, also signing undrafted free agent Marvin Wilson, as well as drafting Tommy Togiai.
The team signed former second-round pick Malik McDowell, who is attempting a football comeback after being kept out of the game on a professional level by an off-field accident and various legal issues. There’s also Andrew Billings, who returned from the COVID-19 opt-out list. But he could replace Larry Ogunjobi as the primary option at nose tackle.
Jordan Elliot is the only player from last season’s roster that looks poised for significant playing time next term, yet the team might have a selection headache in the defensive tackle department. Jackson is the only member of the roster to have proven his worth therein.
The Browns weren’t keen on paying Richardson the $13 million he was owed, and they took a $1.6 million dead cap hit to facilitate his release, yet he could prove to be the key when considering the above. The fact that he hasn’t signed for another team could be indicative of his plans to sign with Cleveland again. A quick reunion would mean the Browns could have both the best offensive and defensive setups in their conference.
NEO Sports Insiders Newsletter
Sign up to receive our NEOSI newsletter, and keep up to date with all the latest Cleveland sports news.