This article is part of our 2020 Training Camp Preview series.
Expanding upon our team preview collection from earlier this offseason, we're gearing up for an irregular August with a series of team-specific articles to get you up to speed for training camp. You can find the previous writeup on the Browns here.
State of the Franchise
Since we posted our initial NFL team previews, tight end David Njoku requested a trade from the Browns. The 2017 first-rounder missed 10 games in 2019 with a wrist injury and played just 25 snaps over the final four weeks. But he was welcomed back to the offense during the offseason and was in line for a significant role under new coach Kevin Stefanski, a proponent of the two-TE offense. To that end, the team added free agent Austin Hooper to pair with Njoku. As training camp approaches, the Browns still plan to roll out Hooper and Njoku, but it's possible another team could pry Njoku away with a strong trade offer.
On the defensive side, Cleveland shored up its line – one of the strongest in the NFL – as the offseason rolled along. Getting Myles Garrett's extension done was expected. His career mark of 0.82 sacks per game ranks fourth behind NFL luminaries J.J. Watt (0.86), Reggie White (0.85) and Mark Gastineau (0.83). Ironing out Olivier Vernon's deal, however, was not viewed as a slam dunk. When healthy, Vernon – whose deal was restructured – makes for a nice complement to Garrett, but by guaranteeing his salary this year, the Browns are less likely to pursue free agent Jadeveon Clowney.
After Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, there was a drop-off in the Browns' wide receiver corps in 2019. A chorus line of wideouts had an opportunity to seize the No. 3 job, but in effect, the role eventually went to running back Kareem Hunt, who was fourth on the team in targets in just eight games. But what happens when the Browns go with three wide receivers or need a fill-in for Beckham/Landry?
Rashard Higgins and Damion Ratley lead a largely no-name group that also includes KhaDarel Hodge, Taywan Taylor and fifth-round draft pick Donovan Peoples-Jones. Ratley was Cleveland's third-most productive wide receiver in 2019, while Higgins, a one-time favorite of quarterback Baker Mayfield, seeks a bounce-back season.
If the Browns eventually accommodate Njoku's trade demand, then who is next in line to get all the snaps when Stefanski runs 12 personnel? The team returns Pharaoh Brown and Stephen Carlson, and added fourth-round draft pick Harrison Bryant plus undrafted free agent Nate Wieting. Bryant offers the most potential as a pass catchers, but he's undersized for a role that also requires frequent blocking.
Landry was dogged by a hip injury over the final six weeks of the 2019 season, but he managed to play a full 16-game slate for the sixth straight campaign and earned a fifth consecutive Pro Bowl nod. Both of those streaks are in danger entering 2020, after Landry relented and underwent hip surgery in February. The original prognosis called for a 6-to-8-month recovery, but that was before the pandemic, which could present a challenge in his recovery. All reports are that Landry's rehab is on schedule and he plans to return in August, but it remains to be seen if he'll be 100 percent for the team's scheduled season opener Sept. 13 against the Ravens.
Beckham was impacted by a sports hernia in last year's training camp, an issue that lingered all season. He missed many practices and had a down season despite playing all 16 games. He eventually had core-muscle surgery in January. Looking ahead to the coming campaign, coach Kevin Stefanski said Beckham is "free and clear" injury-wise and will be ready for training camp. Can a fully healthy Beckham, whose first year in Cleveland was mired in drama, produce on the level he did during his first five seasons with the Giants?
Vernon missed much of the second half of last season with a knee injury, the third straight year he's missed four or more games. Until his contract was renegotiated in July, there was chatter the Browns wouldn't bring him back for the 2020 season at $15.25 million and as the highest paid player on the team. The revamped contract means they'll pay him less but lose the wiggle room to get out from under the contract. That suggests the team feels reasonably confident the defensive end's knee will hold up.