What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones has the details of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and how Cleveland could now have the one of the AFC’s best offenses.
USA TODAY Sports
Click your heels three times and say it fast: The Browns are the team to beat.
With Odell Beckham Jr. joining the Browns in a Tuesday night trade with the New York Giants, Cleveland adds to an impressive offseason haul that has netted Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon and Kareem Hunt to give them a championship look.
No, Bill Belichick doesn’t need to shake in his boots.
I’m talking about the “offseason crown.”
With the NFL’s new league year (Happy New Year, NFL!) set to commence at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, the Browns have come out of the gate like gangbusters, seizing the moment and the headlines with the type of splash moves that once won Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder a few of those offseason titles in years past.
Browns look dangerous:Odell Beckham Jr. makes them playoff contenders
Of course, the Browns brain trust – GM John Dorsey, flanked by new coach Freddie Kitchens, with team owner Jimmy Haslam writing the checks – have made the moves as part of the plan to build on last season’s momentum and become the winner that the new generation Dog Pound has dreamed about.
Maybe it’s finally time.
The Browns, battling the New York Jets for the “offseason crown,” are also suddenly positioned to swing the balance of power in the AFC North – and not merely by their own master plan. The defending A-North champion Baltimore Ravens have started the post-Ozzie Newsome Era by losing four starters off the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense. The Pittsburgh Steelers have waved farewell to the NFL’s best receiver (sorry, OBJ, at the moment this would be Antonio Brown), who followed the league’s best running back, Le’Veon Bell, out of town. The Cincinnati Bengals are starting over with Zac Taylor (who?), less proven than any new head coach hire (Kitchens and Kliff Kingsbury included).
So, with Baker Mayfield poised to only get better after setting an NFL rookie mark with 27 TD passes, Cleveland is ready to rock.
This, after a 7-8-1 finish in 2018 that marked the Browns’ best season since 2007, seven coaches ago, when they had their last winning season (10-6) under Romeo Crennel .
But before going any further, we’d be remiss without giving some due credit.
Sashi Brown, take a bow.
Brown, with fellow Harvard alum Paul DePodesta at his side as “Moneyball” strategist, was Dorsey’s predecessor as the franchise’s chief football decision-maker. Brown ran out of time, as did former coach Hue Jackson, with a 1-31 record to show for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. But in passing on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson as franchise quarterbacks, he worked a plan to build for the future.
Well, that future is now for Dorsey, formerly Andy Reid’s right-hand man in K.C. Dorsey has inherited the most draft capital (which started with Brown dealing the No. 2 pick overall that allowed the Eagles to draft Wentz in 2016) and largest salary cap cushion in the NFL … and absolutely demonstrating that he knows what to do with it.
To land Beckham, for instance, Dorsey dealt first- and third-round picks along with safety Jabrill Peppers, who can be traced to a first-round pick in 2017 that the Browns got from Houston.
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Sure, all of this wheeling and dealing has to come together on the field. We’ve seen the “Dream Team” concept backfire a few times over the years. Yet in this era of free agency and a salary cap – and with a quarterback not eating up crazy cap space because he’s on a rookie deal — it is certainly a means for injecting life and hope when you’re talking about a franchise with the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
Beckham may be considered in many circles as an attention-seeking diva receiver, but his close friend in football is Jarvis Landry, his roommate at LSU (who came to Cleveland in a trade that marked one of Dorsey’s big moves last year). Now they are Mayfield’s top two receivers. The chemistry should only get better.
Then consider the other fresh moves. Hunt was the NFL’s reigning rushing champ when he was cut by the Chiefs in November after TMZ released a video showing him physically abuse a woman during a hotel altercation. Hunt, who is currently on the commissioner’s exempt list and likely to be suspended, joins a backfield already featuring home run threat Nick Chubb.
Meanwhile, stud defensive end Myles Garrett (No. 1 overall, 2017) will develop some chemistry with Vernon coming off the opposite edge while Richardson brings the potential of destroying blocking schemes in the middle of the trenches.
This almost seems to be too good to be true. We’re talking about the Browns, the franchise with a knack for finding new ways to lose. Maybe the laughingstock days are finally over.
Go ahead, click your heels three times.
If it’s January and the Browns are in the playoffs, the “offseason crown” was only the beginning.