CLEVELAND, Ohio — ESPN had tons of fun with this last week after news broke that Aaron Rodgers is unhappy in Green Bay, but the Browns won’t be swapping Baker Mayfield and first round picks for him.
The Browns are thrilled with their 2018 No. 1 pick, and believe he can win Super Bowls. They’re pleased that he turned the corner in 2020′s second half, throwing 20 touchdowns against only three interceptions in his final 12 games, including playoffs. Mayfield led them to an 11-5 record and a narrow 22-17 loss to the Chiefs in the divisional playoffs. The Browns believe he can take them further this year with an overhauled defense and Odell Beckham Jr. coming back from his torn ACL.
They picked up Mayfield’s fifth-year option worth $18.858 million for 2022, and will determine whether or not to extend him this offseason or wait until after this year. But they’re expecting big things in the second year of Kevin Stefanski’s offense, and he’s only 26. With his supporting cast, they believe the arrow is pointing up, or would’ve considered upgrading this offseason.
With Mayfield likely seeing an extension around $35 million a year, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell proposed the Browns send him to Green Bay along with David Njoku and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 for the reigning NFL MVP and former Super Bowl MVP. The Browns would also get cornerback Josh Jackson in the exchange.
“Upgrading to Rodgers would drastically alter the ceiling for the Cleveland offense, which might have a case as the second-best in football with him at the helm,’’ Barnwell said. “The analytically-inclined Browns would be able to create a more efficient attack by dramatically upping their pass rate.”
ESPN First Take’s Max Kellerman echoed those sentiments, citing the Browns as the best landing spot for Rodgers.
“Could you imagine Aaron Rodgers on that team? Baker Mayfield is a nice quarterback, but the Cleveland Browns have the No. 1-rated offensive line blocking for the passer, blocking for the quarterback and blocking for the run,” Kellerman said last week. “Odell Beckham Jr. is coming back. Oh my god, the weapons. They have two all-world running backs, a great offensive line, great receivers everywhere you look, Odell coming back with a chip on his shoulder and a defense.
“Aaron Rodgers on the Browns right now, in my view, makes them Super Bowl favorites over the Bucs and the Chiefs.”
But the Browns aren’t interested. If all goes as hoped, Mayfield will keep the Browns in contention for the next decade or so. Rodgers, whose base salary in 2021 is $14.7 million with a $6.8 million roster bonus having already been paid, is 37. A new team would likely have to re-do his deal to match other top quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes at $45 million a year, Dak Prescott at $40 million and Deshaun Watson at $39 million.
It will be up to Mayfield, with one of the best supporting casts and coaching staffs, to get past Mahomes, Josh Allen and other top AFC quarterbacks. If Rodgers gets dealt, he could be added to the list too.
Browns had offers for the No. 26 pick
The Browns had a couple of chances to move back in the first round, but opted to stay put and select Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II. The Saints, at No. 28, were thought to be interested in Newsome — they selected Houston defensive end Payton Turner — and the Packers drafted Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes at 29.
Cleveland showed pre-draft interest in Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley and Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., but Farley went No. 22 to the Titans, and Newsome was the highest-graded corner on the board at 26. Samuel went No. 47 to the Chargers.
If Farley had been there, the Browns likely would’ve drafted Newsome anyway because of Farley’s injury history. He suffered a torn ACL in 2017, and has had two back surgeries to repair a disc injured while weightlifting since he last played in 2019. The latter, a microdisectomy, was in March, and requires a 16-week recovery period.
With the Browns coming off season-ending injuries to safety Grant Delpit (ruptured Achilles) and corner Greedy Williams (shoulder nerve damage), they could ill afford to take a risk on Farley in the first round.
Newsome will have to earn starting job
The Browns have admired Williams’ grit and determination in fighting his way back from the shoulder injury, and want to give him every chance to start. Williams will have to prove in camp that he’s better than Newsome, but the Browns are eager to see what he can do.
Regardless, they’ll need three cornerbacks who can start on the outside, and now they have them. Newsome missed at least three games in each of his college seasons, and Ward has missed three or four in each of his three seasons. Williams missed four as a rookie with a hamstring injury and then all of last year.
Newsome, who turns 21 May 18, has played only 21 games in college. Remember, former Browns cornerback Joe Haden, the No. 7 pick in 2010, didn’t crack the starting lineup until the final six games of the season. First-round picks usually start, but if Williams has shown sufficient improvement, Newsome might have to wait a bit.
Owusu-Koramoah a top 25 player on draft board
Why did the Browns think “no way, no how” — in the words of national scout Charles Walls — that LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah would be available at No. 52? They traded up seven spots with the Panthers to get him.
He was a top-25 player on their board, which is consistent with some draft experts’ assessment, including NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, who both had him at No. 15.
The Browns were completely comfortable with Owusu-Koramoah’s medicals, and have no concerns whatsoever despite a report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter that some teams were worried about a heart issue even though he was cleared by doctors.
One NFL evaluator told cleveland.com that the report may have originated from a team that wanted to justify not drafting him. Another said he might have fallen because many teams don’t like to play undersized linebackers.
The Browns would’ve been content to emerge from the first round with Owusu-Koramoah, even though he might not necessarily have been the pick if Newsome were gone. The Browns had a number of highly-rated targets available, including Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau. But they were happy to move up to 52, especially given that they only had to move back 24 spots — from 89 to 113 — to land a player they feel has a chance to make an impact.
Now or never to get WR Anthony Schwartz
The Browns raised a few eyebrows when they selected Auburn’s Schwartz at 91, but they had reason to believe he’d be gone within the next 10 picks, well before their No. 110 selection in the fourth round, which was used on Cincinnati offensive tackle James Hudson.
The Browns view the 20-year-old Schwartz as a developmental project, and can take their time molding him into a potential No. 2 receiver. They could have a lot of turnover in the receiver room in 2022 with Rashard Higgins’ contract up and Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. turning 30 during that season. Schwartz, who’s working out with Landry at House of Athlete in Weston, Fla., needs to work on his route running, but with his 4.25 speed, they’ll try to find a way to get him on the field this season.
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