Will next season be the one in which the Cleveland Browns end their playoff drought? The franchise sure hopes so.
Cleveland hasn’t clinched a playoff berth since 2002. And while they’ve entered many past years with little to no hope, they proceed into their next training camp with actual expectations.
Here are the most pressing questions they face en route to returning to the postseason.
Can They Improve the Offensive Line?
People weren’t impressed by quarterback Baker Mayfield in his second season. They had a right to be. Cleveland surrounded him with Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb, and Mayfield piloted them to a passing offense that ranked 17th in net yards per attempt, 19th in touchdowns and 30th in interceptions.
Mayfield clearly needs to be better, but the onus of failure isn’t all on him. The Browns’ offensive line is missing at least two critical pieces: a tackle and an inferior offensive guard. Mayfield needs more protection, and Chubb needs bigger holes to run through.
Are OBJ and Landry Still with the Team?
This seems like an absurd question, given that the Browns acquired each of them only a year ago. But the stench of losing last season lingers.
People around the NFL have speculated that OBJ already wants out, and Landry hasn’t appeared too happy either. To make matters even more complicated, both star wide receivers are coming off surgeries.
Did They Add Another Pass-Catcher
With OBJ and Landry working their way back from surgery, and with Mayfield still more of an unknown, the Browns could use another reliable pass-catching option. But will they get it?
That player probably isn’t coming in the draft. Most expect the Browns to burn their top picks on shoring up the offensive line and secondary. The free agency market is where they’ll be looking.
Tight end is a natural spot for them to upgrade, with Landry and OBJ presumably soaking up most of the reps at wide receiver. The TE pool isn’t especially deep, but Cleveland does have the flexibility to throw money at Austin Hooper from the Atlanta Falcons or Hunter Henry of the Los Angeles Chargers. They could also roll the dice on more injury-prone studs like Tyler Eifert.
Failing that, the Browns could use some extra high-end insurance at wide receiver, just in case OBJ or Landry isn’t fully healthy. Chasing players who will command superstar money doesn’t make much sense, but options like Demaryius Thomas of the New York Jets and Travis Benjamin of the Chargers could make some sense. Their dare-to-be-great scenario includes ponying up the cash it would take to afford A.J. Green and form perhaps the league’s scariest one-two-three receiving punch.