Well, that’s one hell of a Friday news dump. With more than $100 million in cap space, the Browns were poised to cause a ruckus when free agency began next week, but based on the flurry of moves at week’s end from general manager John Dorsey, Cleveland wasn’t content to wait.
As if making a massive splash by swinging a deal for wide receiver Jarvis Landry weren’t enough, the Browns sent the football world scurrying again a few hours later by dealing the 65th overall pick in this year’s draft to Buffalo for quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Beyond offering proof that Dorsey, who took over as the GM in early December, is ready to make moves, Cleveland’s rush to remake its roster has plenty of layers worth exploring.
Let’s start with the Landry trade, which I wrote about earlier this week as a potential fit for both sides. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot reported that Cleveland dealt a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft and a seventh-rounder in 2019 to snatch up Landry, and his arrival will almost certainly come with a new contract that likely will pay him eight figures per year. In all, that’s a hefty price for a guy who’s spent most of his career in the slot and working underneath areas of the field, but the cost is more palatable for a team that started the day with 12 picks in this draft and cap space comparable to the GDP of a small developing nation.
Landry’s brand of wide receiver doesn’t fit everyone’s tastes, but he’s been undeniably productive over his first four seasons (400 receptions and 4,038 yards) and boasts a skill set that complements the pass catchers Cleveland already has. With Landry operating underneath and the combination of Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman threatening vertically on the outside, the Browns have a trio of receivers who put stress on defenses in every area of the field. Add to that a talented offensive line, second-year tight end David Njoku, the ever-dangerous Duke Johnson, and a bigger back acquired in the draft (Saquon Barkley, anyone?), and the Browns offense starts to get interesting in a hurry.
The question that remained, of course, is who the heck would be throwing those guys the ball. Cleveland answered that (temporarily, at least), with the stunning move to get Taylor. It was already clear that Taylor’s days in Buffalo were coming to a close. The Bills’ new regime has been cool on him from the start, and his $18.1 million cap hit was never going to be on the team’s books this season. Fortunately for general manager Brandon Beane, he found a trade partner willing to part with a top-65 pick for a player he didn’t want.
So in a vacuum, the Bills win the deal, but it’s not hard to trace Dorsey’s logic here. By bringing Taylor into the fold, the Browns get the veteran quarterback presence they wanted without having to wade into the murky waters of this year’s free-agent class. If Cleveland wanted someone like A.J. McCarron as a stopgap while their highly drafted quarterback waited in the wings for the season, the price tag in 2018 would have been similar to Taylor’s this season. With Taylor a candidate to join the free-agent ranks of McCarron, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, and others, the Browns secure what might be the second-best QB of the bunch before the dominos start to fall, and it brings him onboard with no financial commitment beyond this season.
Whether those factors are worth the 65th overall pick is up for debate, but there’s no debate about how much better the Browns are now than they were this morning. Taylor is a more than competent passer who turns the ball over at an astonishingly low rate. For a team that averaged a ridiculous and league-worst .213 turnovers per drive in 2017, that will be a welcome change. The DeShone Kizer experiment didn’t go as planned, and it’s reportedly over after a single season. Before people could even process the Taylor deal, the Browns sent Kizer to Green Bay for cornerback Damarious Randall. Again, if it’s not clear, John Dorsey is making moves.
Dorsey’s flurry of blockbusters on Friday has given the Browns a new-look feel in an instant, but all the commotion doesn’t mean that Cleveland has strayed from the plan many expected it to follow this offseason. The Browns were always a candidate to swing a big deal for a receiver. Scooping up a veteran quarterback was expected. Even if Landry cracks $12 million per season, the collective contracts for a new receiver, a veteran quarterback, and a starting-caliber corner will cost Cleveland about $31.5 million. That number barely leaves a dent in their available cap space. Dorsey can still take his rookie quarterback of choice no. 1 overall in the draft and land another playmaker with the fourth overall pick.
Where the Browns have diverged from their approach in recent years is in the way they view their draft capital. During Sashi Brown’s tenure, which ended in December, Cleveland’s goal was to amass picks in any conceivable way. The result was a war chest of draft value in 2018. Instead of using those picks to take as many rolls of the dice as possible, Dorsey has used them to secure veteran talent without having to dig into the uncertainty of the free-agent market. The prudency of that approach won’t be understood until the games are played, and it’s possible that paying 125 cents on the dollar for both Landry and Taylor will cost the Browns dearly in the future. But what Friday’s collection of aggressive choices makes clear now is that the decision-makers in Cleveland are done waiting.