Browns general manager John Dorsey is conducting a master class on how a team should build around its young, talented franchise quarterback.
For NFL clubs, there’s no greater competitive advantage than a playmaking signal-caller on an inexpensive rookie deal—and Dorsey has wasted no time in exploiting the edge he has in Baker Mayfield. The sophomore passer carries a $7.43 million cap hit in 2019, 25th among QBs, a bargain that gave Dorsey the flexibility to make a franchise-changing move on Tuesday in acquiring superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants.
The blockbuster trade is just the latest in a series of shrewd deals that have transformed Cleveland’s coaching staff and roster, but adding Beckham is Dorsey’s pièce de résistance. The supremely talented pass catcher doesn’t come cheap—Cleveland sent safety Jabrill Peppers and first- and third-round picks to New York and will pick up a $17 million cap charge, pushing the Browns’ spending at wide receiver to $37 million and change in 2019, second most in the NFL. But Beckham is money well spent as the capstone of what may now be the most talented skill position group in the NFL. He provides a crucial element that Mayfield and the team’s offense badly needed: The electric former Giant is a true, field-tilting no. 1 receiver who’s not only a threat to score every time he touches the ball but makes everyone around him more dangerous.
Beckham will go straight to the front of the line in the Browns passing game and will be Mayfield’s top downfield target. He’s a massive upgrade over what Cleveland had on the outside in 2018; with few reliable pass-catching options outside of slot receiver Jarvis Landry, Mayfield force-fed Antonio Callaway 68 targets, but the highly inefficient rookie receiver reeled in just 39 of them (a 57.4 percent catch rate). Callaway, who ran 86 percent of his routes on the outside, wasted far too many opportunities for big plays, notching just 586 receiving yards despite racking up 1,100 air yards (second on the team to Landry and 30th leaguewide). Beckham’s presence will bump Callaway down to the no. 3 role, where he can develop his game without the burden of carrying the team’s deep-passing attack.
In Callaway’s place, the 26-year-old Beckham gives Mayfield an explosive deep threat who’s scored 13 career touchdowns on passes of 20-plus yards. Beckham’s ability to stretch defenses over the top should take some heat off of Landry, his former LSU teammate, who never looked comfortable in a traditional downfield role and caught just nine of 24 targets of 20-plus yards last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Landry is best as a run-after-the-catch specialist in the underneath zones, and his catch rate plummeted from 69.6 percent in 2017 to 54.4 percent last season as he ran a higher percentage of deep routes (17.5 percent of his routes were deep in 2018, up from a meager 5.1 percent in 2017 with Miami). With Beckham in the mix, Landry can get back to his bread-and-butter routes underneath and over the middle and should see a big bounce back in efficiency in 2019.
Beckham is far more than just a deep threat, though; he thrives on short and intermediate routes from both the outside and the slot. His ability to take a quick slant, crosser, or screen pass and hit a home run means defenses will be forced to tilt coverage in his direction. That should open up isolation-route opportunities on the back side for versatile tight end David Njoku and give the team plenty of options in the screen game with running backs Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson, and Kareem Hunt. Beckham, simply put, is a force multiplier who will change the dynamic of how opposing teams line up and play coverage.
The deal that brings Beckham to Cleveland supercharges the team’s offensive makeover. Since taking the Cleveland GM job in December 2017, Dorsey has choreographed a multipronged plan that’s provided Mayfield with an extremely talented support system and paired him with an offensive-minded and innovative head coach in Freddie Kitchens. Kitchens, who proved in 2018 that he knew how to get the most out of Mayfield’s skill set, is going to have a field day thinking up ways to deploy Beckham as a dynamic new weapon in the scheme. As interim offensive coordinator last year, Kitchens drew up a plethora of creative schemes and formations to keep defenses off balance, and with Mayfield under center and Beckham running routes, his options in the passing game are almost limitless. Hell, Beckham’s got a pretty good arm too.
Beckham should be a catalyst for an immediate jump forward, both from Mayfield individually and the offense as a whole. The Beckham deal doesn’t just give Mayfield and Kitchens a shiny new toy, though. Crucially, it saves the team the development time a rookie pass catcher might need to get his feet under him in the NFL. At its core, the trade gives Cleveland its best chance to maximize its now-open championship window.