Q: Will letting linebacker Joe Schobert leave in free agency be on the level of the Browns pulling a “Schwartz”!? I think they’re still regretting letting Mitchell Schwartz go. (Not sure he would feel that, of course).
A: I’ve been outspoken that I think allowing Schobert to reach free agency and sign elsewhere is a step backward for a Browns team that can’t afford any missteps. But I don’t think watching him walk away will be as painful as the Schwartz debacle.
Schwartz has never been to a Pro Bowl and was an All-Pro only once, after 2018, but he’s developed into an elite right tackle since Sashi Brown botched his free agency and let him get away to Kansas City. Schwartz didn’t miss a snap until this season, his eighth in the NFL, has never missed a start and was a huge piece of the Chiefs’ run to the Super Bowl. He’s steady, smart, technically sound and one of the best players in the NFL.
I view Schobert as a step below. He’s a borderline Pro Bowler — he surprisingly made it after the 2017 season — but a solid piece to have in the middle of any defense. I understand some people believe contracts worth $10 million a year should be reserved for “elite” players, but I’d make an exception for Schobert. The Browns need players like him, so it doesn’t make sense to let him go when they have plenty of salary cap space.
Q: Do you see the Browns drafting any offensive skill players in the first three rounds? Would like to know your thoughts on Chase Claypool from Notre Dame.
A: Such an interesting question.
The Browns are loaded at running back with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and appear set at receiver with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. That leaves only tight end as a skill position of need, and it’s pretty glaring — unless you still believe in David Njoku, which I don’t. So I can certainly see the Browns drafting one of the top tight ends in the second round, perhaps Dayton’s Adam Trautman or Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet.
I’ve heard some people talk about the need for a No. 3 receiver but I don’t see it. With Beckham, Landry, Chubb, Hunt, a fullback and the use of two tight ends, I think a third wideout is well down the list of priorities. I’m not saying the Browns have that guy — and I strongly disagree with the notion Rashard Higgins can fill that role — but I wouldn’t spend much time worrying who that guy will be. Having said all that, with the talent and depth of this receiver class, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Browns took advantage and drafted one in the third round.
As for Claypool, I think he’ll be long gone by the time the Browns consider taking a wideout. He’s too big and fast to stick around.
Q: What left tackle do you think they are highest on?
A: That’s the million-dollar question as April approaches.
And I don’t think the Browns know yet. General manager Andrew Berry has been with the organization for just over a month, and the coaches have just started the draft process. But I’m sure it’s a priority for Berry, coach Kevin Stefanski and veteran offensive line coach Bill Callahan to study all the tackles and come to a consensus.
With Stefanski’s outside zone blocking scheme, the Browns will place a premium on movement skills. That doesn’t seem to be a problem with any of the top tackles in the draft, but Stefanski must be comfortable the pick can get out in space and operate effectively.
The other big question will be how much the Browns are willing to gamble on potential. Louisville’s Mekhi Becton might have the biggest upside but he’s not a finished product. USC’s Austin Jackson also fits that category. Will Berry spend his first pick as a GM on an “unknown” commodity or lock in on Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs or Georgia’s Andrew Thomas?
Q: Seems to me 7 of the 22 full-time starting lineup jobs seem to be wide open: both OTs, TE and RG on O; SS, FS and SOLB on D.
— Mark Leonard
A: As the roster stands now, I’d agree. But I think the number will swell to nine by the start of free agency.
I expect the Browns to cut defensive end Olivier Vernon to save his $15.25 million salary in 2020, although I can make an argument for paying him for one more year because it’s such an important position and there aren’t a lot of great options in free agency and the draft. And Joe Schobert most likely leaving in free agency creates a hole at middle linebacker. Maybe you’ve slotted Sione Takitaki as the replacement, but that feels premature to me.
I believe the point of your submission was to point out how far away the roster is to completion. And I’d agree. While I think it was playoff-caliber in 2019, there’s a lot of change on the way this offseason and a lot of work to do, especially at key positions, to avoid taking a significant step back.
Q: Might not former GM John Dorsey have carried apparent talent duplicity at RG — Wyatt Teller, Malcolm Pridgeon, Colby Gossett — because he was intent upon trying to demonstrate Kevin Zeitler could easily be replaced?
— Mark Leonard
A: I’m giving you two cracks in this edition because you’re such a loyal reader and writer.
I don’t think that was Dorsey’s primary reason for trading Zeiter. I believe Dorsey wanted a defensive end and liked Olivier Vernon, and he thought Austin Corbett would be more than a capable replacement for Zeitler at right guard. While I liked the trade at the time, Vernon’s subpar season and Corbett’s failure to seize the starting job — and subsequent trade to the Rams — made it a swing and miss for Dorsey.
I also think Dorsey believed if the other four line positions were solid, the Browns could make do with just about anyone at right guard. I also subscribe to that theory, but the problem was the tackles weren’t good enough to hide the issues at right guard.