Q: With Julio Jones now joining an AFC rival, given our aspirations for 2021, is it not critical that the team gets Odell Beckham Jr. back to performing at a Pro Bowl level?
— John Palazzo
A: I agree wholeheartedly.
First of all, if Jones stays healthy, he elevates the Titans to legitimate contender status in the AFC along with the Chiefs, Bills, Ravens and Browns. With Derrick Henry in the backfield and A.J. Brown at the other receiver spot, the Titans have three explosive threats. Without Jones, defenses could devote their resources to slowing down Henry and Brown. That becomes almost impossible with Jones’ variety of skills, including the ability to get downfield.
I don’t think the Browns will rely on Beckham as much as the Titans will Jones, but I believe Beckham is the playmaker who can take the offense to an unstoppable level. I keep thinking about the Cowboys game last year when he caught five passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns and ran twice for 73 yards and a TD. And that was before the offense completely jelled and quarterback Baker Mayfield got rolling. The Browns showed they could score and win without Beckham after he got hurt last year, but I’m not sure they can get to the Super Bowl without him playing like a No. 1 receiver.
In his two years in Cleveland Beckham hasn’t been the superstar the Browns traded for, but I put the lion’s share of the blame on injuries. If he’s healthy, he’s still a top-10 wideout in the league and a bona fide difference-maker.
Q: With only 3 preseason games this year, how will that change playing time for starters? More? Less?
A: I don’t think you’ll see too much difference, just because most starters didn’t play in the fourth game anyway. Coach Kevin Stefanski said his initial thought is to stick with the traditional plan of playing his starters the most snaps in the third game, which is in Atlanta on Aug. 29.
I could see the switch to three games affecting the usage of the rookies. They could play more in all three games to get extra experience before the season.
I’m all for shortening the preseason — regardless of the addition of a 17th regular-season game — but one of the only potential drawbacks is the fourth game was when undrafted rookies and other “unknowns” had the chance to impress their general manager and others around the league. I always think back to Isaiah Crowell making the team with a big preseason finale in 2014.
Q: You have seen a few of the OTAs, what rookie or undrafted free agent has taken the gold and the silver??
— Randy Clar
A: That’s a tough one, just because the practices were more about teaching and technique than competition. Plus third-round receiver Anthony Schwartz (leg) and fifth-round linebacker Tony Fields II (foot) didn’t practice, removing two candidates.
But I’ll play along and I won’t go chalk. Give me first-round cornerback Greg Newsome II and fourth-round offensive lineman James Hudson. Newsome just looks smooth and I love his attitude, and Hudson’s size (6-foot-5, 313 pounds) stood out right away. He took reps at both tackle spots and is expected to get time at guard, as the Browns hope he can be a top reserve as a rookie.
The choices aren’t a slight to second-round linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who’s fast and fluid.
Q: With all of the current talk of possibly re-signing Sheldon Richardson, who would be the odd man out currently on the D-line?
— Keith Parsons
A: You asked this before the news Monday that Richardson seems headed toward returning to the Minnesota Vikings, with whom he played in 2018 before signing as a free agent with the Browns. But I thought it was important to discuss the situation. (Update: The Vikings officially announced the signing Tuesday.)
Richardson was always a long shot to return to the Browns after they cut him to save salary cap space. He was due to make $11 million in 2021, so the Browns saved cash and cap space. Although GM Andrew Berry and Stefanski kept the door open for a return, it’s human nature for Richardson to resent the organization for not paying him the final year of his contract and forcing him to take a huge pay cut no matter where he signs. If the Browns and Richardson had been close on money, the team would’ve tried to renegotiate his deal rather than cut him.
I know a possible return seemed to gain momentum recently, which made sense because the offseason is winding down, but as long as Richardson had an offer elsewhere, it just seemed logical he would take it.
The Browns obviously prepared for him not to come back, as they drafted Tommy Togiai and signed free agents Malik Jackson, Sheldon Day, Damion Square, Marvin Wilson and Malik McDowell. They already had Andrew Billings and Jordan Elliott. I expect the Browns to keep five tackles on the 53-man roster, so a Richardson return would’ve cost Billings, Wilson, McDowell or Square a job.
Q: Can Grant Delpit still qualify as a 2021 defensive rookie of the year candidate?
— Kenny D
A: No. I checked with The Associated Press, which handles the voting for the award, and he’s not eligible.
Delpit seems OK with that, because he said he doesn’t consider himself a rookie even though he didn’t play at all last year following the ruptured Achilles tendon.