NFL combine: Browns news and rumors from Indy

The NFL combine is complete for this year with an uncertainty on whether it will return to Indianapolis or not. Long its home, the NFL is looking to branch out the event similar to what they did with the NFL draft a few years ago.

This year’s combine was rife with problems for basically everyone involved but that had nothing to do with the city that was hosting it.

As a credentialed media member at the combine, there is a unique opportunity to keep up with some of the conversations that are happening behind closed doors. The after-hours events, starting around 11 PM now due to primetime drills made for television, gives a chance for coaches, scouts, front office and media to interact with each other.

We covered ESPN’s rumor notebook yesterday. Today gives me a chance to share with you things I heard while at the event:

Aggressive in Free Agency

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As has been true in his first two seasons running the Browns, GM Andrew Berry is once again expected to be aggressive this offseason in free agency.

That may mean going hard after a few key players to give the team options in free agency or it could mean making a very strong offer to a big-time free agent that they want. Berry has made significant overtures to a variety of agents about players in the upcoming free-agent class.

The Browns may have to overpay for offensive players, coming off a bad season on that side of the ball, but have defenders that are quite interested in playing beside Myles Garrett and for Joe Woods.

Clearing Space

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A surprising amount of uncertainty surrounding which players Cleveland could let go of but, to go along with the aggressiveness, Berry is expected to free up significant cap space this offseason through releases, trades or restructures.

The Browns see the future of the cap as continually on the rise but want cap space this year to make moves for 2022 with the future years slightly less important at this time.

We covered a number of players who could be released or traded to clear space. Jarvis Landry is the obvious name. There are options with Landry while J.C. Tretter, Case Keenum and even Austin Hooper could be released depending on Berry’s desire.

David Njoku

(AP Photo/Justin Berl)

The expectation around the league is that Cleveland will be bringing back Njoku one way or another. The price for the Browns tight end is quite high around the league as he is seen as explosive and developing well over time. If the team can’t get a long-term deal done, use of the franchise tag is expected.

Box score scouting doesn’t do Njoku justice. His target share is often low but he makes the most of them. The drops narrative from his first two years in the league should be gone and his blocking has greatly improved.

At this moment, Njoku is Cleveland’s most explosive passing game threat along with Kareem Hunt.


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Not only has Berry been aggressive talking to agents, teams see him as more than willing to make trades both big and small. While some think it is “leaving no stone unturned,” there is a sense that the Browns think the best way to improve their team is through the trade market with smaller additions in free agency.

The team is also aware just how much more complicated trading is than free agency especially if the player is one who could also get a contract extension.

Robby Anderson and Calvin Ridley are two names I heard directly related to Cleveland while defensive line has also been discussed for more veteran-related players.

Options at #13

Trading up or back from #13 is always a possibility. Outside of quarterback discussions, the Browns don’t seem interested in dealing their first-round pick for a player currently available but haven’t ruled it out.

Wide receiver and defensive line have long been possibilities with the pick but I’ve been told cornerback is also an option. Good teams rarely draft for need and, instead, try to look ahead with their picks. It is also possible the team hopes to fill their bigger needs before the draft and can go for a position they obviously value.

Derek Stingley Jr.

One cornerback I’m told that has seen his draft stock dip is Derek Stingley Jr. out of LSU. For Cleveland, with Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit already on the roster, it is fair to wonder if the team really likes Tiger defensive backs.

Stingley was seen as a top ten level pick before the season but injuries and concerns about his engagement have surfaced. Matt Miller of ESPN reported something similar yesterday:

If the Browns are looking at corner, Stingley is likely to be available but could drop beyond them at this point.

D'Ernest Johnson

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The D’Ernest Johnson decision is an interesting one for Cleveland. The team can put a restricted free agent tender on him, sign him long term or let him walk.

Last year, WR KhaDarel Hodge was in a similar position and the team ended up cutting him despite offering him the tender. Paying over $2 million for a back of the rotation receiver and special teams player didn’t fit for the Browns in 2021.

This year, placing a tender on Johnson could lead to his return like Hodge but would cost Cleveland $2.433 million if they place the second-round tender on him. With Nick Chubb signed to an extension and Kareem Hunt a top 15 paid running back, adding more salary to the position might be tough.

Surprise Trade Candidates from the Browns

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Going along with two pieces from above, two veteran names that floated around Indy as possible trade candidates off the Browns team might surprise many. Both Denzel Ward and Hunt were mentioned to me multiple times as players teams are interested in dealing for.

That Ward hasn’t signed an extension yet has drawn the attention of the league and is a signal to them that he may be available for trade. While Ward has been great, if the team doesn’t think they can extend him and don’t want to deal with using the franchise tag, a big trade could be the best decision despite fan anger at it.

With Hunt, it is a similar discussion along with adding in the presence of Chubb and a chance to bring back Johnson. Hunt has one year left on his deal as well and may price himself out of Cleveland. The problem is that Hunt loves being with the Browns but it could be in the best interest of the team and the player for him to be traded.

At this point, I’d put the chances of either player being traded at below 25% but was interesting to have those names brought up multiple times in Indy.

If the NFL draft was Today...

… the Browns would select WR Garrett Wilson from The Ohio State University.

Treylon Burks, Drake London, George Karlaftis and others are in the running but if the draft happened today the prevailing thought at the combine is that Wilson would be the pick.

A lot can happen between today and the actual draft including another team taking Wilson earlier. Teams also have a chance to see London workout at his individual pro day which could provide new information for the Browns.

As of today, a Buckeye becomes a Brown is the most likely scenario.