NFL free agency unlikely to solve Browns WR problem

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The Cleveland Browns have a need at wide receiver, that much is clear. While we wrote about the first two games of the playoffs, the wild card weekend truly showed the need for an explosive offense that was lacking in Cleveland.

The success of the 2020 Browns without much speed or explosion on the outside was a rarity in the NFL these days. Even a team like the Tennesse Titans, who are built similar to Cleveland, have A.J. Brown and Julio Jones on the outside.

At this moment, the Browns have a developing Donovan Peoples-Jones, speedy but inconsistent Anthony Schwartz and free-agent-to-be David Njoku as their most explosive players. Jarvis Landry bemoaned not playing on wild card weekend but could be on his way out of town based on the cap hit on the last year of his contract.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, NFL free agency seems unlikely to solve their problem at wide receiver. A quick look at the top receivers that could become free agents shows some talent:

Adams seems unlikely to make it out of Green Bay, Godwin and Gallup both tore their ACLs late in the season, Robinson just had the worst season of his career, Fuller is hit or miss and Smith-Schuster is more name than explosive game at this point.

While there may be limitations to each player, the Browns would be thankful to acquire any of them at a reasonable price.

Price is the first obstacle. While Cleveland is expected to have a good amount of cap space, they have a variety of needs to fill this offseason. With Jadeveon Clowney either signing for big money or going elsewhere, a defensive end addition may be necessary in free agency. Interior defensive line and more defensive backs may also be high on their list.

The bigger obstacle is the performance of the team’s offense in 2021 and the history of Kevin Stefanski’s offense. Baker Mayfield and company were less than stellar last year. The Browns have made it clear that they expect Mayfield to “bounce back” but will a free agent trust that to happen if they have similar or better options elsewhere?

Stefanski’s scheme also puts a lot of emphasis on getting the ball to tight ends and spreading the ball around. If a receiver is looking to build his resume, Stefanski’s system is not set up to prioritize one player in that way. Frustrations from Stephon Diggs in Minnesota and Odell Beckham Jr. in Cleveland are two examples of receivers who wanted to be showcased more.

For the Browns to find answers at receiver, trades and the NFL draft are the more likely route in 2022. It may be hard for Andrew Berry to move draft assets for a receiver but the team needs a reliable, explosive player outside to meet their goals next year. A big-time free agent addition seems unlikely. Perhaps double-dipping with a trade and an early draft pick at the position will do the trick.