The Cleveland Browns made the NFL playoffs and won 11 games this season despite starting four different quarterbacks. While it all ended with an ugly Wild Card round loss to the Houston Texans, there are some things to be hopeful about for the future.
In 2023, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah broke out as one of the best players at his position. Meanwhile, tight end David Njoku blossomed, the Browns’ secondary shined and head coach Kevin O’Connell proved himself. However, this was a bit of an all-in year for Cleveland and there’s going to be a lot of roster reshuffling this spring.
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Let’s dive into our offseason preview with moves Cleveland should make.
Navigating the Cleveland Browns cap situation
One of the first issues Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry must address this offseason is the team’s cap space. Heading into the offseason, Cleveland is nearly $13 million below the NFL salary cap. Considering some of the free agents (Harrison Bryant, Sione Takitaki, Za’Darius Smith, Maurice Hurst, Anthony Walker Jr. and Jordan Elliott), this defense will look very different no matter what happens.
- Cleveland Browns cap space 2024: -$12.7 million
Creating cap space won’t necessarily be difficult, but it does pose some interesting questions. Nick Chubb is recovering from major knee surgery and just turned 28 years old. Theoretically, the Browns could cut him for $12.2 million in cap savings. However, a contract restructure is likelier.
Realistically, Cleveland will need to either sign Amari Cooper to a contract extension or restructure his deal to lower his $23.77 million cap hit. One move to potentially consider is trading left tackle Jedrick Wills ($12.75 million cap savings and finding a replacement. Beyond that, Myles Garrett and Deshaun Watson will likely have their contracts restructured.
Extend linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
The Wild Card round loss to Houston will sting for a while and this season was truly the Browns’ best chance at winning the Super Bowl. One bright spot moving forward, though, has been the outstanding play of Owusu-Koramoah at off-ball linebacker.
In the regular season, Owusu-Koramoah became the first linebacker since Luke Kuechly to record 20-plus tackles for loss or no gain. He was also a pass-rushing weapon for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, recording 16 pressures with 3.5 sacks.
While Owusu-Koramoah might not quite be at that All-Pro level yet, he could reach it in 2024. Considering the top off-ball linebackers in the NFL all make at least $15-plus million per season, Cleveland will likely have to pay at least $13 million AAV and Owusu-Koramoah will be worth it long-term.
Sign Darnell Mooney in NFL free agency
Cleveland can retain Cooper and Elijah Moore in 2024, but this offense needs more weapons. While the 2024 NFL Draft is a viable path to adding one, the best move for the Browns’ front office might be to bargain hunt in free agency for a one-year deal.
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Darnell Mooney is likely more of a No. 3 receiver, but he could complement Moore and Cooper nicely. With Moore working underneath as a check-down option for Watson, Mooney could work the intermedia and downfield areas. While he won’t ever be a 1,000-yard receiver, adding another pass-catcher who can get open 10-plus yards downfield and has one of the lowest drop rates in the NFL would add more proven depth to Cleveland’s receiving corps.
2024 Cleveland Browns mock draft
The unfortunate thing for Cleveland is that trading for Watson still leaves them with limited draft picks and cap space. It’s the absence of a first-round pick that particularly hurts in the 2024 NFL Draft. However, Berry can still use what he has to fill out this roster.
- 2nd Round, 59th overall: Kris Jenkins, DT, Michigan Wolverines
- 3rd Round, 90th overall: Dominick Puni, OT, Kansas Jayhawks
- 5th Round, 138th overall: Jabbar Muhammad, CB, Washington Huskies
- 5th Round, 162nd overall: Bru McCoy, WR, Tennessee Volunteers
- 6th Round, 199th overall: Darius Robinson, EDGE, Missouri Tigers
- 6th Round, 210th overall: Cole Bishop, S, Utah Utes
- 7th Round, 210th overall: Mario Williams, WR, USC Trojans
- 7th Round, 231st overall: Tim Smith, iDL, Alabama Crimson Tide
We’ll start things off in our Browns mock draft with defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. The Browns are going to suffer major losses on the interior this spring, creating an even bigger hole in the middle. He’s not much of a pass rusher right now, but the 305-pound defensive lineman posted the eighth-highest stop rate (12.6 percent) among Power 5 defensive tackles last season and his run defense would be a strong addition.
Speaking of the trenches, Wills has been a disappointment at left tackle. After allowing 29 pressures in only 319 pass-blocking snaps this past season, per Pro Football Focus, it’s time to challenge the former first-round pick with some competition. Dominick Puni dominated in pass protection this past season, only allowing 8 pressures and 0 sacks in 344 pass-blocking snaps. He could have an opportunity to start in Cleveland, learning from a coaching staff with a relatively strong track record of player development.