Everything was going great for the Cleveland Browns heading into the 2019 NFL season. They had a star in the making in second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield. They had also just acquired superstar Odell Beckham Jr. in a trade with the Giants. In the deal for Beckham, the Browns parted ways with versatile safety Jabrill Peppers and their first-round pick in the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft. Along with the offensive additions, they had hired head coach Freddie Kitchens after he did a great job with the offense at the end of the 2018 season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns were ready to take the step to the next level. They had signed former Vikings interior defender Sheldon Richardson in free agency. The Browns had also acquired defensive end Olivier Vernon from the Giants in a trade that included former Browns Pro Bowl right guard Kevin Zeitler. The Browns ended the 2018 season winning three of their last four, with the only loss coming to a good Steelers squad.
Everything was looking up for the Browns. So, what went wrong?
Browns’ Difficult Schedule
There are many things that went wrong during the 2019 season, and most of those instances can be blamed on the new front office. With the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns offense was must-see television. In 2019, the Browns played in four prime-time games, which was a major change from 2018. The Browns were set to play in four primetime games in 2019; two on the road versus the Jets and 49ers, and two at home versus the Los Angeles Rams and rival Steelers.
It’s safe to say the Browns were not ready for all the attention they would receive in 2019. They came out of the gates and got crushed by the Titans in Week 1, 43-13. A week later, the Browns would pick up their first win over the Jets. From there, the Browns would take on the Rams, who would end up beating them by a touchdown. The most impressive win of the 2019 season was the Browns’ 40-25 victory over Baltimore in Week 4. As the season went along, it got worse for the Browns and their fans. They finished the 2019 season with a 6-10 record and a lot of disappointment.
A Repeat of 2019?
Let’s take a look at all the similarities between the Browns 2021 offseason and their 2018 offseason. During both offseasons, the Browns added many players to the roster through free agency. The same can be said this summer, as the Browns have nearly rebuilt their entire defense through free agency. Around the league, the signings of John Johnson III, Troy Hill and Anthony Walker were praised. However, just like in the 2018 offseason with OBJ, the Browns did acquire a big name in Jadeveon Clowney.
So far Andrew Berry has been a grand slam as the team’s general manager. He not only lured guys like Johnson and Clowney to Cleveland, but he also added tremendous value in the NFL Draft. Hopefully this group of rookies has more success than the group in 2019. Yes, there are similarities between the two offseasons. However, here’s a couple of reasons why this season won’t be a repeat of 2019.
Putting Defense First
Since Andrew Berry has been in charge in Berea, the Browns have made many moves to improve their defense, and rightfully so. The Browns ranked 17th in total defense this past year, giving up nearly 360 yards per contest. I, along with numerous others, applauded the work Berry did with the defense this offseason. He’s added two playmakers in the draft in Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
Berry has indeed improved a struggling defense, but he has also done something that eluded past general managers. He managed to sign the ever elusive Jadeveon Clowney. With Clowney on one end and Myles Garrett on the other, they could form one of the best 1-2 sack duos in the NFL. Berry seems to be a man with a real plan going forward.
So this isn’t necessarily a move made by Berry, but I’m sure he was involved. While the Bucs will bring back basically their entire Super Bowl winning roster, but the Browns will bring back every coach from last year’s staff; a real rarity in today’s NFL. The defense will be run again by Joe Woods, who has to be excited about all the defensive additions. On offense, head coach Kevin Stefanski will call plays, but they do bring back offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt. Van Pelt was the man on the sidelines in the Browns win over the Steelers in the Wild Card Round this past year.
As a whole, the team benefits from bringing back the entire staff. One man in particular has to be happy to see the same face again this coming fall. This will be the first time Baker Mayfield will enter a season with the same head coach as the year before. While that may not seem like a big deal, for Mayfield it’s huge. This will be Mayfield’s biggest year to date. No matter what happens this year, the Browns do seem set to keep him for the long-term. However, seeing a familiar face on the sideline can make a huge difference for a young quarterback.
Kevin Stefanski Back At The Helm
We’ve pointed out enough times that the Browns coaching staff will be the same as last year. However, the biggest upgrade the franchise made was hiring Stefanski in 2019. Stefanski won the 2021 NFL Coach of the Year award and will be a hot name in coaching circles for years to come. In all honesty, he is such a better coach than Kitchens is. Unlike Kitchens, when the going gets tough, Stefanski doesn’t abandon the running game like Kitchens did. If you were an organization trying to hire a young coach to lead the organization for years, I would guess Stefanski is on that short list.
The 2021 Season
Listen, in the end all we can really do is hope and pray that 2021 isn’t a repeat of 2019. However, while many similarities exist, it seems like the entire organization is thriving right now. Stefanski is not only a great hire, but he’s a great recruiter as well. I’m sure he played a vital role in signing guys like Hill and Clowney. It wouldn’t shock me if the Browns come out of the gates slow this year and ease into things. The fans, and this city, have been waiting for a winner for a long time now. I think they can wait another couple of months.
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