If the Vince Lombardi trophy was awarded for off-season moves, the Cleveland Browns would be scheduling their victory parade today. Led by 2018 Heisman Trophy winner and number one overall draft pick quarterback Baker Mayfield, they have their sights set on dethroning Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Mayfield isn’t alone. Running back Nick Chubb and ex-Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt join him in the backfield. Hunt should join the Browns after serving an eight-game suspension for an assault of a woman last year. Also, in the past two seasons, the Browns reshaped their receiving corps. The team drafted tight end David Njoku from the “U” in 2017. Cleveland acquired Jarvis Landry as a free-agent in 2018 and this off-season added Landry’s LSU teammate Odell Beckham.
The Browns defense should be even better as well. Defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward will be joined by veteran pass rusher Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Managing the egos of all these stars will be a challenge for rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens.
How much Mayfield has progressed and how quickly he can incorporate all his playmakers into the mix will decide whether they are Super Bowl contenders or pretenders. But more than one person believes in the Browns. They have the highest pre-season Super Bowl odds (14-1) since their return to the league in 1999.
The Same Ol’ Jets?
The selection of Saquon Barkley by New York Giants allowed the New York Jets to select USC quarterback Sam Darnold third overall in 2018. Darnold showed flashes of greatness in year one, but the roster needed serious upgrades. The Jets got busy this off-season. They debuted new uniforms and acquired several new players via draft and free agency. Darnold has his sights set on ending the Patriots reign over the AFC East.
The Jets signed ex-Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley and drafted top defensive lineman Quinnen Williams from Alabama to bolster their defense. On offense, the Jets signed the premier free agent in the league, running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell sat out all of the 2018 regular season due to a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Bell, the Jets get a playmaker capable of 1,946 yards from scrimmage and double-digit touchdowns. But even with the addition of Bell, Darnold doesn’t have an elite number one receiver. The Jets’ current wide receivers Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, and free agent Jamison Crowder. That’s not exactly Cris Carter, Jake Reed, and Randy Moss.
The Jets acquired a lot of talent, but the organization appears in turmoil. Owner Chris Johnson announced the firing of general manager Mike Maccagnan in May. The timing of the move raised eyebrows league-wide. What kind of owner fires their GM after running your draft and negotiating nearly $200 million in contracts to free agents? There a word for this kind of organization–dysfunctional.
When the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as their new head coach and drafted quarterback Kyler Murray first overall, last year’s first-round draft pick Josh Rosen became expendable. Rosen was rumored to be on several teams’ radar, but ultimately he was acquired by the Miami Dolphins.
New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores must not believe in Rosen’s potential. Currently, the former UCLA signal caller is veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s backup. Perhaps the organization agrees with Josh’s online haters. He’s been called a privileged millennial, with a sense of entitlement. Dolphins fans might have to wait longer to replace their memories of the ’72 Dolphins or Dan Marino.
The Patriots are a year older and with the retirement of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, Brady lost his favorite target. Bill Belichick is hoping the acquisitions of Demaryius Thomas and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will offset the loss of Gronk. The AFC has tried to improve, but Patriots remain the class of the division. The Browns, the Jets, and the Dolphins lack the experience, talent, and defenses to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.