CLEVELAND (AP) — Welcoming hosts a year ago, when they helped the sports world get back to some pre-pandemic normalcy, the Cleveland Browns will have a much lower profile in this year's NFL draft.
They made that choice in March.
Deshaun Watson's arrival via the blockbuster trade from Houston cost the Browns a first-round pick this year and for the next two drafts. Desperate to win, Cleveland mortgaged its future — trading six picks in all — for the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who has unquestioned talent but significant off-the-field character concerns.
This draft will be a dramatic switch for the Browns, who because of a lack of success over the years have been among the most visible teams during the three-day event. Cleveland has picked first four times since its expansion reboot in 1999, and as recently as 2018, when it selected quarterback Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall.
Four years later, he's only on their roster because they can't find anyone to take him.
Not yet anyway.
Along with “adding as many young, talented guys to the roster that we can," as general manager Andrew Berry put it, the Browns could trade Mayfield at some point during the draft.
That's providing there's a team either willing to take on his $18.8 million contract for next season or if Berry decides it's best for the Browns to swallow some of that money in order to move on.
Berry was vague about any trade discussions involving Mayfield, who recently said the team wasn't honest with him about its plans. In fact, Berry was intentionally inexplicit about anything Cleveland will do next week.
Following the Watson deal and a trade with Dallas to acquire receiver Amari Cooper, the Browns will have seven selections: a second-rounder (No. 44), two in the third (Nos. 78 and 99), one in the fourth (118), one in the sixth (202) and two in the seventh (223, 246).
Berry has been aggressive in leading Cleveland's past two drafts, and he stressed the importance of being ready to pivot and do something bold if the situations presents itself.
“We will really go into the weekend being flexible because you just never know how the board is going to fall,” he said. "You can project and predict it as much as possible
"Honestly, the past two years, the amount of draft capital that we have gone into the weekend with and come out of the weekend with has changed so a lot can happen over the course of those three days.”
Cooper is Cleveland's new No. 1 wide receiver. The next few spots are up for grabs.
This year's draft is loaded with quality receivers, and while Ohio State's Garrett Wilson and USC's Drake London are among the top ones expected to be taken early, the Browns should have some good ones to choose from at No. 44 — assuming they stay there.
Last year, Berry traded up in the second round to get linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who had a strong rookie season.
Georgia’s George Pickens, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson and Alabama’s John Metchie III are considered in the second tier of receivers who could be available in Round 2.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The Browns also didn't have a first-round pick in 2017 (traded to the Giants in the Odell Beckham Jr. deal) and Berry indicated the probability of jumping is not high.
However, his pursuit of Watson and past activity makes him unpredictable.
“I would never rule out anything," he said of adding a first-round pick. “I would say, just candidly, I think it’s unlikely. ”But I don’t want to say anything in absolutes because you just never know. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t have expected us to move up last year, so you have to be flexible for the situation."
An edge rusher to complement All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett is another priority.
Jadeveon Clowney excelled in that role last season for Cleveland. The No. 1 overall pick in 2014 remains unsigned as a free agent, and unless he's coming back to the Browns, the team needs to add a young end to develop.
FLIP THE SCRIPT
Cooper drew laughs this week when he said the only thing he knew about Cleveland before being traded to the Browns came from the film, “Draft Day.”
In the movie, actor Kevin Costner plays a Browns general manager who agonizes over trading some top picks.
Berry can relate, to a point.
“I remember a couple of years ago when it came out, I went and saw it with my wife (Brittan),” he said. "She was like, ‘Is that really how it is during draft?’ I go, ‘No, I promise you it is a lot less stressful.’”
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