Browns Trade Deadline Strategy

Pete Smith

The Cleveland Browns are always buyers in the sense that they will take advantage of an opportunity they like whenever it comes along, so when the trade deadline approaches and there are teams actively selling, the Browns could find a player or two they like.

The scope of the move might not be as big as some would prefer, because the Browns aren't going to operate from a position of weakness. If there's a player that comes available that can make a major difference for this team and the deal is right, they'll pull the trigger. That's easier said than done.

Rentals make no sense for the Browns, so if they acquire someone, it's likely with a plan to keep them at least for 2021.

More likely, the Browns will take the same approach they did when it came to acquiring Ronnie Harrison, which has become a bigger trade for the team the more time moves along.

The Browns sent a fifth round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a young player with two years on his rookie deal left. Harrison is under control by the Browns for both the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The contract matters, because of how the Browns hope to operate, but they also want to be able to get players they can teach up their various schemes and it can allow them to have a bigger contribution in 2021. 

Harrison was acquired at the beginning of the season and now he's getting more opportunities and starting to shine for the Browns defense. So unless injuries force a player on the field or it's a position that rotates consistently like defensive line, the player the impact of the player they could add might be deferred.

For these type of deals, the Browns would likely be looking at teams at the bottom of the standings, teams that have already fired their head coach or teams with new head coaches, trying to find players that apparently don't fit the current system that might be a better fit for the Browns.

There could be a bigger ticket item the Browns would add, but it's unlikely they are going to add a player with a massive contract. It's not to say they can't, but with a goal to roll over as much cap room as possible, they don't want to be in a situation where they are paying a big ticket contract twice.

In other words, if they were to add a player that has a $10 million salary this season and in 2021, they would have to pay the remaining salary this season, which isn't a big deal. They wouldn't be able to roll over that salary they paid, which is a bigger deal and then pay the $10 million the following season. The Browns might be far more inclined to just wait until next season to then make that type of move, to maintain as much cap flexibility as possible.

The timeline that comes with a trade deadline makes negotiating a contract extension before the deal is completed incredibly difficult. So if they were to trade for a player on the last year of his deal, they might only get a ballpark on what type of deal that player is looking for in a potential extension.

The other limiting factor is the Browns needs are incredibly specific. Every team is always looking for defensive backs and defensive linemen, but the Browns could use cheap, young linebackers with promise. Offensively, it's basically wide receiver and that's it.

Some players that stand out as possible fits.

Desmond King, DB Los Angeles Chargers

25 years old, King seems like the ideal player the Browns want to have for their slot position and if they were to trade for him, it would be with a contract extension coming. He may never come off the field in the Browns defense.

King certainly contributes for the Chargers this season and is playing well, but he is on the final year of his rookie contract and the Chargers may opt to pay Rayshawn Jenkins, since he is a starting safety even though King is the better player.

The Chargers can pay both, so it could be difficult to pry away King, but unless they are willing to tag him, he could enter the free agent market anyway and get a significant pay day the Chargers don't feel they could match.

The Browns might have to give up a reasonably high draft pick, perhaps one of their third round picks, but given what King could do for the Browns, it could be a small price to pay

Joe Woods has a stated goal of getting the Browns into a base dime scheme. King could transition the team into that immediately, playing in the slot along with Kevin Johnson and getting another linebacker off the field, which would kill two birds with one stone.

Quinnen Williams, DT New York Jets

Every team probably has some level of interest in Williams if he's truly available and that could end up pricing the Browns out of the pursuit.

There's a good reason why he's potentially so valuable. He's 22 years old (23 in December) and he has two years left on his rookie deal after 2020. The Jets would also have to eat about $7 million in terms of prorated bonuses.

If the Browns were to get him, they would only owe him around $5 million each of the next two seasons, so they wouldn't feel like they have to start him. That would be an extremely cheap contract for a player with upside that could be deadly in the Browns defensive line rotation.

If the Browns could package their second round pick and a later round or conditional pick the following year, it might be a great value. He's been in the NFL, but the Browns would have him for at least the next two and a half seasons with the option to keep him longer as it would basically be time to pay him when Sheldon Richardson leaves. The Browns would be better immediately and potentially safeguard their future at the same time.

Kenny Stills, WR Houston Texans

28 years old, Stills doesn't really play for the Texans this season but has been successful in the past. He has elite speed and can stretch the field, which is something the Browns could use. He is a complimentary option and not a #1 receiver, which is fine if the Browns are confident in a number one receiver or they view Austin Hooper as the top option.

Stills has a salary of $6.95 million. The Browns would have to pay a little under $4 million the rest of the season and he is scheduled to be a free agent. It's unclear what kind of contract he would be looking for after this season. Maybe it'd be a one year deal, but more likely some kind of multiyear contract.

And depending on the size of that contract, it would bloat an already overloaded wide receiver position, forcing the Browns to make a difficult set of decisions.

Nothing about the Browns situation has changed and their stated goal to rely on multiple tight ends. So unless they want to take their talented running backs off the field, that would usually mean just having two receivers.

Allen Robinson, WR Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears are still 5-2, so there is little reason to get rid of a star receiver. However, the 5-2 record feels a little hollow and Robinson is in the last year of his contract and it's impossible to imagine a scenario where he wants to re-sign with the Bears.

The Browns took a swing at Robinson in the past and were basically dismissed because they weren't a serious team with what wasn't a serious coach in Hue Jackson. 

Seemingly, that has since changed. Even broaching this topic would mean the Browns are theoretically ready to move on from Odell Beckham, given the ACL tear. So if they were to discuss this move and it were to go public, it could create some issues in the locker room.

However, Robinson at 6'2" 220 pounds with speed and agility is an ideal X receiver that has been great with some of the worst quarterbacking the NFL has ever seen. If the Browns like him as a better fit for Baker Mayfield and are willing to immediately negotiate a contract extension, potentially using the franchise tag as a framework to get there, they could make a big swing and further transform the offense under Kevin Stefanski.

Robinson is still 27 years old and the Browns would owe a little over $6 million on his salary this season.

Everything about this is incredibly unlikely, but Browns general manager Andrew Berry has noted how he's willing to be aggressive and this would be about as aggressive as it gets.

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