NFL Offseason Outlook: Browns Will Focus On Defense, Taking Another Step Forward In 2021

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When the Cleveland Browns took the field the night of Sunday, January 10th at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, many felt it was going to be just another Browns playoff loss to their biggest rival.

The team was minus their head coach Kevin Stefanski because of a positive COVID-19 test, but he wasn’t the only one. The club also was missing Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward, two more who had tested positive for COVID.

That didn’t stop the Browns. The club showed their resolve by racing to the biggest first half lead by a road team in NFL playoff history and eventually held on for an 11-point win at 48-37.

The season did come to an eventual end the next week in Kansas City, but let it be known, the Browns are back, and the rest of the NFL needs to take notice.

As Cleveland enters the offseason, the club starts with 26 free agents.

Defensive players, including edge rusher Olivier Vernon, cornerback Terrance Mitchell, linebacker B.J. Goodson and safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph, are all on their own if they want to ink elsewhere.

One would think this young team has plenty to prove, especially after the AFC Divisional Playoff affair in Kansas City ended with backup Chiefs QB Chad Henne racing for a critical 14 yards on a third down play and then throwing the ball on fourth-and-inches to Tyreek Hill to clinch the win.

Now that you are aware of all that, here’s the complete list of free agents for the Browns as free agency starts:

WR KhaDarel Hodge*
WR Rashard Higgins
WR Marvin Hall
WR Taywan Taylor
WR JoJo Natson
LT Kendall Lamm
LG Anthony Fabiano*
EDGE Olivier Vernon
DT Vincent Taylor
IDL Larry Ogunjobi
LB Tae Davis*
LB B.J. Goodson
LB Malcolm Smith
LB Elijah Lee
CB Tavierre Thomas*
CB Terrance Mitchell
CB Kevin Johnson
S Andrew Sendejo
S Karl Joseph
K Cody Parkey

Offseason Outlook: Before you start booking Super Bowl tickets however, remember this Browns team in 2020 was really bad on defense, a unit that allowed a whopping 419 points, 26.2 points per game, 21st in the entire league.

The club needs to continue to make strides on defense. If this team is going to actually make a true Super Bowl run, the defense has got to make stops when the game is on the line.

Consider the team allowed the following in points during the season: 38, 30, 38, 38, 34, 35, 47 and 37 in the playoff win over the Steelers.

With currently $17 million to spend as free agency starts, a majority of the money they have available should be spent to shore up the defense.

When you look at the offense, the club has talent, and brash young quarterback Baker Mayfield is coming into his own as one of the top young AFC throwers.

They also have two incredible running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, so forget about going after a back.

The wide out corps is also set. Jarvis Landry is a great young playmaker, and Odell Beckham Jr. is coming off injury and will help out Mayfield.

So what else can this team use? On offense, not much – sure they always could use an offensive lineman, but with this young up and coming team – it’s all about the “D.”

Written by Matt Loede

Matt has been a part of the Cleveland Sports landscape working in the media since 1994 when he graduated from broadcasting school. His coverage beats include the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers. He's written three books, and won the "2020 AP Sports Stringer Lifetime Service Award."

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