CLEVELAND — While the Cleveland Browns’ past over the last decade has been marred by six coaching changes and losing season after losing season, the future is looking up for the once-proud franchise from Northeast Ohio.
The Browns have not qualified for postseason play since the 2002 regular season, but with the talent on the roster continuing to develop and produce on game day, it should not take long for the Browns to break the NFL’s longest active playoff drought.
A few key additions, namely along the offensive line and on the second and third levels of the defense, could boost the Browns’ already strong chances with a talented corps of players on both sides of the football.
Here is a look at the reasons why the Browns’ next decade will be far better than the one that comes to an end following the 2019 season.
Having the QB figured out
For the first time since Tim Couch last threw a pass for the Browns in the 2003 season, the decision-makers seem to have found their quarterback of the future in second-year standout Baker Mayfield.
No rookie in the NFL’s near 100-year history has thrown more touchdown passes than Mayfield did during the 2018 season.
After taking over the first-team offense in the second quarter of a Week 3 win over the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium, Mayfield completed 310 of his 486 attempts (63.8 percent) for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
Under the direction of Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Mayfield averaged 281.75 yards and 2.375 touchdowns per game with Kitchens calling the plays.
This season, Mayfield has completed 244 of his 407 throws (60 percent) for 2,917 yards and 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, and all but two of those turnovers came in the first eight games of the season. Additionally, Mayfield has rushed for 84 yards and two scores on 18 carries.
Talent at receiver
Browns GM John Dorsey made the splash move of the 2019 offseason when he traded draft picks and Jabrill Peppers to the New York Giants in exchange for multi-time Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr., pairing him with his college teammate at LSU, Jarvis Landry.
While it took several games to fully integrate Beckham Jr. into the offense, he sure has made an impact alongside Landry.
Beckham Jr. has been on the receiving end of 57 passes, which he turned into 805 yards, an average of 14.1 yards per reception, and two touchdowns. Landry has converted his 65 receptions into 919 yards and five receiving scores.
It is no surprise that Landry and Beckham Jr. are Nos. 1 and 2 on the team in several receiving categories.
Special running back(s)
The Browns have some decisions to make this offseason with regard to the running backs.
First, the Browns have to decide if they will tender or match any offer Kareem Hunt receives on the free-agent market, and then, Dorsey and the front office will have to put a valuation to the level of production from Nick Chubb and see what a fair extension offer would be.
Chubb has been one of the NFL’s most productive all-around backs in 2019, rushing for 1,175 yards and seven scores on 238 carries, while catching 31 passes out of the backfield for 241 yards over the first 12 games of the season.
For his career with the Browns, Chubb has rushed for 2,171 yards and 15 touchdowns on 430 carries.
Since joining the team after serving an eight-game suspension for off-the-field incidents, Hunt has been a key contributor to the offense, serving as the lead blocker for Chubb, as well as rushing and carrying the ball out of the backfield.
Defensive star up front
Barring any unforeseen issues in his reinstatement application, Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end Myles Garrett will be back rushing quarterbacks off the edge in 2020.
Combined over 37 games in his first three years with the Browns, Garrett has registered 104 total tackles, including 74 solo stops and 30 assists with 30.5 sacks, four passes defended and six forced fumbles since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Before being indefinitely suspended by the NFL for an on-field brawl with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in Week 11, Garrett registered 10 sacks, 29 total tackles and two forced fumbles in the 2019 season.
Garrett’s fifth-year option is due to be picked up and a contract extension is in the near future.
Despite all that positivity, the Browns have several questions to answer before consistently contending in the AFC:
Is Freddie Kitchens the coach to lead the Browns to a championship?
What will it take to sign Mayfield to a long-term extension?
Can the Browns afford to keep the Chubb and Hunt tandem together?
How can they create/maintain depth at linebacker and in the secondary?