CLEVELAND — For the Cleveland Browns, being on the clock in this year’s NFL draft will again require extra patience.
They’ll spend Day One on the sideline watching.
Just as they did during the playoffs.
After mortgaging their future in the controversial trade last year for quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Browns don’t have a first- or second-round pick. They aren’t scheduled to make their initial selection until the third round at No. 74, unless general manager Andrew Berry gets antsy and makes a move.
It’s not an ideal situation for a team that underachieved last season, finishing 7-10 and last in the AFC North. But the Browns put themselves in this spot by banking on Watson, handing him $230 million guaranteed.
Berry has been aggressive in past drafts, sliding up, dropping back and free-wheeling with Cleveland’s draft assets. But following a successful offseason in free agency devoted to filling numerous holes on defense, it’s more likely the Browns will sit tight until their number is called.
Watson’s acquisition was costly for Cleveland, which sent three first-round picks (2022, 2023 and 2024) along with a handful of third and fourth-rounders to Houston for the quarterback, who was suspended for 11 games last season and didn’t exactly look like a franchise savior in the six games he played.
But the Browns remain confident their massive investment will pay off, and Watson, who spent most of 2022 in a “whirlwind,” arrived at the team’s voluntary offseason program this week making promises for the season ahead.
“A lot of wins,” Watson said.
Berry didn’t wait for the draft to find Watson a needed deep playmaker, two of them actually. He signed free agent wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and traded Cleveland’s second-round pick (No. 42 overall) to the New York Jets for wideout Elijah Moore in February.
In exchange for Moore, the Browns received pick No. 74, which is where Cleveland’s draft is scheduled to start this year.
If Berry can wait that long.
The Browns enter the draft with eight selections: two in the third round (No. 74, No. 98), two in the fourth (No. 111 and No. 126), two in the fifth (No. 140 and No. 142) and one each in the sixth (No. 190) and seventh (No. 229).
A year ago, Cleveland didn’t pick until the third round (No. 68) before taking cornerback Martin Emerson Jr., who was a solid contributor as a rookie, could have an expanded role this season under new coordinator Jim Schwarz and may be a future core player.
Emerson proved to be the star of Cleveland’s 2022 draft class, which included kicker Cade York (fourth round), who had an uneven season (24 of 32 on FGs) and will be counted on to be much better in 2023.
The super-soft middle of Cleveland’s defense was addressed in free agency with the signings of tackles Dalvin Tomlinson, Maurice Hurst and Trysten Hill, but the Browns could use more depth in their interior rotation along with another developmental end.
Linebacker is another shallow area with Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker Jr. both coming back from season-ending injuries.
On offense, there’s room for a swing tackle in case of injury to either Jack Conklin or Jedrick Wills Jr., who have both been nicked up the past two seasons.
Safety Juan Thornhill signing gives the Browns a dependable veteran to anchor the secondary, but Cleveland lacks a young, up-and-coming option for the future.
About the only position the Browns are set at is starting quarterback, so long as Watson lives up to expectations. If that doesn’t happen, well, then it’s back to the drawing board and the top of the draft.
Ethan Pocic not only saved the Browns last season following a rash of injuries, but he became one of the league’s top centers while anchoring Cleveland’s proven offensive line — perhaps the team’s biggest strength.
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