NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year began on Wednesday, which meant free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.
Austin Hooper, TE
What it means: The Browns have armed quarterback Baker Mayfield with yet another big-time playmaker. Despite missing three games last year with a knee injury, Hooper finished with 75 catches for 787 yards and 6 touchdowns for the Falcons. Hooper also gives new Cleveland head coach Kevin Stefanski the front-line tight end instrumental to the offense he coordinated in Minnesota. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Vikings used multiple tight ends on 57% of their offensive snaps last season, tops in the league. Hooper and David Njoku -- assuming the Browns keep the latter, as expected -- provide Cleveland with a potential tight end pairing Stefanski knows how to utilize, which should significantly aid Mayfield, especially out of play-action and in the red zone.
What's the risk: While committing even more money to pass-catchers, the Browns still have a lot of holes to fill defensively. That said, after addressing their tackle issue with the No. 10 overall pick, they can basically then devote the rest of the draft, which includes an extra third-rounder, to shoring up depth at all three levels of the defense.
Jack Conklin, OT
What it means: Mayfield was sacked 40 times last year, seventh-most in the NFL, up from 25 as a rookie in 2018. The regime in Cleveland started addressing that by landing the top right tackle in the market in Conklin, who is coming off a banner fourth season in the league. Along with left tackle Greg Robinson, right tackle Chris Hubbard ranked outside the top 40, among tackles, in the Pass Block Win Rate. Conklin had the third-best rate among right tackles last season, and ranked No. 1 in single teams. Given that center JC Tretter (third overall in pass block rate) and left guard Joel Bitonio (ninth overall) are back in Cleveland, the Browns are on their way to turning pass protection from a major weakness to a potential strength -- especially if they can find their left tackle of the future with the No. 10 pick in the draft.
Browns bolster O-line with Conklin signing
The Browns and OT Jack Conklin agree to a three-year, $42 million deal to fortify Cleveland's offensive line and provide Baker Mayfield with more protection.
What's the risk: Conklin had battled injuries before last season. But given that Cleveland was able to front load his contract with $20 million guaranteed up front, the Browns will have flexibility moving forward. And they will have the money going forward to pay their stars still playing on rookie deals, including Mayfield, running back Nick Chubb, defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward.
Case Keenum, QB
The Browns and Keenum agreed to a three-year deal worth $18 million, with $10 million guaranteed. Here's a closer look at the longtime quarterback:
What it means:New Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is very familiar with Keenum from their 2017 season together in Minnesota, where they forged a bond (and Keenum produced his best career season). Now Stefanski will entrust Keenum as both backup quarterback and, even more importantly, mentor to Baker Mayfield, who is entering a pivotal third season in Cleveland after a disappointing sophomore showing. Keenum and Mayfield played in similar schemes in college, as proteges of the Air Raid offense. Yes, $18 million is a hefty price tag for a backup quarterback. But that, along with earlier signings of TE Austin Hooper and OT Jack Conklin, demonstrates Cleveland's commitment to developing Mayfield into a franchise quarterback.
What's the risk: Giving a backup quarterback $10 million in guaranteed money -- the Browns paid Drew Stanton less than $4 million last year -- will slightly limit the investment Cleveland can make in retooling its defense. Then again, nothing else really matters if Mayfield doesn't live up to the potential he flashed as a rookie.
B.J. Goodson, LB
The Browns agreed to a one-year deal with the veteran linebacker.
What it means: The Browns were looking to add a veteran linebacker with Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert both no longer in Cleveland, and 2019 rookies Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki the top two linebackers returning off last year's team. Goodson will give the Browns some much needed experience, arriving in Cleveland after starting nine games in Green Bay last season. Goodson was a base inside linebacker for the Packers last year and should be a stabilizing force around an otherwise young linebacking corps. For the moment, Wilson and Takitaki are the future. But Goodson will be the bridge as the budding linebackers continue to develop.
What's the risk: Considering Goodson will be on a one-year deal, there really isn't much risk. Yes, he won't be on the field a lot on third down. But he figures to be a mainstay for the Browns in their base defense.
Karl Joseph, safety
The Browns agreed to a one-year deal with the former first-round pick, who was previously with the Raiders.
What it means: The Browns desperately needed to add a proven safety in free agency, and they got just that in Joseph. The former first round pick out of West Virginia had 41 career starts over four seasons with the Raiders. He will be an instant starter for a Browns secondary that currently claims only 2019 rookie Sheldrick Redwine and J.T. Hassell, who was a practice squad player last year. Joseph is versatile enough to man either safety spot and has the ability to be physical. Given how much work that must be done at safety, Cleveland won't stop here, both in free agency and the draft.
What's the risk: Joseph had only four interceptions in four seasons with the Raiders. That's not a lot of playmaking for a No. 1 safety. But given the Browns had to only make a one-year commitment, they can see how it goes with Joseph while they try to develop whatever safeties they add in the draft.
Andrew Billings, DT
The Browns reached an agreement with the former Bengals defensive lineman.
What it means: The Browns were on the hunt for a rotational defensive tackle to play alongside Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi, and Billings gives Cleveland a nice complementary piece. Billings, a former Texas high school powerlifting record holder, will bring some strength inside, which should boost the Browns run defense.
What's the risk: The former fourth-round pick out of Baylor missed his entire 2016 rookie season because of a knee injury suffered just before the season. Yet like with the other veterans the Browns have signed to the defensive side, Billings is only on a one-year deal, leaving the team without any long-term risk.
Kevin Johnson, CB
The Browns agreed to the terms with the former first-round pick, who played with the Bills last season.
What it means: The Browns were looking for a cornerback who could tackle well enough in space to man the nickel position in Joe Woods' defense. Johnson will step into that role, while also giving the Browns experience and depth at outside corner behind Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams. Johnson is coming off a productive season with the Bills, including 36 tackles and five pass deflections.
What's the risk: While he was healthy last year, Johnson has an injury history. He played in only one game in 2018 (concussion) and in only six in 2016 (foot).
Andrew Sendejo, S
The Browns reached a one-year deal with the former Vikings safety.
What it means: The run on players connected to the new coaching staff continues, as is the one-year contracts for defensive signings. Like Joseph, Johnson and Goodson, Sendejo arrives on a one-year contract, giving the Browns plenty of long-term flexibility with the roster. Sendejo is a versatile safety who will be interchangeable with Joseph in the back end of the Cleveland defense, while the Browns develop Redwine, and whatever safeties they might select in the draft.
What's the risk: Though Sendejo is 32-years-old, he's been very good in coverage. He might have been the starter in Minnesota had the Vikings not tagged Anthony Harris, who was another Browns target at one point. Cleveland will be relying on Sendejo heavily, with the rest of the safety rotation expected to be so young, outside Joseph. But again, the one-year deals limit the long-term risk should it not work out.
Adrian Clayborn, DE
The Browns signed veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn to a two-year deal, his agency announced Tuesday.
What it means: The Browns had been on the hunt for a veteran rotation pass-rusher and Tuesday they landed Clayborn, whose two-year deal is worth up to $6.75 million with incentives. Clayborn played in 15 games and delivered four sacks for the Falcons last year. Even though he isn't a big name like available free-agent end Jadeveon Clowney, Clayborn should provide some much needed assistance to star pass-rusher Myles Garrett. Of the 111 players with 500 pass-rush snaps over the past two seasons, Garrett and Clayborn rank one and two in the league in QB pressure rate, respectively, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Clayborn is especially efficient from the right side. He posted the fourth-best pass-rush win rate (24%, minimum 100 rush plays) from right DE last season; Garrett, meanwhile, was second.
What's the risk: Clayborn is 31 and the Browns didn't have much success with the younger veteran defensive end they traded for last year, as Olivier Vernon was out for much of the season with a knee injury. Still, this gives the Browns flexibility up front both on and off the field as they retool the defensive line around Garrett, who will be back off last year's season-ending suspension.