Covid Response: The lines on both sides of the ball took a hit, as five total players opted out of the season due to COVID-19; four offensive and one defensive linemen. The biggest name to withdraw from the season is nose tackle Andrew Billings. The hope for more protection for Baker Mayfield also looks dubious, even if only from a depth standpoint. O-linemen Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett, Drake Dorbeck, and Malcolm Pridgeon all decided to sit 2020 out.
Outside The Lines: Things were pretty quiet off the field for the Browns, which is great news for a team that employs Kareem Hunt. The most objectionable thing about the Browns’ offseason was probably those At Home With Baker Mayfield commercials, where Mayfield and his wife live at FirstEnergy Stadium, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. We get to see Mayfield wandering an empty stadium, doing things like trying to fix a malfunctioning toilet and cleaning the stands after a game, begging the question: Where are the people who had these jobs before? Did Mayfield fire them all in the midst of a global pandemic? Not cool.
Oh, he’s here now?: Getting Mayfield better protection up front was a key goal for the Browns this offseason, and the addition of O-linemen Jack Conklin and rookie first-round draft pick Jedrick Willis should help tremendously. Cleveland also added fullback Andy Janovich, and the highly-coveted (at least by Bears fans) TE Austin Hooper. On the defensive side, Adrian Clayborn joins an already extremely adept defensive line.
Where’d he go?: Unlike almost every other team in the league, Cleveland managed to keep its key players on-board for 2020, though they did let linebackers Chris Kirksey (Packers) and Joe Schobert (Jaguars) test free agency and ultimately sign elsewhere.
Fans in the stands: Where to start with this one? Though it has yet to be approved by Governor Mike DeWine, Cleveland is moving ahead with plans to have fans in the seats for the home opener against the Bengals on September 17. The tickets will be sold in “pods” — groups of one to ten fans who know and can sit next to each other. What could go wrong?
What to expect: You know that Browns team you thought was going to shake things up in 2019? Expect to see that team this season. Though a lot of the issues Cleveland had on offense can be traced back to Mayfield’s lack of accuracy, a much-improved offensive line should give him the security he needs. The offense will be formidable with playmakers like OBJ, Nick Chubb, Landry, Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Hunt providing Mayfield, and new head coach Kevin Stefanski, with plenty of weapons.
On defense, Myles Garrett and the rest of the defensive line is one of the best around, and defensive coordinator Joe Woods has been making improvements to the secondary, bringing in strong safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo. A lot of things that went wrong for Cleveland in 2019 have to go right in 2020, but they have an easier schedule and a reason to be optimistic.