What the Cleveland Browns’ Plan of Attack Must Be for the 2022 NFL Offseason

The Cleveland Browns entered the 2021 NFL season with one of the league’s most talented rosters on paper. General manager Andrew Berry constructed a roster that was supposed to compete with the best the AFC had to offer. However, with high expectations came minimal results as the Browns finished with a disappointing 8-9 record.

The front office now faces a pivotal offseason, with several questions needing answers, including at quarterback. Doubts still surround Baker Mayfield and his ability to be a franchise quarterback.

After a disappointing effort, the Browns must reassess and retool before this rare window closes. Here’s how Cleveland should approach the 2022 NFL offseason.

Biggest offseason questions

While the entire Browns team underachieved in 2021, it’s clear what the biggest question is heading into the 2022 NFL offseason. What should Cleveland do with quarterback Baker Mayfield?

Mayfield will be heading into his fifth season with the Browns, as the team picked up the option on his rookie contract. That doesn’t mean the front office will commit to him long-term, though.

The Oklahoma product was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he’s yet to live up to the billing. He’s been wildly inconsistent in his first four seasons. Mayfield battled injuries throughout the 2021 season. Still, if he’s going to play, he has to perform.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski stood firm on his belief that the 26-year-old quarterback gave the Browns the best chance to win. However, that couldn’t have been further from the case as the season wound down.

Has Mayfield shown the Browns enough for them to offer him a long-term contract? He may need to play his way into a new deal.

Meanwhile, Cleveland loaded up on talent for the 2021 season, but nothing came of it? Who does the front office retain for 2022?

Top free agency decisions

Key free agents: Jadeveon Clowney (DE), Malik Jackson (DT), Anthony Walker Jr. (LB), David Njoku (TE), Ronnie Harrison (S), Takkarist McKinley (DE)

The Cleveland Browns will have some huge decisions to make in the offseason. Several key contributors will become unrestricted free agents at the season’s end.

Some of the players the team added before the 2021 season are hitting the market. Jadeveon Clowney is easily the biggest name of the bunch. The defensive end has enjoyed a decent season opposite Myles Garrett, registering seven sacks in 13 games.

Anthony Walker Jr. led the team in tackles and is only 26 years old, so Cleveland would be wise to bring him back. The rest of the defensive free agents are solid contributors, but each could be replaceable.

As for David Njoku, he hasn’t had a true breakout season. He has more upside than Austin Hooper at tight end, but is he worth a new contract with Harrison Bryant still on the roster?

2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets

Top picks: First round (own), second round (own), third round (own)

Draft needs: WR, DT, LB, QB

The Browns didn’t have many holes on paper entering the 2021 season. However, weaknesses emerged as the season progressed.

General manager Andrew Berry and the front office put together an impressive draft class in 2021, led by linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and cornerback Greg Newsome II. It will be interesting to see if they can duplicate their success this time around.

Wide receiver may be the most glaring need for the Browns. The team parted ways with Odell Beckham Jr. mid-season. He was the most talented receiver on the roster. Jarvis Landry had a down season, and Cleveland has likely seen the best of the veteran wideout.

Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz offer upside at the position, but neither player looks like a No. 1 receiver at the moment. The upcoming draft class features some potential game-changers. Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, and USC’s Drake London could be ideal targets.

The Browns could also look to replace some of their potential free-agent losses on defense. The talent in the 2022 class is underwhelming, but Georgia’s Jordan Davis or Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal could be worth a look.

If Cleveland wants to bolster its linebacking corps, they could make a play for Nakobe Dean (Georgia) or Devin Lloyd (Utah). Both players project as potential first-rounders.

Quarterback could also be an option on Day 2 or 3, depending on what the front office decides on Baker Mayfield.

1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022

Baker Mayfield is the offensive player who needs to step up the most in 2022. Surely, that comes as no surprise. He’s been in the league for four seasons but hasn’t given the Cleveland Browns a definitive answer to their franchise quarterback question.

The 2018 No. 1 overall pick has not enjoyed the same success as Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, who went off the board after him. Whether Mayfield likes it or not, the comparisons aren’t going anywhere.

Cleveland can’t possibly be satisfied with their young quarterback’s performance. He has arm talent, but his inaccuracy and poor decision-making are concerning. If the Browns give him another year and he doesn’t prove himself, that could be the last straw.

The defensive side of the ball isn’t quite as obvious. Grant Delpit is a guy who came on strong toward the end of the season, but there’s more that he could tap into.

The LSU product has started just six games but appeared in 14. He finished third on the team in tackles (63). However, he’ll need to prove he can put it all together for a full season. The Browns selected the safety in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but he missed the entire season due to injury.

Delpit is one of the most talented players on this defense. His physical playing style bodes well in the AFC North. If he can take a step forward in 2022, he’ll establish himself as one of the building blocks in Cleveland.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.