Browns Linked to ‘Captivating’ Free Agent

Getty Browns QB Baker Mayfield peels himself off the turf.

The Cleveland Browns should have one top priority in free agency this offseason and that’s to protect quarterback Baker Mayfield.

The Browns offensive line ranked in the bottom half of the league in terms of pass-protection last season and Mayfield was sacked 40 times — the seventh most in the NFL. While that is less than ideal to begin with, the number doesn’t tell the story of the consistent pressure Mayfield faced, often having to make throws on the run.

When free agency begins on March 18, offensive line will be one of the key areas the Browns want to upgrade and one of the names the team has circled is Jack Conklin.

NFL insider Jeremy Fowler said the Browns “first call in free agency should be to Jack Conklin, one of the most captivating free agents in the eyes of NFL sources. Time to adequately protect Baker.”

ESPN beat reporter Jake Trotter confirmed the Browns interest in the right tackle, saying that Conklin is “definitely on Cleveland’s radar.” As Trotter notes, the Browns cleared around $13 million in cap room by cutting a handful of veterans earlier in the week.

Jack Conklin has All-Pro Potential

Conklin was drafted No. 8 overall by the Tennessee Titans in 2016 out of Michigan State. He started 38 of his 39 career games — 35 at left tackle, three at right tackle — with the Spartans.

Conklin was a first-team All-Pro selection his rookie year and has started every game of his NFL career that he’s been healthy for. He played just nine games in 2018 due to injury, but hasn’t missed a game in his other three seasons.

“He’s back now,” an AFC executive told Fowler on “Had a really strong contract year.”

PFF’s revealed that among the 62 tackles with at least 800 pass-blocking snaps played since 2016, Conklin ranks 24th in pressure percentage allowed at 5.7. He’s also a top 20 run blocker.

Conklin allowed four sacks last season and he’s been called for just 21 penalties in his career.

Conklin would join a Browns line that includes JC Tretter and Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio. Tretter signed a long-term deal last season and Bitonio is signed through the 2022 season. There’s also a good chance that the Browns will add an offensive line with the No. 10 pick in the draft. Cleveland will not bring back former No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson, who was arrested with 157 pounds of marijuana on him at the US-Mexico border.

Mekhi Becton (Louisville), Jedrick Wills Jr. (Alabama) and Andrew Thomas (Georgia) are all names that have been mentioned by draft experts as options on the Browns’ radar.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has the Browns taking Becton in his latest mock draft.

“This one is easy: I’m sticking with my pick, because the Browns’ need at left tackle is so obvious,” Kiper said. “The 6-7, 370-pound Becton can be an immediate starter on Baker Mayfield’s blind side, and he’ll be a beast in the running game in front of Nick Chubb.”

Browns Have Potential for Explosive Offense

If the Browns can get the offensive line under control, the team has potential to possess one of the explosive units in the league with names like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb.

New Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said the amount of talent on the roster in Cleveland was a big reason for him taking the job.

“Obviously, having the opportunity to put an offense together with the group of guys was very intriguing. Another reason would be the talent that has been acquired here over the years,” Van Pelt said in his introductory press conference this week. “Obviously, the group is extremely talented, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Having the chance to work with those guys was another part of that. Then coming to the organization, the Browns have a long history as an organization and the city is another reason that I was excited to take the job.”

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