The Cleveland Browns resurrected their passing game last weekend, but there’s no question to whom this team belongs.
All-Pro Myles Garrett led the way for a dominant Browns defense that allowed just 3 points for the second time in three games. The defensive end put up 3.5 sacks against the Tennessee Titans and has tallied 4.5 sacks on the year, which is exactly half of Cleveland’s season total of 9.
Za’Darius Smith and Ogbo Okoronkwo have been welcome additions to the edge rotation, but the defense could still use an injection of pure pass-rushing to keep the pressure on players like Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — who Cleveland will face on Sunday.
Danielle Hunter is Sensible Trade Candidate Despite Strong Year
Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report on Wednesday, September 27, updated his trade block big board, which has included Hunter during every week of the regular season and continues to name the Browns as one of the linebacker’s most likely landing spots.
The reasons are simple, despite Hunter putting up 5 sacks through three games so far in 2023, which is second to only T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers who has 6 sacks. Minnesota made Hunter available via trade in late July after a contract standoff that spanned months. The team ended up agreeing to increase the OLB’s salary to $17 million guaranteed, and $20 million with incentives, this season. However, this is the last year of Hunter’s deal and the Vikings chose not to extend the three-time Pro Bowler, despite the fact that he will turn just 29 years old in October.
Minnesota may change its mind on Hunter, but after an 0-3 start the Vikings are on the brink of irrelevance. Their situation may not improve meaningfully ahead of the NFL’s October 31 trade deadline with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers on the schedule over the next four weeks.
If that ends up the case, Minnesota may opt to deal Hunter while his trade value is high rather than enter into an expensive bidding war next offseason that probably ends with some team (the Vikings or otherwise) signing the star edge-rusher to a multiyear contract worth north of $100 million.
“[Hunter’s] contract prohibits the Vikings from using the franchise tag on him in 2024, so now might be the time for the team to cash in via a trade,” Knox wrote. “If the Browns want to continue building up their impressive defense, they would be a sensible landing spot. Cleveland added former Vikings Za’Darius Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson this offseason and has the second-most cap space in the league ($35.9 million).”
Browns Could Make Long-Term Play Pairing Danielle Hunter with Myles Garrett for Several Seasons
If the Vikings do decide to put Hunter on the block, his destination will come down to price.
Minnesota wanted negotiations for Hunter to begin with a second-round pick during the preseason, and that price has probably gone up given his performance through three games. The Browns make a lot of sense considering their financial flexibility and clear intention to go all-in on an attempt at a deep playoff run in 2023.
Cleveland owns its own picks in rounds 2, 3 and 5 next year. The Browns also have an extra fifth-round selection from the Carolina Panthers via the Baker Mayfield trade, per the team’s official website. Some grouping of those assets, which includes the second-round choice, may well be enough to get Hunter into an orange and brown uniform at some point over the next month.
The Browns aren’t liable to give away their best draft pick in 2024 for a one-year rental, even on a player as good as Hunter. However, Smith is bound for free agency next March and will be looking for a long-term deal at the age of 32. He has already been named a potential trade candidate ahead of this year’s deadline, which would be more likely to occur if the Browns can acquire Hunter.
In a potential multiyear play, Hunter may agree to sign an extension with a Browns defense built to win over the next three or four years and could come in as a replacement for Smith — who is likely to play elsewhere in 2024, if not before.
The long-term financial situation could be tough for Cleveland, as the team is set to be well over the salary cap next season and beyond due to three straight years of $64 million cap hits for QB Deshaun Watson between 2024-26.
However, the Browns would have options on how to structure an extension for Hunter that could keep him less expensive cap-wise over the first year or two of a new deal by pushing the heavier financial hits down the road. Such a play wouldn’t make sense for every team in the NFL, but would be logical for a franchise trying to win big over a three-year window.
Minnesota and Cleveland are also uniquely paired to do business with one another, as Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah worked closely with Browns general manager Andrew Berry in Cleveland before accepting the role of GM in Minnesota ahead of the 2022 campaign.