Were the season to begin today, the Browns’ starting wide receivers would be Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore and Donovan Peoples-Jones. If Cleveland adds Hopkins sometime between now and early September, Peoples-Jones is likely to become the odd man out. It would also probably cost Peoples-Jones and Cooper their roster spots in 2024, according to Jared Mueller of SB Nation’s Dawgs by Nature.
“If Hopkins is signed this year, the top four receivers for the [Browns] the following year are likely Hopkins, [Cedric] Tillman, Moore and David Bell, with Cooper and [Peoples-Jones] elsewhere,” Mueller wrote on Friday, June 2.
Salary Cap Issues Will Force Browns to Tough Calls on Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones
If the Browns land Hopkins, a crowded receiver room will become an issue for Peoples-Jones. However, the team’s salary cap concerns will prove problematic for both Peoples-Jones and Cooper.
Cooper may be gone in 2024 regardless, as he will carry a cap hit of nearly $23.8 million that season along with a base salary of $20 million — identical to the numbers he will cost the Browns this year. Cooper will play this season at 29 years old and has two years left on the five-year, $100 million contract he signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 2020.
Peoples-Jones, on the other hand, is bound for free agency next summer, and whether Cleveland will have any room to work toward a new contract with him is a viable question, especially if Hopkins is in the fold eating up a significant chunk of change. Peoples-Jones’ numbers have improved every season, and he posted career-highs in catches (61) and receiving yards (839) last year along with three touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference.
The Browns broke the bank on quarterback Deshaun Watson in 2022, guaranteeing him all $230 million on his five-year contract. That deal will make financial maneuvering difficult for Cleveland moving forward and will bring about some tough choices.
Peoples-Jones was a find for the Browns in the sixth round back in 2020, but a second contract is a luxury the franchise may not be able to afford. And that says nothing of what the receiver will want for himself if an addition like Hopkins bumps him from the starting lineup.
No DeAndre Hopkins May Result in Donovan Peoples-Jones Re-signing with Browns
If Hopkins lands elsewhere this offseason, that opens the door for Peoples-Jones to return to Cleveland long-term. However, that could be something of a double-edged sword.
Should he continue on his current trajectory, the 24-year-old Peoples-Jones appears to have the ceiling of a legitimate No. 2 starter in the NFL. But the better the year he has in Cleveland in 2023, the greater the contract he will seek next spring.
Assuming that Hopkins doesn’t end up with the Browns this offseason, and the franchise still cuts Cooper loose after the campaign due to his prohibitive cap number in 2024, then the team faces the third season of Watson’s five-year run with Moore and Peoples-Jones as its top wideouts. A pass-catching staff with those two players as the No. 2 and No. 3 guys looks a lot better than one in which they are both promoted up one spot on the depth chart.
Furthermore, Moore will be up for a new deal following the 2024 campaign, and Cleveland runs the risk of miring its receiver room in mediocrity by re-signing both he and Peoples-Jones to expensive, long-term deals.