Browns Predicted to Trade $20 Million Lineman, Former Top-10 Pick

Kevin Stefanski

Getty Head coach Kevin Stefanski of the Cleveland Browns.

The middle of the Cleveland Browns offensive line is as good as almost any in the NFL, but the tackle positions are a different story.

Arguably the biggest problem is starting right tackle Jack Conklin, who has struggled to stay on the field in recent years and missed nearly the entire 2023 season due to a catastrophic knee injury suffered in Week 1. Not far behind him, however, is starting left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who has remained relatively healthy over his career in Cleveland but hasn’t been able to produce regardless.

Matt Wilson of SB Nation’s Dawgs by Nature predicted on Thursday, February 15, that the Browns will find a way to trade Wills at some point this offseason and upgrade at the position.

The Browns can save between $12M-$14.5M in cap space this offseason by trading Wills, depending on the time in which they move him. That amount of cap savings is a pretty big deal, and the team can most likely find a suitor who’d be willing to give up something like a sixth-round pick for him.

Yes, a sixth-round pick in return for a former first-round selection isn’t ideal, but it might be worth it to the future of the organization if they can free up that much money. [The Browns] could even look into moving [Wills] during the draft in one of their trade packages to move up.

Browns Have Given Jedrick Wills Longer Rope Due to Investment Made in His Promise

Jedrick Wills

GettyOffensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. of the Cleveland Browns.

Wills, the No. 10 overall pick in 2020, just finished out his initial four-year rookie contract, which paid him $19.7 million in total. He will play the 2024 campaign on a one-year team option worth $14.2 million.

The Browns exercised that option last offseason despite a spotty, inconsistent effort by Wills in 2022. Former top-10 picks typically garner more leash than other players because of teams’ initial level of investment in them, not to mention the distaste and danger to job security that the decision to part with one early can bring to a front office’s doorstep. That said, holding on too long and failing to admit a mistake on a player is also problematic.

Speaking less generally and in more specific terms, Cleveland and general manager Andrew Berry probably held onto Wills because they didn’t see an immediately better option with whom they could replace him. The team may have felt another year under offensive line coach Bill Callahan might help Wills develop into something like the player the franchise hoped he would be when drafting him in the first round four years ago.

Wills didn’t live up to that promise, finishing ranked 64th out of 81 players who saw enough snaps to qualify at the tackle position in 2023, per Pro Football Focus. Callahan is now gone, having left Cleveland to join his son with the Tennessee Titans. As such, the Browns are stuck with a bad contract in Wills, and the only way to get off of it is to offer him as a low-risk flier option to some team in desperate need of an offensive tackle.

Browns Need to Find Another Tackle Like Dawand Jones in NFL Draft

Dawand Jones, Browns

GettyOffensive tackle Dawand Jones of the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns won’t part with Wills unless they have a legitimate succession plan in place, even if it’s a one-year solution or involves a rookie draft pick.

Conklin may or may not be back next season. However, even if he is, the former two-time All-Pro has spent his entire career as a right tackle.

Rookie Dawand Jones, who the Browns found in the fourth round last year, stepped into Conklin’s role with relative success in his first NFL season. As such, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod as the starter if both men return to the roster healthy.

Cleveland could decide to try and convert Jones to the left side if the team looks to trade Wills, though that is a risky move considering the importance of the left tackle position. The Browns may also look to find a replacement for Wills in the 2024 draft, though they won’t able to do so until their first pick, which doesn’t fall until No. 54 overall in the second round.

Cleveland will also select at No. 85 in round three and twice in round five (Nos. 135 and 155), per Tankathon. Selecting a value player in one of those spots who pays off over the summer is an option.

Otherwise, the Browns will need to hit the free-agent market and spend significant cap space on a player to protect QB Deshaun Watson, who will return from season-ending shoulder surgery he underwent in November 2023.

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