The trade market for pass catchers is convoluted and likely to prove expensive, rendering free agency the more tenable path to adding a big name to the depth chart in Cleveland. The pickings are now somewhat slim at wideout, though the branch is far from bare with players like Odell Beckham Jr., Will Fuller and Julio Jones still available.
Beckham is coming off of an ACL tear and is not projected to be ready to play until mid-season or later. Both Fuller and Jones are coming off of down years, which saw each miss significant time due to injury issues. While none of the three are sure bets, all three can be had at a bargain on one-year deals as they each look to improve their long-term value and earn one more big NFL payday.
The Browns offer a quality roster and a Pro-Bowl quarterback in Deshaun Watson to help one of those players achieve his goal, and they have room behind top target Amari Cooper on an otherwise inexperienced roster to take at least one of those receivers on.
Considering his tumultuous history in Cleveland, Beckham is probably the least likely candidate, though the Browns have discussed internally the possibility of bringing him back into the fold this offseason.
Jake Rill of Bleacher Report has suggested that the Browns must at least consider adding Fuller or Jones before the season begins in September, though he noted one of the two is more likely to make a “bigger splash” as a free agent signing.
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Julio Jones Flier Worth Risk to Cleveland Browns
A small bet on Jones could pay huge dividends if the Browns believe that one of the game’s all-time talents is poised to rebound in 2022.
Rill laid out the rationale for the potential move on Monday, June 27.
If the Browns want to make a potentially bigger splash this summer, maybe they should target Julio Jones instead of [Will] Fuller.
Even though Jones is now 33 and possibly past his prime, he may still be poised for a bounce-back season after a disappointing 2021 campaign.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection, he will be looking to prove he still has plenty left in the tank in 2022. And because of his track record, it may cost a little more for a team to sign him than some of the other remaining free-agent receivers.
If Jones stays healthy, though, he may play closer to the way he did from 2014-19, when he had at least 1,394 receiving yards in each of those seasons. That would be a huge boost to Cleveland’s passing offense, and it could then have a potent duo in Cooper and Jones.
Julio Jones Potentially Pricier Option Than Other Free Agent WRs
The sticking point for Cleveland is likely what Jones will ultimately cost.
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus projected in April that Jones would sign a one-year deal for $10 million fully guaranteed. The fact that he remains a free agent in late June suggests Jones has not yet received an offer commensurate with Speilberger’s estimate.
Jones has earned more than $140 million over the course of his NFL career and can afford to wait for the best deal. But an argument can be made that the longer he waits, and the more teams that fill roster spots with potential answers at wide receiver, the lower his value becomes.
Jones has played in just one Super Bowl in his career. If he hopes to appear in another, the Browns are among the most reasonable options for him in 2022, along with the Green Bay Packers. Both situations offer quality quarterback play that can push the the wide receiver’s future value upward, while simultaneously offering him a chance to compete deep into the postseason.
If Cleveland can convince Jones to play at a lower guaranteed number and build performance-based incentives into his contract, the deal could prove a beneficial match for both sides.