If the 2022 regular season started today, the Cleveland Browns would run out a number of new skill players — and there may be even more fresh faces to come.
The Browns wide receiver group feels like it is one pass catcher shy of a complete unit, even with the additions of Amari Cooper, acquired via a March trade with the Dallas Cowboys, and David Bell drafted last month out of Purdue University.
Marc Sessler of NFL Network on Thursday, May 19 published a piece digging into every team’s top priority in what remains of the offseason. Cleveland’s situation was classified as something of a two-for-one, with Sessler noting the Browns’ primary need is along the defensive line but identifying the team’s second biggest issue at the wideout position. The name he suggested was QB Deshaun Watson’s former teammate with the Houston Texans, Will Fuller.
The Browns overtly lack a fear-inducing pass rusher across from Myles Garrett. Jadeveon Clowney’s return is something of an assumption by fans, but what if he signs elsewhere? That would leave Cleveland with a gaping void on the edge to pair with a distinct lack of juice at defensive tackle.
The Browns need a veteran wideout, too — this is another possibility for Will Fuller — but missing on Clowney would leave the team in a bind that Chase Winovich and a scattering of rookie projects aren’t about to solve on their own.
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Browns, Fuller Have Expressed ‘Mutual Interest’ in Deal
The Browns have mulled over the possibility of adding Fuller for weeks, and the wide receiver has been receptive as well considering the success he had catching passes from Watson in Texas for four seasons.
NFL insider Jordan Schultz took to Twitter on March 19, three days after the NFL’s free agency period officially opened, and reported that there was “mutual interest” between the parties in getting a deal done.
“There’s mutual interest between FA WR Will Fuller and the #Browns, per sources,” Schultz tweeted. “Fuller — just 27 years old — hauled in 69 percent of his targets when Deshaun Watson [targeted] him as #Texans. Fuller has other suitors as well, but likes the idea of teaming back up with DW.”
Watson and Fuller connected for 22 touchdowns during their time together in Houston, where the wideout was a bonafide downfield threat. Over their four years together, Fuller averaged somewhere between 15-17 yards per reception three times. During their final season paired up in 2020, Fuller amassed 879 yards receiving on 53 catches and hauled in eight touchdowns — career highs in every category.
Fuller Back in Play Now That Jarvis Landry Has Joined Saints
While the Browns have had interest in Fuller since the start of free agency, it never matched their desire to bring back five-time Pro Bowl wideout Jarvis Landry.
The team cut Landry loose after trading for Cooper, saving nearly $15 million against the cap in the process. Shortly after signing Watson as a replacement for quarterback Baker Mayfield, with whom Landry had grown frustrated during the prior season, discussions commenced between the Browns and Landry about returning to Cleveland.
While there was mutual interest in working out a contract, per Landry’s agent Roosevelt Barnes, the issue came down to money and/or years on the deal offered. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network appeared on the May 10 edition of the Pat McAfee Show and reported that Landry turned down a significant offer to come back to Cleveland for the 2022 season.
“I know the Browns offered him a pretty nice one-year deal. It would have been a pay cut, but he would have gone back for a nice sum,” Rapoport said. “[He] turned that down.”
Cleveland subsequently drafted wide receivers Bell and Michael Woods II, the latter out of Oklahoma University, after which the team’s interest in Landry waned. Landry inked a deal to join the New Orleans Saints just days later, taking him off of the market.
Other free agents like Julio Jones and former Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. remain available but as far as veteran pass catchers go, the best bet on the market appears to be Fuller. Pro Football Focus (PFF) has projected a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $7 million for Fuller, some of which would likely be tied to incentives.
Considering his predicted value contractually, his ability to stretch the field with speed, and his connection and familiarity with Watson, Fuller makes sense as an addition to the Browns’ wide receiver group — assuming the team doesn’t decide to stand pat with the roster situated as it is currently.