Browns May Use Early Draft Pick on Replacement for $100 Million Star

The Cleveland Browns face at least a couple of concerning long-term questions as the NFL draft approaches.Kevin Stefanski, Browns

First is will quarterback Deshaun Watson ever live up to the $230 million contract he signed in 2022 after two years and just 12 starts for the Browns? The second is who will be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver if Cleveland doesn’t extend Amari Cooper, who is entering the final year of his deal in 2024?

Jake Trotter of ESPN on Wednesday, April 23 authored a deep dive into why the second query could very well dictate the Browns’ approach to the draft.

“As successful as the Cooper trade has been, [GM Andrew] Berry and the Browns have otherwise struggled in targeting receivers. That has left them without an obvious No. 1 heir apparent to Cooper, who turns 30 this summer and has ended the past two seasons battling nagging injuries,” Trotter wrote. “And that is why, once again, receiver could be one of the positions to watch Friday night on Day 2 of the draft when the Browns make their first two picks, coming in at No. 54 and No. 85 overall.”

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Cleveland made something of a splash move at the position already this offseason, fashioned in the image of the deal it executed for Cooper two offseasons past.

The Browns sent a fifth-round pick and a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Denver Broncos in return for the final year of Jerry Jeudy’s rookie deal, then extended the wideout on a three-year contract worth $52.5 million.

Cleveland flipped a fifth-rounder and a sixth-round pick swap to the Dallas Cowboys in 2022 for the final three years of Cooper’s $100 million contract. He will carry a salary cap hit of $23.7 million next season if the Browns don’t restructure Cooper’s deal and/or extend him on a multiyear deal.

“As it stands, Jeudy could be Cleveland’s No. 1 receiver going into the 2025 season, especially if the Browns don’t extend Cooper, who is entering the final year of his deal (Cleveland is already projected to be the most expensive team in the NFL in 2024),” Trotter wrote. “The jury is out on whether Jeudy, who turns 25 this week, can still develop into that caliber of receiver. The jury is also out on whether any of Cleveland’s other receivers, notably [Elijah] Moore or [Cedric] Tillman, can develop into reliable complementary starters.”

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Extending Cooper makes sense considering how well he’s played since arriving in Cleveland, with 2,410 receiving yards and 14 TD receptions on 150 catches over 32 games played, per Pro Football Reference. A new deal will also allow the Browns to lower his cap number significantly this year.

However, doing so will push even more money down the line, increasing tomorrow’s tab on today’s players along with the pressure on Cleveland to win big right now. Extending Cooper is also a significant risk considering his age and recent injury concerns, which Trotter detailed.

The Browns have gone wide receiver in the third round of each of the previous two drafts, selecting Tillman 74th overall in 2023 out of Tennessee and David Bell 99th overall out of Purdue in 2022. While they appear to have come up short in both of those efforts, at least so far, some draft experts have predicted the Browns to look receiver somewhat early again this time around.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Field Yates projected Cleveland to select Troy Franklin out of Oregon with the 54th pick in their latest alternating joint mock draft on April 15.

“The Browns traded for Jerry Jeudy this offseason, but they still feel one wide receiver short on offense, especially since Amari Cooper is entering the final year of his deal,” Yates wrote. “Franklin is a speedy big play waiting to happen.”

Franklin, 21 years old, stands at 6-feet, 3-inches tall and weighs 187 pounds. He caught 81 passes for 1,383 yards and 14 TDs last season.

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