Browns head to camp unsure of Deshaun Watson’s availability
CLEVELAND BROWNS (8-9)
CAMP SITE: Berea, Ohio
LAST YEAR: Expected to make a run at the AFC title, the Browns flopped. There was distracting drama, costly injuries and questionable strategy as coach Kevin Stefanski’s second season was completely opposite from his first, when the Browns won a playoff game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield never recovered from a shoulder injury in Week 2, and Cleveland’s offense sputtered despite a superb line and playmakers. WR Odell Beckham’ Jr.‘s messy release divided the locker room and fan base. Led by All-Pro DE Myles Garrett, the Browns’ defense continued to improve during the season.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Amari Cooper, rookie K Cade York, DE Chase Winovich, QB Jacoby Brissett, C Ethan Pocic, rookie WR David Bell, P Corey Bojorquez, WR/KR Jakeem Grant.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Baker Mayfield, WR Jarvis Landry, C JC Tretter, WR Odell Beckham Jr., K Chase McLaughlin, LB Mack Wilson, WR Rashard Higgins, CB Troy Hill, DT Malik Jackson, FB Andy Janovich, DT Malik McDowell, CB M.J. Stewart.
CAMP NEEDS: Watson’s availability remains unknown as camp approaches. Following months of legal issues and a hearing, the NFL’s disciplinary officer will decide whether he violated its personal conduct policy after being accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen massage therapists in Texas. If he’s suspended for multiple games, the Browns will need to get backup Jacoby Brissett ready to start the season. And depending on the length of Watson’s punishment, the team could pursue other QB options.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: Cooper wanted out of Dallas and yearned to be a No. 1 receiver. He’ll get his chance with the Browns, who may lean more on their run-heavy attack should Watson be out. Donovan Peoples-Jones and rookie David Bell are slotted in behind Cooper and must show they’re ready for expanded roles. Nick Harris takes over at center for the dependable Tretter, the NFLPA president released during the offseason. Cleveland’s No. 3 cornerback spot will be a battle between Greedy Williams and rookie Martin Emerson.
EXPECTATIONS: Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam went all-in with their trade for Watson — they gave up three first-round picks — and signed him to a five-year, fully-guaranteed $230 million contract. If their gamble pays off and Watson plays this season, the Browns are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. If he’s out for an extended period, it could be another wasted year for one of the league’s most talented teams. The Sept. 11 opener in Carolina will be interesting with a potential matchup against Mayfield, who was traded by the Browns after four up-and-down seasons.
FANDUEL SUPER BOWL ODDS: +3400
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL