The Cleveland Browns won a grand total of one game in 2016 under first year head coach Hue Jackson. Cleveland has been the laughingstock of the league since they were gifted a replacement franchise in 1999. However, hot shot general manager Sashi Brown has the Browns poised for a Raiders-esque jump in 2017.
The Baltimore Ravens swept the Browns in 2016, but the Browns showed signs of life. In Week 2, the Browns had an early 20 point lead on the Ravens before Joe Flacco engineered a big comeback. Baltimore routed Cleveland 28-7 in Week 10, yet the game was closer than the final score indicated as the Browns held a slim halftime lead with Cody Kessler serving as their starting quarterback. Similar to the injury ravaged 2015 Ravens, the Browns played several close games - including overtime losses to Miami and Pittsburgh, and tight losses to the Titans and Jets - but were unable to find the winning edge in the fourth quarter.
Comparing the Ravens current depth chart to the Browns, Baltimore has several clear advantages. Joe Flacco may be overpaid, but he is a vastly superior quarterback compared to Robert Griffin. Justin Tucker gives the Ravens a decided special teams advantage. And the Browns do not have any players that provide the savvy veteran defensive leadership of Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle. Beyond these three areas, little separates the talent between the teams.
On the offensive line, the Browns have an argument as the better personnel grouping with LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio and RG John Greco performing above replacement level and the Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley and RG Marshal Yanda serving as their only proven above average blockers if RT Rick Wagner flees in free agency as expected. The teams running backs are strikingly similar, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are almost identical players to Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon.
Cleveland's top receiver Terrell Pryor is an unrestricted free agent, but his loyalty to Hue Jackson make it probable that he will be retained. Corey Coleman is an intriguing young pass catcher who scored two touchdowns against the Ravens last season. If Pryor is retained, their starting duo is probably better than the Ravens Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman. Baltimore has much better depth at tight end, yet the drop off from Dennis Pitta to Gary Barnidge is small.
A case can be made that Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah provide the Browns with more talent on the defensive line than the Ravens boast with Timmy Jernigan and company if Brandon Williams signs a lucrative contract with another team this offseason. Cleveland recently signed linebacker Jamie Collins to a 4-year $50 million contract, he is arguably a more impactful player than the Ravens own star linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Joe Haden and Jimmy Smith are both corners who have great ability but are injury prone. Number two corners Jamar Taylor and Tavon Young are also comparable players. Overall, the Ravens have slightly better complimentary players and more depth across their depth chart, but the advantage is slim.
If the Browns are able to upgrade their roster at quarterback, pass rusher and safety, they could overtake the Ravens in the talent department this offseason. And they have plenty of resources to do so. Cleveland is sitting on a ridiculous $106.5 million in cap space, the most in the NFL by a large margin. After some shrewd trades, the Browns also possess five draft picks in the top-65 of a loaded draft class, including #1 and #12 overall.
This abundance of cap space provides the Browns with extreme flexibility. They should be able to resign Pryor, their only notable free agent, and add several more difference makers. Quarterback is the key, acquiring Kirk Cousins or Alex Smith is a long shot, but Tyrod Taylor Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo should be available. The Browns could hypothetically steal away the Ravens Rick Wagner or bolster their offensive line with a stalwart such as Andrew Whitworth. And they are likely to land an impact pass defender, maybe pass rusher Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones or Nick Perry; defensive back Eric Berry, Stephon Gillmore or A.J. Bouye; or a combination of two of these playmakers. $106 million goes a long way, and overpaying is not a problem if they front load the contracts.
Most expect Cleveland to select stud edge defender Myles Garrett with the first pick in the draft, he is an athletic freak who could be one of the top five pass rushers in the NFL as a rookie. Their second first round pick could be used on an dynamic offensive weapon, possibly receiver Corey Davis, running back Dalvin Cook or tight end O.J. Howard. With two second round picks, a third and five fourth or fifth round picks, the Browns will be targeting many of the same defensive backs, offensive lineman, pass rushers and receivers that the Ravens are evaluating. Unless they completely bungle their picks, the Browns should come away from the 2017 NFL draft with considerably more talent than the Ravens land.
The Ravens are certainly the better team on paper right now, but the Browns have a plethora of resources to close the gap or overtake the Ravens in terms of overall roster talent this offseason. Honest Question: Would Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the Ravens be in a better position to win the Super Bowl if they swapped their entire depth chart, payroll and draft pick allotment with the Browns in this fantastical scenario?
Cast your vote in the poll below.