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Browns trade rumors centralize on RB Nick Chubb, but that won't help team succeed

Browns offseason in full swing as rumors sweep fan base, but much of the stir is just that—rumors
Nick Chubb
Posted at 12:14 PM, Mar 07, 2023

CLEVELAND — The Browns offseason, like many NFL teams, comes with annual rumors of players being shipped away, coaches being fired, and stars joining the roster to turn the team around and help push Cleveland to the ever-elusive Super Bowl. This year has been no different, and while there are some rumors circulating the fan base that do hold some weight, others are as far-fetched and not-happening as they come.

First, addressing the rumors that have found their way to Twitter and subsequently other sites: Nick Chubb being on the trade block and the team shifting away from running the ball frequently. The rumor took off after reports from the NFL Combine suggested the Browns intend to shift their offensive mentality and go pass-heavy with quarterback Deshaun Watson, whom they hope to get back to his elite form this season after a rust-shaking return in 2022.

League sources have indicated the Browns do have a desire to pass more — at least more efficiently, with Watson this season. If Watson can bounce back this year, it would not only be the goal of the Browns, it would behoove them to allow Watson to rip on a daily basis. But part of what makes any offense so dangerous, as head coach Kevin Stefanski outlined way back at his arrival in Cleveland in 2020, is a marriage of a strong pass and run game, and there have been discussions on how to evolve the run game further, mixing up runs out of the gun with other methods to keep defenses on their toes.

Trading Chubb takes you out of that picture completely. Sure, you have running back Jerome Ford who showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, but Chubb is one of one—and the Browns know it. Chubb is a valued member of the team and one they plan to keep around this season. His contract sets him up to become a free agent in 2025, and trading him this year would only give the Browns at most a $10 million cap savings while likely not getting enough of a return in terms of draft picks for a 27-year-old running back (yes, even one-of-one Chubb).

The central theme around the Chubb trade rumor is clearing cap space for the Browns to be more aggressive in free agency. With the Browns currently $13 million over the cap, general manager Andrew Berry will need to do that, but the contract savant has other methods of getting that done.

First, restructuring Watson's mega contract will be top of mind. The restructure doesn't say they regret the $230 million guaranteed deal they penned. It's a numbers game to make the most of the money available to spend to set the roster up for success. During the NFL Combine, Berry spoke to the possibility of restructuring Watson's contract this season.

“It could be on the table, but there is a lot of flexibility in terms of what we can do from a cap perspective," Berry said when asked about restructuring the contract.

Watson's money will remain guaranteed, so there won't be any qualms from him in terms of a restructure. Right now, Watson is set to have a cap hit of $54,993,000 million this year. But with a restructure, be it through adding voidable years or converting some of his base pay into a signing bonus, or another Berry tactic, the cap hit could be so much as cut in half. Watson will be paid his fully guaranteed contract in time, but allowing the organization to spread out his pay will grant him more assets through a bolster of the roster in free agency.

Restructuring Watson's contract is just one way the Browns can address the cap hit. Other methods have already begun, like the plans to release safety John Johnson III, which will save them $9.75 million in cap as a post-June 1 designation. Restructuring other contracts, like wide receiver Amari Cooper or defensive end Myles Garrett, who come with hits of $23 million and $29 million, respectfully, could also help the Browns free up cap space.

All of that is to say this: trading Chubb is not the Browns' answer for making a splash in the offseason. The needs of the cap can and will be addressed in other ways, ways that the Browns have shown they are more than capable of pulling off.

So while No. 24 should continue his tenure with Cleveland in 2023, the other part of the rumor surrounding his trade-ability, about the Browns wanting to be more aggressive in the passing game, does have some weight. Surrounding Watson with talented receivers seems like a no-brainer, and the Browns do have some promise already on the roster with Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. But to really unlock Watson's arm and unleash the offense Stefanski described to Watson during their meeting before his trade here, the Browns need something different.

A speedster with hands.

The Browns know that to have a receiver who can burn defenders and open up a true deep threat for Watson and the offense. Cooper is route-runner at his core and can get himself open with his footwork and expansive route tree. Donovan-Peoples Jones is a great sideline guy who can pull in a pass along the border with impressive skill. Tight end David Njoku is the 50/50 ball asset—throw it up and watch him come down with it often. But the guy who can run a go route, win and come away with the ball, that is what the Browns are in need of. Anthony Schwartz held that promise when the Browns drafted him in 2021, but his issues with pass-catching have piled up these past two years.

Yes, the Browns want to open the pass game. Proven free agents or players up for a reasonable trade could be options, but with a need to bolster the defense, the Browns may address the wide receiver need in the draft instead.

The Browns have their core locked up in Watson, Chubb, Cooper, Njoku, Garrett and most of the offensive line. They'll need to use free agency to add to the wide receiver room, address the holes at defensive tackles—which may have been their biggest issue in 2022—and give Garrett's opposite side a boost with an explosive pass-rusher after the lack of production and falling out with Jadeveon Clowney at the end of last year. Filling in the new hole at safety after parting ways with Johnson is also now a major priority.

There's a lot to do and a lot of needs—getting rid of arguably the best and most consistent player on the team in Chubb doesn't help them reach their goal of a successful 2023 season. Look for them to make splashes in other areas in the coming days and weeks, from contract restructures to defensive additions to the roster.

Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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