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In the NFL offseason, sometimes where there's smoke, there may not be fire

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Posted at 7:57 AM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 07:57:40-04

CLEVELAND — It's that time of the year when rumors fly, scoops are highly coveted and fluid situations turn on a dime—the NFL offseason. Football fans refresh their social media time lines, itching for the next bit of news. It's hard to get enough. But while both team and player camps leak information here and there, sometimes that info becomes instant truth for fans.

There's a popular saying: "Where there's smoke, there's fire." But the reality of an NFL offseason is that sometimes where there's smoke, it really is just smoke.

Now, that truth relates to the NFL as a whole but is very relevant to the Cleveland Browns right now, who are actively working to address needs via free agency, trades and soon, the 2022 NFL Draft.

While the deal can't be completed until the new league year on Wednesday at 4 p.m., the Browns have agreed to terms with the Dallas Cowboys to acquire wide receiver Amari Cooper and a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fifth-round and sixth-round pick, a league source confirmed to News 5 on Friday.

RELATED: Browns working on trade for Cowboys WR Amari Cooper

Before the trade, reports that the Cowboys were looking to trade Cooper before outright releasing him had fan bases across the league wondering if their team was interested in one of the best route-runners in the game. The Browns seemed a clear candidate to inquire, with a thinning receiving corps entering the season, and reports linked the Browns as a vocally interested party.

In this case, where there was smoke, there was fire, because while the Browns were interested, so were several other teams. The reason the smoke turned to fire was because the Browns' offer was good enough for the Cowboys to accept. They got a draft pick and got out of Cooper's salary.

Smoke around the league can mean the start of a fire, just like in the case of the Cooper trade.

But that's not always the case.

Take for example the quarterback situation happening with the Browns right now.

Reports that the Browns have been looking into numerous quarterbacks around the league have stirred up the fan base and caused many to read deeply (sometimes too deeply) into every report that hits the rumor mill.

The Browns have been publicly vocal about their confidence in Baker Mayfield as their starting quarterback, yes, but that doesn't mean Andrew Berry will deviate from his duties as Browns GM to explore every single option at every single position of need.

Is quarterback a position of need? Of course. Because the truth of the matter is that even if Mayfield is the guy and proves his injury was more impactful than some believe, the position is still in need as Mayfield enters the final year of his contract. Berry and the Browns would need to figure out an extension or find the next signal caller for the Browns. No matter what was to happen with Mayfield under center in 2022, the position would need to be addressed in one way or another.

But even before that decision is made, Berry has a responsibility to the organization to explore every possible option and weigh out the pros and cons for the Browns. That means during the offseason, too. That means with free agents, with players looking to be traded and with the next wave of athletes entering the league this year.

There's been plenty of smoke this offseason in regards to the quarterback position. The Browns have been linked to showing interest in the highly coveted quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, but also in quarterbacks like Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and most recently Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Since some of that interest has been linked, Rodgers has been working to finalize a massive deal to return to the Packers, the Seahawks traded Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, and Kirk Cousins signed a one-year contract extension with the Vikings. At this point, reports indicate that the Saints and Panthers are leading the chase for Watson (which in all fairness could change by the hour seeing the fluidity of offseason dealings).

Buzz around the Browns' interest in a player isn't without cause most times. Berry and the organization have been very clear about their intent to explore every avenue, not just at the clear needs like receiver and along the defensive line, but even in the murkier positions like quarterback.

"[Quarterback's] a position that we always do significant work on. It just doesn’t matter who’s on the roster. To me – maybe we are a little bit different in this regard – just like we would not stop doing research on offensive linemen, defensive linemen, receivers or corners, I don’t think there’s any reason not to make sure that you have all of your ducks in a row at that position," Berry said at the NFL Combine two weeks ago.

Research, evaluation, inquiries all are part of the job. The Browns are dedicated to doing their due diligence of assembling the best roster and giving the organization the best shot at success. Not looking at every option would be a disservice, and they know that.

Now, what impact the due diligence will have on the morale of Mayfield, should the work the front office is doing to explore these avenues lead to no changes, remains to be seen. But Mayfield is not green to the industry anymore. It may sting the ego to see his job being poured over by front office eyes, but he has to know that's the name of the game.

Should the work being done by the front office turn into nothing, Mayfield may use the offseason goings on as the chip he's known to appreciate having on his shoulder. Perhaps it helps get the most out of him this season.

And perhaps in their research, evaluations and inquires into the position, the Browns do find an opportunity that is too good to pass up. Again, that's the name of the game.

But for fans reading into every trace of smoke this offseason, not just at quarterback but with every position, remember sometimes with smoke there isn't a fire just yet. And sometimes there may not ever be one.

Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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