Cleveland Browns: Can’t rule out offensive tackle in the first round

(Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns could very well take an offensive tackle in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft and it could also be the smart play.

On the heels of the signing of Greg Robinson to a one-year deal, John Dorsey and the Cleveland Browns are meeting with offensive tackle prospects at the NFL Combine that could be in the conversation with the 17th overall pick. In his media availability, he said they would be looking at the position and it’s been confirmed that they’ve already met with potential first round tackles Andre Dillard of Washington State and Jawaan Taylor of Florida.

The fact is, the Browns do need to be looking at players like Dillard and Taylor, because they could well be the best players available and they have real financial considerations that come into play in 2020.

The fact the Browns are meeting with any one player at the NFL Scouting Combine isn’t a big deal. They speak to a ton of them over the course of the week In Indianapolis among other places for a variety of reasons. Genuine interest, due diligence, research in case they play against them or might get them down the road and a natural side effect for any of these is subterfuge, making it more difficult for other teams to know what they are actually doing. It’s unclear which category these particular players fit in, but genuine interest would make sense.

The deal with Greg Robinson is for one year and it’s at $7 million, but could be as much as $9 million if he meets certain incentives. It’s a good move for both sides, but it puts the Browns in a position where they will have their five projected offensive linemen all making significant amounts of money. They can afford it in 2019, but when it gets to 2020 and 2021 it gets increasingly difficult and problematic.

The projected offensive line for 2019 is set to make a minimum of $40.95 million (per Spotrac):

Because of the $56.5 million the Browns are rolling over from 2018, this only accounts for 16.6 percent of the team’s entire 2019 salary cap. Without the benefit of rollover, that’s 21.6 percent of the true salary cap, leaving the the other 48 players to divvy up the other 78.4 percent ($148.17 million).

Both Robinson and J.C. Tretter are set to become free agents after 2019. The Browns could let Tretter walk if they want second-year offensive lineman Austin Corbett to take over the center position, but given Tretter’s play in 2018, it seems like they’d want to keep him around to avoid messing with their potent interior group that’s protecting Baker Mayfield.

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Robinson, if he has a great year, will want to get a substantial extension and the market suggests he’ll get it, whether it’s the Browns or another team. The best-case scenario is he’s great for the Browns and they either franchise tag him or he walks and they receive a compensatory pick. Anything less than that and he’s not the long-term answer anyway. That’s one place a potential pick at No. 17 could factor into the equation.

They could add a rookie, get him comfortable and ready to take over the job, be it during the 2019 season or after on a rookie contract. That would help offset the cost of the rest of the line.

The other issue is that Chris Hubbard isn’t great either. He is an extremely well compensated mediocre-to-average right tackle. There is an opt out in his contract after the coming season and they could opt to exercise it if he doesn’t improve dramatically. That’s another potential spot where a first round tackle could end up playing sooner than later.

Kevin Zeitler has been very good for the Browns and has largely been worth what he’s being paid. There is an out after the 2019 season. The Browns seem unlikely to utilize it unless something dramatic happens. Nevertheless, it’s notable that it’s in there and that could be a place for Corbett to enter the lineup.

There are some creative solutions the Browns could employ. The most notable of these is in the event that Greg Robinson leaves, Joel Bitonio kicks out to left tackle and Austin Corbett would become the left guard. They could still add an early round tackle that takes over for Hubbard. Tretter would get a contract extension and the Browns would have three premium line contracts and two players on rookie deals. That’s a good ratio.

What the Browns cannot do is fail to plan for the future of the position group and end up in a situation where neither tackle is playing at an acceptable level and they are forced to keep bad options or forced to chase after players. And they can’t do what Hue Jackson did and jerk Bitonio around in terms of his position. If they want him to be a guard, that’s fine. Keep him at guard. If they want him to be a tackle, let him plan for it with a full offseason, so he’s fully prepared for it.

The move to draft Corbett, which has not been a popular one, because the 33rd overall pick didn’t play, save for being an extra tight end, looks like Dorsey is planning for the coming issues. A first or second round tackle would most certainly be met by disappointment from that section of the fanbase for the same reason.

But so long as the player they take is good and can step in and take over the job when needed, it will be worth it for the sake of keeping Mayfield effectively protected. Foresight and attacking needs before they happen is smart, particularly when it comes to protecting the franchise quarterback.

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The signing of Robinson really just opens up a world of options and it follows the same thought process John Dorsey had last year. Address the needs before the draft via free agency or trade, so he doesn’t have to chase them during the draft. The Browns have needs to address, but they don’t need to take a first round offensive tackle.

It may well be the best option and what they ultimately do, but they have the freedom to take the best player on their board. For the past three seasons, the Browns have been able to operate this way and it has served them well and should continue to in the upcoming draft class.