Three ways the Amari Cooper trade could give the Browns flexibility in the 2022 NFL draft: Ashley Bastock

Three ways the Amari Cooper trade could give the Browns flexibility in the 2022 NFL draft: Ashley Bastock

CLEVELAND, Ohio — When we first began doing our three-round Browns mock drafts a few weeks ago, we decided to do them weekly given how much the landscape could change for Cleveland and across the NFL between late February and late April.

On Saturday, the perfect example of one of those earth-shifting changes arrived, as the Browns agreed to trade a fifth-round pick as well as swapping sixth-round picks with the Dallas Cowboys for a proven No. 1 receiver in Amari Cooper.

There’s so much potential and promise that Cooper brings to the Browns. He’s great at catching deep passes, can line up in multiple positions and has gone over 1,000 receiving yards five times in his seven-year career, including three of the last four years.

Cooper is a major domino to fall in Cleveland’s favor this offseason, as it became abundantly clear throughout the 2021 season that the Browns needed to do something, anything to retool their receiver room given a stagnant passing offense that led to Cleveland failing to score more than 16 points five times over their last eight games.

Having a receiver in Cooper who is able to make explosive plays downfield of this caliber should also go a long way in helping Baker Mayfield — who dealt with a shoulder injury for nearly the entirety of the 2021 season — rebound from the worst season of his career.

But his presence also gives Cleveland, which owns the No. 13 pick in this year’s draft, some priceless flexibility when they are on the clock, considering Cooper solves perhaps their biggest need.

Here’s three routes the Browns could go in the first round now, and how his addition could potentially impact their thinking.

1. Browns could bolster the defensive line

Jadeveon Clowney’s return to Cleveland as he enters free agency is far from a guarantee, and Takk McKinley, who offered depth, is also a free agent but will be coming off a season-ending Achilles injury suffered in December.

The Browns could also afford to beef up their interior defensive line, as that unit underperformed this year. Malik McDowell was only on a one-year deal and after an offseason arrest likely won’t be back. Malik Jackson is also an unrestricted free agent.

Considering Cooper is a bona fide No. 1 receiver, the Browns then, in theory, could look to pick up a receiver later in the draft. If they do decide to go that route, given that it is a deep EDGE class as well this year, Cleveland could go with a pick at No. 13 that strengthens the defensive front.

For edge rushers, the Browns could now in theory prioritize players like Georgia’s Travon Walker, Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson or Purdue’s George Karlaftis to play alongside Myles Garrett.

On the interior line, the Browns could select either of the two Georgia defensive tackles, Jordan Davis or Devonte Wyatt, who both tested well at the NFL combine.

2. Still going hard after a first-round receiver

While the Cooper signing is a big one, I think there’s still a chance that the Browns could prioritize picking up a first-round receiver.

For a few weeks now I’ve argued that the Browns should draft two receivers (I’ve done that in two of my first three mock drafts) if they couldn’t make a big free agency move, but now I do think the pressure is slightly off in that regard and the Browns have more options.

Cleveland could still take another receiver in the first round, though. If Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson falls to 13, I think he isn’t too similar to Cooper for the two to coexist. For one, there’s a size difference as Wilson measured in at 5-11, 183 pounds at the combine, while Cooper is 6-1, 210 pounds. Cooper can line up just about anywhere on the field, and one of the things we’ve praised Wilson for is his versatility and ability to get open anywhere on the field.

The Browns could also go after even more size, and try and target USC’s Drake London, who at 6-4 is great at battling for contested balls. Then there’s Arkansas’ Treylon Burks, who didn’t blow anyone away with his agility testing at the combine, but is extremely effective at picking up yards after the catch and appears quicker on film than he did in those combine drills.

But like the EDGE class, the receiver class is deep.

If the Browns decide to prioritize defense in the first round, they could always pick up a fairly solid receiver in the second round to add depth to the room — someone like Georgia’s George Pickens or Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore.

The bottom line: Signing Cooper has given the Browns more flexibility in the draft to go after traits they truly think will round out their offense.

3. Addressing the quarterback situation long term

The quarterback situation in Cleveland is going to be the elephant in the room for the time being, considering that Mayfield is playing out his fifth-year option without an extension in place, coming off the worst season of his career after dealing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

The Browns have reinforced their commitment to Mayfield as their starter, but it’s the NFL and circumstances can change quickly. Perhaps there will be a quarterback in the draft — such as Liberty’s Malik Willis — who the Browns view as a potential franchise quarterback. If that were the case and that quarterback fell to No. 13, it would be more feasible to spend a first-round pick on a QB since Cooper checks a major box at receiver.

That first-round pick could also be used in a trade for a veteran quarterback on the open market. Russell Wilson is out of the picture after being traded to Denver, but Jimmy Garoppolo is one possibility, as is Deshaun Watson, who the Browns continue to do their homework on while monitoring his legal situation.

Using the pick to find the next Cleveland quarterback would be maybe the boldest possible use for it, and the Browns still have other pressing needs they can fill at No. 13, as outlined above.

But pulling off this trade for Cooper has undeniably given Cleveland more draft flexibility than they had a day ago, and that’s a fantastic spot to occupy.

 

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