CLEVELAND, OH – Lost in all the hysteria caused by the coronavirus pandemic that has put the sports world on hold, the Cleveland Browns made three big moves in signing offensive tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper and quarterback Case Keenum.
With the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft coming up and glaring needs at offensive line and tight end, the Browns addressed two of those issues in landing Hooper, one of the NFL’s best blocking and receiving tight ends to a four-year $42 million contact with $23 million guaranteed over the first two years, making him the highest paid tight end in football.
A former third-round pick out of Stanford, the 6’4, 254-pound Hooper set career highs in receptions (75), receiving yards (787) and touchdowns (six) despite playing in only 13 games, while missing three games due to spraining his MCL.
Conklin, a 6’6 326-pound former offensive tackle out of Michigan State, and who spent his first four years down in Nashville with the Titans, agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal with $30 million guaranteed, adds some much needed punch to a suspect offensive line.
Cleveland also reached agreement with veteran backup quarterback Case Keenum for three years and $18 million with $10 million guaranteed. Keenum, 32, has had stops in Washington, Houston, Los Angeles—and St. Louis, Minnesota, Denver and Houston, will likely serve as a sounding board and mentor for starter Baker Mayfield, who is going into his third year under center.
Keenum’s knowledge of new head coach Kevin Stefanski and his West Coast offense, that is a play-action, run-heavy zone-stretch system could prove invaluable to Mayfield in how he learns and picks it up.
While the additions of Hooper and Conklin help solidify the strong side of Cleveland’s offense, there is still a glaring need at LT, which leaves targets such as stop-gap vets like Jason Peters, Trent Williams, Andrew Whitworth or 2020 NFL Draft prospects such as Andrew Thomas (Georgia), Tristan Wirfs (Iowa) and Mekhi Becton (Louisville), Cleveland must continue to fortify their line and do a better job of protecting Mayfield if they hope to improve on their massively disappointing 6-10 record.
Additional needs that Cleveland may address before the draft could be linebacker, defensive back since LB Joe Schobert is a free agent and Christian Kirksey—who signed a two-year $16 million deal with the Green Bay Packers—and DB Eric Murray agreeing to a three-year, $20.5 million deal with the Houston Texans, Cleveland has plenty of cap room to address either or both areas before the draft comes around.