The Cleveland Browns ended the season a with a 26-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens to finish 7-8-1. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:
Season grade: Above-average. The Browns' strong finish generates a lot of excitement for the future, and that begins and ends with the quarterback. General manager John Dorsey nailed it when he made Baker Mayfield the first overall pick of the 2018 draft. Mayfield played with far more savvy than many veterans, and revived the Browns' offense with a record-setting season when he set the mark for most TD passes by a rookie. It took a midseason coaching change to bring things together, but when the Browns jelled they played like a team that should compete for a playoff spot in 2019.
Season in review: There were two elements to 2019. The first centered on coach Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They were going to guide the Browns. But Jackson won just two of the first eight games, Haley did not work out and Taylor started three games before losing his job to Mayfield, who took firm hold of it the second he stepped on the field. When the Browns fell to 2-5-1, Jackson and Haley were fired, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was named interim coach with Freddie Kitchens offensive coordinator. The entire season changed. Mayfield used more quick drops and found synergy with Kitchens. Williams made everything competitive, pitting starters against starters in practice. Mayfield talked of a reset, and the Browns responded by playing Kansas City well in a loss, then reeling off five wins in the last seven games. The Browns finally flipped the script on the losing culture, and buoyed by Mayfield, rookie running back Nick Chubb, Dorsey and an aggressive defense that includes young talent like Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett, they point to 2019 with optimism and high expectations.
He said it: "When I woke up this morning, I was feeling pretty dangerous." -- Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, after the Browns' win over Atlanta, uttering a phrase that was his rallying cry at Oklahoma and which became the Browns' in 2018.
Who's the coach? Dorsey's task a year ago was to identify and find a quarterback. Having checked off that task, Dorsey now must find the coach who can guide the quarterback. This hire will be every bit as important as finding the quarterback, because this hire will guide Mayfield's long-term future.
Who calls plays? Kitchens was little-known and much-questioned when he took over playcalling duties. But he stepped into the job like he'd done it all his life. Kitchens used different formations and creativity to jump start the offense. He aligned with Mayfield, and relied on his players to tell him what they liked and what would work. His impact was immense. Keeping him as the playcaller would seem wise, but if the Browns hire an offensive coach, that new coach may well want to call the plays himself.
How will Dorsey use all that salary cap room? The Browns are projected to have close to $80 million in salary cap room in 2019, an enormous amount of space that will again allow Dorsey to add veterans to the roster. He will need to save some of that space for draft picks and future contract extensions -- Joe Schobert's is one deal that is up after next season -- but he still will have tremendous flexibility to bolster certain positions. Among them: Receiver, offensive line depth, linebacker and secondary depth. Dorsey was a whirlwind last offseason; he has the ability to be just as busy this one.