The NFL transports itself to Phoenix next week for its annual spring meetings. There, the Cleveland Browns will take part in league business and also meet with the media for the first time since free agency opened.
There will be some issues to discuss, some concerns raised. Among them:
What in the world are the plans for the quarterback position?
This is only the most important position on the team. Since the season ended, the Browns have parted ways with Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown, and brought in Brock Osweiler, a guy they don't plan to keep. Hopes to talk to Tyrod Taylor were thwarted, and Colin Kaepernick hasn't drawn interest from anyone. As for Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots seem determined not to trade him, no matter how many draft picks the Browns can offer. That leaves the Browns in the difficult position of having to sell a position that will apparently feature Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and a drafted player. While any of these young players may step forward, this does not seem to be a confident way to start a season. Worse, there are no easy solutions on the horizon.
What happens with Osweiler?
The Browns basically acquired Osweiler and agreed to pay his $16 million salary in exchange for getting a second-round pick from the Houston Texans. Osweiler is now in NFL limbo. It's fairly well known that the Browns didn't acquire him for the long-term, but they are in a spot where the position is barren and anyone who can walk, call a play and throw a pass might be worth a look.
Do the Browns have any interest in one of the second-tier quarterbacks in the draft?
The focus has been on Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson, with some DeShone Kizer thrown in. But guys like Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb shouldn't be forgotten. Mahomes has great arm strength, but his mechanics and fundamentals need work. Webb is 6-4 and 230 pounds. He started at Texas Tech but transferred to Cal for his final season after an injury opened the door to Mahomes. At Cal, Webb threw for 4,295 yards and 37 touchdowns. Browns coach Hue Jackson, who has Cal connections, got a look at Webb at the Senior Bowl, where he was the game's MVP. The Browns understandably will not state their direct intentions about a draftable quarterback -- why make it known they want someone if another team can leapfrog them for the player? -- but they may leave some bread crumbs here and there about their feelings toward a player.
Who are the playmakers?
The team's leading receiver walked out the door and Kenny Britt was signed to replace him. Britt was an analytics guy's dream, but the bottom line is he has one 1,000-yard season -- and that came in his eighth season. Isaiah Crowell figures to get more carries, and Duke Johnson and Gary Barnidge are on the roster. But the NFL is a passing league and the Browns have giant question marks at quarterback and receiver, the two prime elements of the passing game.
Is this team better than when the season ended?
It's tough to see. The Browns made a commitment to the offensive line, and that's always a good thing. But center JC Tretter has had trouble avoiding injury and staying on the field. That history does not stay with a player's old team when he signs a lucrative deal with a new one. Right tackle remains a giant question mark, as does safety, where two players the Browns talked to -- Tony Jefferson and Bradley McDougald -- signed elsewhere. The Browns retained Jamie Collins, which is good, and they replaced Terrelle Pryor Sr. with Britt. Those moves are not steps forward, though; they are treading water. And with the quarterback position still a quandary, the Browns basically seem to be treading water in general. The draft is ahead and free agency is not always a magic elixir, but it would be nice to point to concrete reasons to believe a 1-15 team is better right now.
What can fans be excited about?
Maybe 2018? The Browns deserve credit for amassing draft picks -- they have 10 in the first three rounds of the 2017 and '18 drafts. But at some point a team has to start winning. Those draft picks may buy time, but when a team struggles in back-to-back seasons time can grow short. A year ago, the Browns looked like a one-win team. They won one game. Now they look like a team treading water in a division where the gap between them and the other three teams remains as big as a canyon. Pittsburgh's offensive troika makes the Steelers far better. Baltimore improved in free agency on defense. And Cincinnati is just a better team -- with a standout player in A.J. Green. The Browns have questions about quarterback and playmakers and on defense, where Gregg Williams' hire is expected to transform a unit ranked 31st in the league. Doubling a win total in the NFL is a hard thing to do. The Browns right now appear on track to do that, which would give them two wins. Problem is, they don't seem to be on track for a whole lot more.