The Browns are all in. And Deshaun Watson is the ace they decided to push their chips on. Now it’s a matter of building a team around him that they believe can compete for a Super Bowl and there’s no time to lose. High risk, high reward. We’ve seen the run game wizard Kevin Stefanski utilize Nick Chubb to great effect over the past couple of years so now we’ll see if their new quarterback can feed pass catchers like Amari Cooper and David Njoku as part of a more complete offense. They’re clearly tired of chasing a franchise quarterback for the last couple of decades and, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.
With this series, we are taking a look at each NFL team to gauge the direction of the offense from a dynasty fantasy football perspective. Is this team gearing up for a Super Bowl run? Are they in the midst of a rebuild? Are they considering blowing it up? We’ll take all of that into account as well as the current contracts, upcoming free agents, and 2023 NFL draft class to give you our best recommendations on how to handle these weapons in your dynasty fantasy football leagues.
BUY - Attempt to acquire this player at or slightly above market value
HOLD - The player is likely more valuable than the market indicates. Hold them if you have them or try to acquire them at a discount.
SELL - The perceived value for this player is higher than the projected remaining value in your average dynasty league. Cash out now.
SELL/DROP - Depending on the depth of the league, always try to sell guys before dropping. But this player is likely not worth the bench spot he’s occupying so you might need to just drop them.
*Contract information is proved courtesy of Spotrac.com*
Cleveland Browns Quarterbacks
The Browns have two quarterbacks under contract for 2023.
Deshaun Watson - Age 27
Contract: After trading for Deshaun Watson, the Browns signed him to a five-year extension through 2026.
Outlook: The $230 million contract for Watson is fully guaranteed so the Browns have made their bed here — the only way to get out of the deal before 2027 would be via trade and that’s probably a tough sell. That said, if he returns to the level we know he is capable of, they won’t want to sell him anyway.
Dynasty Recommendation: HOLD - We don’t really need to get into why Watson is such a tricky player to discuss. But those matters realistically do lower his perceived value compared to what his actual fantasy value likely is moving forward. This is a guy who has essentially been a top-five quarterback every time he has played and that includes some seasons where the team around him was pretty bad (in 2020 he was a top-five QB in fantasy football on a four-win Texans team). If you have him you should just ride it out and, if all you care about is fantasy production and have no ethical objections, you might actually want to try to acquire him at the current discount. That is your call to make but it could pay off in a big way. Just know that the leash is obviously thin for repeat offenders in this league so there is no third chance if he has any sort of other off field issues.
Kellen Mond - Age 23
Contract: Kellen Mond is on a rookie deal through 2024.
Outlook: Mond was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round but had a fairly shaky start to his career that reportedly included a sour relationship with former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. After he was released, the Browns did put in a claim to grab him off of the waiver wire rather than waiting for him to hit free agency so they did prioritize him, to some degree.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. Perhaps in a very deep superflex league, you might hold him. But it doesn’t look good. The hope was that he could maybe beat out Kirk Cousins in Minnesota with Cousins due big money but now he’s stuck behind a QB signed through 2026 and Mond isn’t a free agent himself until 2025. So you’re almost hoping that the Browns release him so he can try elsewhere but how many guys get cut twice and succeed? That makes him droppable in most formats.
Free Agency/Draft Outlook
As long as they deem Kellen Mond a worthy backup, the Browns aren’t likely to go out of their way to acquire additional quarterbacks. And anyone they bring in would have almost no chance of beating out Watson anyway.
Cleveland Browns Running Backs
The Browns have only three running backs under contract with another three signed to reserve/futures contracts.
Nick Chubb - Age 27
Contract: Nick Chubb is signed through 2024. He’s unlikely to be released in 2023 but technically could be released in 2024 with a $4 million cap hit and $12.2 million in savings.
Outlook: Nick Chubb finally managed to claw away the biggest share of the RB workload we’ve seen and now he has the potential to keep that backfield to himself moving forward with Kareem Hunt an unrestricted free agent. Say what you will about Kevin Stefanski but he is a master of the run game.
Dynasty Recommendation: HOLD. Like any running back his age, you might want to sell if your dynasty team has no chance of competing this year. But he’s coming off a fantastic season and there is virtually zero chance Kareem Hunt returns (he made it clear he wanted to be traded during the season though that never materialized). The worst-case scenario for Chubb is they bring in another player to play that Kareem Hunt role but Chubb was already plenty viable with Hunt there. And guys like Hunt simply don’t grow on trees anyway. If you are one of the top two or three teams in your league, Chubb is the exact kind of guy you should be looking to acquire at market value. If it puts you over the top to put your name on the trophy, it's worth giving up a first round pick (assuming you it's not a pick that could land you Bijan Robinson).
Jerome Ford - Age 23
Contract: Fifth-round running back Jerome Ford is under contract through 2025. He can be released for ~$709K in savings with a $242K cap hit.
Outlook: Jerome Ford started his college career at a crowded Alabama before transferring to Cincinnati where he had a productive stretch including 20 touchdowns in his final year at school. Profile-wise, he does the same things as Nick Chubb so he’s more of a handcuff than a compliment like Hunt was.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. We’d like him a lot more if he had pass-catching chops but he didn’t even get a target as a rookie and wasn’t much of a receiver in college either. His value is mostly derived as a handcuff so you might want to hold in deeper leagues where you have Chubb. Otherwise, I'd try to sell him to the Chubb owner or drop him for the bench spot.
Demetric Felton - Age 24
Contract: Sixth-round pick Demetric Felton is signed through 2024. He can be released with roughly an $80K cap hit and $900K in savings.
Outlook: Felton is technically classified as a running back after being converted from wide receiver but he is more of a gadget player/special teamer than anything. He had 20 receptions and 8 carries but most of his work is done on punt and kick returns.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. In VERY deep leagues, you might consider holding him to see if maybe he’s in the running for some of the work vacated by Kareem Hunt. But he’s likely the kind of guy that you can drop in a typical dynasty league when you go to make your rookie picks. Especially since we’ll know what the Browns do in free agency and the draft by then. If you have the luxury to see what they do, go ahead.
Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson
Free Agency/Draft Outlook
They have their obvious starter in Nick Chubb but the Browns likely need to do SOMETHING at running back, even if it’s just a late round pick or a cheap free agent for depth. The value of guys like Ford and Felton will depend on what that move is. If they do bring in a compliment to Chubb to replace Kareem Hunt, Ford and Felton likely have little to no value at all as even an injury to Chubb would at most result in a split backfield with whoever that new pass catching back is. It gets interesting if they don’t bring anyone impactful in and now maybe Felton has a role in the pass game or Ford is the direct backup to a workhorse Nick Chubb so, as we mentioned above, you might want to hold off on dropping if you can.
Cleveland Browns Wide Receivers
The Browns have nine wide receivers under contract with another three signed to reserve/future contracts.
Amari Cooper - Age 28
Contract: Cooper is under contract through 2024 with two void years in 2025 and 2026.
Outlook: The void years are an accounting tactic to spread out his cap hit but it also makes it so he can’t be franchise tagged in 2025. Based on his production this year and the $20 million dead cap tied to him, it’s unlikely they would release or trade him in 2024 unless he severely regresses in 2023.
Dynasty Recommendation: BUY - Cooper finished only 29 yards shy of his career-high in receiving yards and that was playing with Jacoby Brissett for most of the season. He hasn’t really had a lot of time to get on the same page with Watson yet but they have the entire offseason. If you are competing now in your dynasty league, productive WR1s tied to young productive quarterbacks for multiple years are exactly what you want. There are some popular trade charts out there like our friend Alex Korff''s (PeakedInHighSchool on Reddit) that suggest you might be able to swing him for an early 2nd round pick but you might need to cough up a first to get it done.
Donovan People-Jones - Age 23
Contract: Peoples-Jones is under contract through 2023 then an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
Outlook: DPJ had a solid stretch towards the middle of the season with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback but was inconsistent outside of that. He struggled to connect with Deshaun Watson down the stretch but they also didn’t get much time to work together with Watson suspended and away from the team.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL - Some folks get upset when we recommend that you trade players away but the sharp fantasy gamer will recognize that there is nothing to be sad about here. First off, you already hit the jackpot. So congrats on that. Wide receivers drafted on day three of the NFL draft have an incredibly low chance of hitting. So you’re already playing with house money with the sixth round Peoples-Jones even being worth anything at all. The reality of this team is that, not only is it run first, but Amari Cooper and David Njoku are both locked in long-term as top target threats. The idea of DPJ being tied to Deshaun Watson is appealing enough for him to have decent trade value but the reality is he’s just one WR addition away from irrelevancy - plus he’s a free agent next year anyway. If the Browns decide to let him walk, I’m not sure if teams are going to be falling all over themselves to make him a focal point of their offense. He's been fairly inefficient and inconsistent as the focal point of this one. You shouldn’t be upset about this though since, as we said, you are taking a day three draft pick and hopefully turning him into a rookie pick you can use on someone that went in the first three rounds of the real NFL draft. You’ve already won and you are just taking that cheap scratch ticket and cashing it in for the money. Good for you!
David Bell - Age 22
Contract: Third-round pick David Bell is on his rookie contract through 2025.
Outlook: Bell found himself not only dealing with injury but also ended up being the third wide receiver on a team that uses a lot of two-tight end sets. That limited his playing time as a rookie so we didn’t see a huge sample size of him on the field.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL. Dynasty is a top-heavy sport. On the competing teams, only top players crack lineups. And that’s our concern for Bell. The VAST majority of fantasy-relevant WRs are top two pass catchers on their team. And, as we mentioned, David Bell’s profile as a slot WR means that he’s likely to be the first man off the field in two WR sets which caps his upside. And when you realize that Kevin Stefanski is routinely within the top couple teams in multiple tight end sets, that is a scary proposition. If you think Bell can become the type of “slot WR” like Cooper Kupp or Chris Godwin that plays slot in three WR sets but moves to flanker for two WR sets, hold onto him. That’s not how I envision things going for Bell so I’m looking to move him.
Anthony Schwartz - Age 22
Contract: Third-round pick Anthony Schwartz is on his rookie contract through 2024. He can be released for just under $450K in dead cap with ~$878K in savings.
Outlook: Schwartz has battled injuries and a lack of playing time so has yet to pop.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. We honestly did not like Schwartz in the first place for fantasy football because he profiled as the type of speedy “field stretcher” that ends up as a boom-bust option. That only really works in best ball or deep standard leagues. It’s a valuable role in real life by taking the top off defenses but you don’t get fantasy points for “opening things up underneath”. I'd try to sell if anyone is buying but you don't need to hold him.
Jakeem Grant - Age 30
Contract: Jakeem Grant is signed through 2024 but could be cut with $1.3 million in dead cap this offseason ($2.2 million in savings). He’s recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury.
Outlook: Jakeem Grant is primarily a special teams player. The injury recovery is everything here because the Achilles is a tough one.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. Jakeem Grant is a valuable real-life player because he can return both punts and kicks. Unless you have bonuses for that in your league, you don’t need to hold Grant.
Jaelon Darden - Age 24
Contract: Fourth-round pick Jaelon Darden is signed through 2024. He can be released with zero cap hit and $940K in savings.
Outlook: The Buccaneers were the team that drafted Darden and the Browns scooped him up after the Bucs released him in early December.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. Darden’s path to making this team is realistically to threaten Jakeem Grant as a return man. Not really viable in fantasy and he’d make for an easy cap casualty since he has no cap hit if cut.
Isaiah Weston - Age 25
Contract: Signed as an undrafted free agent, Weston is under contract through 2024 but can be retained as a restricted free agent in 2025. He can be released for only $16K in dead cap with $870K in savings.
Outlook: Weston missed the entire season with a knee injury and is a long shot to make the roster.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. Don’t need to hold him.
Free Agency/Draft Outlook
It may look like they have a lot of guys under contract but that’s not the reality. Right now they have Amari Cooper locked up as a long-term outside wide receiver. Donovan Peoples-Jones plays opposite him but is a free agent next offseason. David Bell is a part-time slot guy and Anthony Schwartz comes on as a field stretcher. The rest of those guys are mostly battling to make the roster via special teams. There isn’t much in free agency that would be an upgrade over Donovan Peoples-Jones so they might just roll with him for another year. That said, the draft is always an option and there are already rumors floating around about a reunion between DeAndre Hopkins and former teammate Deshaun Watson. Holding onto DPJ could pay off big if he gets the same role this year but his value could go to zero fairly quickly if they make a move.
Cleveland Browns Tight Ends
The Browns have two tight ends under contract and one signed to a reserves contract.
David Njoku - Age 26
Contract: David Njoku received an extension this season that will keep him through the 2025 season with two void years. They could potentially release him after the 2024 season with ~$4.59 million in dead cap and $14.56 million in savings.
Outlook: David Njoku battled injury and difficult matchups down the stretch but he finally flashed the upside that comes with his insane athleticism.
Dynasty Recommendation: HOLD. We’ve mentioned the acronym we use for dynasty tight ends is SORT. Start Opportunity, Roster Talent. We hold onto athletic players whose profile we like but only start guys who have the opportunity needed to succeed. The athleticism and talent have always been there for David Njoku which is why we were stashing him even with Austin Hooper in town. Now the opportunity is finally here and the window for production is open. The concern for him is similar to the concern we have for Donovan Peoples-Jones in that he could end up as the third target on the team if they add a wide receiver. But right now he’s very much in the mix to be one of Deshaun Watson’s top weapons so we are holding him and planning to start him.
Harrison Bryant - Age 23
Contract: The fourth round pick is under contract for 2023 and then becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL. Folks that weren’t paying attention might look at Bryant and say “okay, this guy never really got the chance to show what he can do and next year he will get a chance to sign with a new team as a free agent”. Well, we kind of did see what that looked like and it wasn’t good. Not to mention, the Browns run one of the highest shares of two tight end sets of any team so this guy was already playing upwards of 60-65% of the snaps even with a healthy Njoku. I would do my best to sell now but you might hold in deep leagues just to see if he does go somewhere. For all we know though, the Browns might sign him to keep him as their second tight end which would be brutal.
Free Agency/Draft Outlook
The Browns are going to need depth and, if they don’t plan on extending Harrison Bryant, they might need their TE2 of the future. They paid David Njoku “pass-catching tight end” money which makes it seem unlikely they go out and acquire someone that would push Njoku to more of an inline role. If anything, they bring in a blocking tight end or a young player to learn behind Njoku and Bryant before taking over for Bryant. Njoku should be fairly safe from that standpoint.
Follow Andrew Cooper on Twitter @CoopAFiasco for more NFL and fantasy football insights and stay tuned as we hit on all 32 NFL teams in this series leading into NFL free agency!
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