Browns have Brandin Cooks, Elijah Moore, Mecole Hardman, other WRs on radar heading to free agency and trades

CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s no secret that the Browns need a fast receiver to boost their offense in 2023, but where will they find their man? In free agency? A market? Draft?

They have a lightning-fast receiver on third-year pro Anthony Schwartz’s roster, but he needs to come to camp and prove he deserves a spot on the roster this season after two tough years. In the meantime, the Browns need to provide Deshaun Watson with a nervous weapon that can leave defenders in his wake and stretch the field.

There are receivers that fit the bill in free agency and in the trade market, and if the Browns can land one in the next few weeks, they won’t have to draft one with their first pick in the draft. at No. 42 overall.

Of course, most veteran receivers won’t come cheap, and the Browns don’t want to get into a pickle like they were a few years ago when they had two high-priced veterans in Jarvis Landry and Odell. Beckham Jr. at the end of his career without a major succession plan.

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They currently have good wide youngsters in 2022 third-round pick David Bell, 2022 sixth-round pick Michael Woods and undrafted 2022 rookie Daylen Baldwin. But they could use a good quick veteran to work magic with Watson, especially one who can complement his dual threat ability on off-schedule plays.

Here are some receivers on the Browns’ radar as the league opens its doors next week:

Brandin Cooks of the Texans – Trade

Cooks, 29, ticks many boxes, including speed, exceptional hands and excellent production with six of nine 1,000-yard seasons. Additionally, he thrived with Watson in Houston in 2020, catching 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 6 touchdowns. Cooks (5-10, 183) would provide Watson with a weapon he’s already established season-long chemistry with.

Cooks, who has only missed six of 50 regular season games, has a natural feeling to stay alive for Watson in the scrambling drill and be ready for the no-look pass or whatever Watson is up to. .

The downsides are the fact that he turns 30 on Sept. 25 and has base salaries of $18 million in 2023 and $13 million in 2024. The Browns could still make the trade provided the They’re redoing the deal to lower the base for this season like they did last year with Amari Cooper. As with Cooper, for whom they only gave up a fifth-round pick, they could likely get Cooks, a 4.33 runner released in 2014, for mid-round draft compensation.

The Browns may not seriously consider other star former Texans teammates from Watson to DeAndre Hopkins, who turns 31 in June, but Cooks is in their sights. I was told that the two would like to be reunited with Watson here.

Elijah Moore of the Jets – Trade

Moore, the Jets’ 2021 second-round pick on Ole Miss, has had a rocky run in New York and might still want out even if Aaron Rodgers is on the way. In fact, some think it’s going to be part of the trade with Green Bay if it breaks down. But Moore (5-10, 178) was on the Browns’ radar at the trade deadline last season when the wide asked to be traded. The Jets weren’t ready then, but maybe they will be now.

Moore, who will only be 23 on March 27, had a promising rookie year, with 538 yards and 5 touchdowns. But he gave up last year with Zach Wilson at the helm, catching 37 passes for 446 yards and 1 TD. At some point before the trade deadline, he reportedly had a screaming match with then-OC Mike Lafleur.

The great thing about Moore, besides his age and huge growth potential, is the fact that he would only cost the Browns $1.472 million in 2023 and $1.879 million unless they reward him with a new contract. With a speed of 4.35, it would be a bargain and a weapon at this price, and could probably be had for a reasonable draft pick.

Former Vikings receiver Adam Thielen — Free agent

Thielen, 32, doesn’t fit the profile of a young speedster, but he brings a ton of production, an uncanny talent for catching touchdown passes and a long history with Kevin Stefanski.

Released by the Vikings on Friday in a lifesaving move, Thielen spent seven seasons with Stefanski before the latter left to become Browns coach in 2020. He knows Thielen inside out and would no doubt maximize his abilities with Watson .

A two-time Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in 2017, Thielen has had at least 67 catches, 716 yards and six touchdowns in four of his last five seasons. In 2020, he caught 14 TD passes, which shows he still has plenty left in the tank. He also caught 10 touchdowns in 2021 to 24 in two years. By comparison, Jarvis Landry caught 15 touchdown passes in his four seasons with the Browns.

Thielen would provide Watson with another savvy veteran to partner with Amari Cooper and help lead the younger guys. After being released due to his $19.97 million cap, the Browns could likely sign him for a bargain price.

Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman – Free Agent

A 2019 second-round pick from Georgia, Hardman (5-10, 187) certainly brings the blistering speed the Browns need, after running a 4.33 outing. He played in just eight games last season due to a groin injury, catching just 25 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns. It wasn’t the production we expected in Tyreek Hill’s absence, but Hardman is still young – he’ll turn 25 on March 12 – with plenty of upside. A second-team all-pro in 2019, Hardman’s market value as an impending free agent is around $10.3 million per year according to Spotrac.

A change of scenery might be just what Hardman needs, and it would complement Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Bell well.

Lions DJ Chark — Free Agent

The Jaguars’ 2018 second-round pick out of LSU, Chark brings the 4.3 speed the Browns need, but also great size to go with them at 6-4, 205. Ready to hit the market this week next, Chark should have plenty of suitors because of his size-speed combo.

He missed six games with an ankle injury in 2022 but finished strong, with three games for 90+ yards in his last six. In total, he caught just 30 passes for 502 yards and 3 touchdowns with Jared Goff last season, but the ankle injury was largely to blame.

Chark’s market value is around $9.5 million a year according to Spotrac, but again the Browns could structure the contract to secure a low base for 2023. Ideally for the Browns, they’ll find a cheaper speedster , but they have several viable options if they decide to open their wallet.

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