Unlike Major League Baseball, the NFL's 2019 free agency period has gotten off to a hot start. Many teams have been making moves, spending money, and doing everything possible to improve their rosters. The Cleveland Browns have put themselves at the forefront of the opening week of the new league year by trading for New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a deal that also includes Pro Bowl linebacker Olivier Vernon in exchange for the Browns' first-round pick (No. 17 overall), a third-round pick, safety Jabrill Peppers, and veteran right guard Kevin Zeitler. For Beckham, this represents a fresh start after having a sometimes contentious relationship with the Giants.
This trade accomplishes two things. The Browns are clearly aiming for their first playoff appearance since 2002, while the Giants appear to be headed towards a rebuild. At first, it seemed like Beckham would be in the Big Apple for the long haul after signing a five-year, $90 million contract extension last August. But the Giants would wind up having buyer's remorse to some degree after the team endured its fifth losing season in the last six years. Where the Giants go from here is anybody's guess, but it's clear that the Browns want to win now. Besides Beckham and Vernon, general manager John Dorsey also has acquired running back Kareem Hunt and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
The Browns are clearly willing to look past the baggage that comes with Beckham, who has totaled 5,476 receiving yards, 44 touchdown catches, three Pro Bowl selections, and two All-Pro nods in his first five seasons (59 games). Here are five other ways that the Browns will improve with Beckham now in the fold.
1. Upgrades an already solid receiving corps
Last year got the Browns got plenty of production from wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, and tight end David Njoku. The four combined to record 219 receptions for 2,773 yards and 17 touchdowns. Putting Beckham into the mix now gives them a receiver who's posted 1,000 or more receiving yards in four of his five seasons, double-digit touchdowns in three of those seasons, and averages 14 yards per catch for his career. The Browns will have a more formidable passing attack in 2019.
2. Baker Mayfield will be even more efficient
Last year's No. 1 overall draft pick put together a solid rookie season, finishing with 3,725 passing yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his attempts. But he also threw 14 interceptions and took 25 sacks. As good as Landry is, adding Beckham gives Mayfield one of the top receivers in the entire league. Besides racking up his own numbers, Beckham is sure to draw double-teams or increased attention from the defense, which will not only leave other players open, but it also should give Mayfield more time in the pocket as teams won't be able to blitz as much. Mayfield really started to find his stride after Freddie Kitchens was named interim offensive coordinator, and his continued maturation and development will only be aided more by the addition of Beckham.
3. The Browns now have an even more balanced offense
Besides a loaded receiving corps, Mayfield also has running backs Nick Chubb (996 rushing yards, 8 TDs last year), and Duke Johnson (5 ypc, 47 rec., 3 TD catches) to lean on. Hunt was signed last month but he's currently on the Commissioner Exempt List and is likely facing a suspension of some kind stemming from the off-field incident that results in him being released by Kansas City last November. With or without Hunt, Chubb and Johnson are still a nice complement to the now-upgraded passing game. Look for the Browns to run a multitude of offensive formations this season.
4. Beckham provides an assist to the defense
As was mentioned earlier, Cleveland's defense has been beefed up through the additions of Richardson and Vernon. But if all goes as planned on offense, the defense probably won't have to worry about staying on the field too long, as Beckham and his new running mates chew up the clock and put points on the scoreboard.
5. The Browns can take advantage of an AFC North that's in limbo
The Pittsburgh Steelers have just begun life without both Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, which will have some after effects. The Baltimore Ravens will look drastically different following an offseason marked by the trade of Joe Flacco as well as the free agency departures of defensive stalwarts C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Eric Weddle, as well as Za'Darius Smith. And the Cincinnati Bengals will encounter plenty of bumps on the road in the post-Marvin Lewis era. The AFC North just got a lot more interesting and Cleveland appears poised to capitalize on the upheaval.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.