The Cleveland Browns had so much cap space, they could afford to drop $15 million on a draft smokescreen. But the signing of running back Carlos Hyde makes you wonder if that takes the Browns out of the Saquon Barkley mix.
Hyde agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal with the Browns, with $6 million coming in the first year according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Even for a team with seemingly unlimited cap space, that’s starting running back money. And you don’t draft Barkley first overall to have him sit a year. Signing Hyde doesn’t necessarily mean the Browns won’t pick Barkley with the top pick. But it sure would seem to be a strange allocation of resources if that’s how it played out.
The Browns were already in a curious spot with Barkley, who emerged from the combine as probably the top prospect regardless of position. The Browns also need a quarterback for the future. There are four top prospects at quarterback and the Browns could draft Barkley first overall and then settle for whichever quarterback fell to them with the fourth pick. That’s risky if they have one or two quarterback prospects clearly ahead of the others. For example, if the Browns love Sam Darnold and think he’ll be the franchise quarterback they’ve been chasing for almost two decades, it’s very risky to draft Barkley in a very deep running back class and pray Darnold makes it to No. 4. The signing of Hyde, for a fairly significant deal, seems to indicate the Browns aren’t willing to take that gamble.
Of course, maybe Hyde’s signing means nothing at all. Perhaps the Browns will feel by late April that Barkley is the best running back prospect since … well, just about forever, and if they have to pay Hyde to be an expensive backup then so be it. Cap-wise, the Browns could afford that. Maybe Barkley slips to the fourth pick and they can’t pass on him there. That’s a possibility too.
But it sure seems that the debate over the first pick has been diminished. It would appear logical that the Browns wouldn’t spend $15 million on a running back and then take Barkley first overall. Then if Barkley becomes a star elsewhere because the Browns settled on Hyde, who is solid but certainly not special, Cleveland fans will have something else to complain about.
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