The state of Browns’ receiving corps following Jerry Jeudy’s contract extension

Less than a week after officially finalizing a trade to acquire Jerry Jeudy from the Denver Broncos, the Cleveland Browns signed the wide receiver to a three-year extension worth a total of $41 million in guaranteed money.

It remains fair to view Amari Cooper as the Browns’ clear No. 1 receiver, Jeudy as the No. 2 entering the 2024 season, and some combination of Elijah Moore and Cedric Tillman as next in line. Jeudy, Cooper and Moore were all under contract only through 2024 before Tuesday’s extension.

What might change now? How do the Browns line up, schematically and financially? What other additions could be coming via the draft or later stages of free agency? Let’s explore the future of the Browns’ receiving corps by starting with the present.

The lineup

Cooper has been the Browns’ leading receiver for two years. He’s by far the most proven and accomplished of the bunch, and it’s fair to assume he’ll again be Cleveland’s leader in volume, both targets and snaps.

But 2024 will be Cooper’s age-30 season and 10th in the NFL. And while there had been some thought that the Browns would give him an extension to lower his 2024 salary-cap number, which is currently over $23 million, it was never a certainty. Now, an extension seems unlikely — at least before the season.

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Amari Cooper has been the Browns’ leading receiver since joining the team in 2022, going for over 1,100 yards in each of the past two seasons. (Jason Miller / Getty Images)

Moore was added last March and viewed as a hybrid slot and outside receiver who could contribute in a variety of ways. Tillman is listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and is more of a traditional outside receiver. Though Tillman had a quiet rookie season with just 21 receptions, the Browns remain high on him going forward.

Jeudy played 54 percent of his 2023 snaps in Denver from the slot; in 2022, his most productive professional season, he almost evenly split his snaps between inside and outside. Jeudy’s speed is his greatest asset, and he’s averaging 14.5 yards per reception over his first four seasons. The Browns are betting big on Jeudy, who turns 25 in April, becoming the downfield threat they’ve been seeking.

Pro Football Focus graded Jeudy 61st among wide receivers who got at least 20 percent of their team’s targets in 2023. In 2022, Jeudy was 21st. He scored six of his 11 career touchdowns while setting career bests in receptions (67) and yards (972) that season.

That’s a lot of money, isn’t it?

At a reported maximum value of $58 million through 2028 and $41 million guaranteed, it absolutely is a lot of money. But the Browns did it because they think Jeudy will be a playmaker in their offense, and because they think the contract will be eventually viewed as right in line with other wide receiver deals.

The Browns didn’t want to wait. With the long-term futures of Cooper and Moore uncertain, they’re locking in Jeudy — and believing that by doing it now, they’ll save themselves money later. The salary cap continues to go up, the Browns have used big cash payments to keep and extend other players over the past 12 months, and they came into the offseason knowing they needed to add speed and experience to the receiving corps.

Trading two Day 3 draft picks to get Jeudy was a statement that the Browns preferred him over other potential options on the free-agent market. Calvin Ridley got $46.98 million guaranteed from the Tennessee Titans, Darnell Mooney got $26 million guaranteed from the Atlanta Falcons and Gabe Davis got $24 million guaranteed from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jeudy had almost $13 million guaranteed on his fifth-year option from the Broncos. If the reported guarantee amount of his new deal jumps off the page, bear in mind that his 2024 salary is included in that.

This fits what the Browns have been doing with big up-front payments to players and stretched-out cap hits, often beyond the length of the deal. It’s just Cleveland has previously done it with more proven players, and generally some of its best players such as Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and Joel Bitonio.

If Jeudy becomes a consistent playmaker (or even the eventual No. 1 receiver), the Browns will look smart for acting quickly on a player they targeted. If he doesn’t, they’ll be back in the wideout market eventually — and in the short term run the risk of having Cooper wonder why Jeudy got that type of commitment.

The draft

Moore turns 24 next week. Tillman turns 24 next month and is under contract for three more seasons. The Browns only have five draft picks this year after the Jeudy trade, and though it’s widely expected they’ll trade down in either the second or third round to get more, they now don’t need to chase immediate help at wide receiver.

Under general manager Andrew Berry, Cleveland likes having players under long-term contracts. It also likes to draft for the future when possible. So the move to add Jeudy — even before the decision to lock him up — gave the Browns coveted draft flexibility.

“When we acquired Jerry, it was with the vision that he would become a core member of our offense in 2024 and beyond,” Berry said in a team statement on Jeudy’s extension. “He is a scheme-versatile receiver with high-level ability to separate against man coverage and a diverse number of ways to produce on the perimeter or in the slot.

“We felt that the ability to add a passionate and competitive player with his combination of strengths would be an important component of our offense now and into the future. At 24 and just entering his prime, we are pleased to have Jerry as a member of the Browns for the next several seasons and believe the best is yet to come.”

In making the trade for Moore last year — almost a year to the day before Jeudy’s extension was announced — the Browns gave up their second-round pick in the 2023 draft and basically said they were choosing Moore over any second-tier receiver in last year’s class. They ended up taking Tillman at No. 74 in the third round.

This year, the Browns can now focus on defense in the draft — if they choose. Another area to watch is tight end, where David Njoku is coming off a big season but the team has questions behind him. Harrison Bryant left via free agency for the Las Vegas Raiders. The Browns signed backup Giovanni Ricci from the Carolina Panthers, but he’s more of a blocker and special teams player than a receiving threat. Veteran Jordan Akins remains with the team, but the Browns would save $2 million in cap space if they moved on.

Cleveland’s No. 5 wide receiver right now is David Bell, a third-round pick in 2022. Before the Jeudy extension was announced Tuesday, the Browns reached an agreement to bring back veteran wide receiver James Proche on a one-year deal. Proche is regarded as a return specialist and special teams player. He only played 59 wide receiver snaps over his 10 games with the Browns last season, and most of those were in the regular-season finale when many of the starters sat.

Also on the offseason roster at wide receiver are Jaelon Darden, a practice squad player last year, and Michael Woods II, a 2022 late-round draft pick who missed 2023 due to a torn Achilles tendon.

In the unlikely event that the Browns would continue to add to their wide receiver room and eventually find Moore expendable, he carries no dead money on his $3.16 million salary in the final year of his rookie contract.



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(Top photo: Justin Edmonds / Getty Images)

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