The story of the spring in NFL circles has been that of the New York Giants trading superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr to the Cleveland Browns. Along with Beckham Jr, the Browns also acquired outside edge rusher Olivier Vernon. In return, all that the Browns had to send were a safety, Kevin Zeitler, a mid-first round pick, and a very late third-round selection.
While the deafening cries of Giants fans could be heard across the US, the famously downtrodden Browns fans rejoiced, looking on to the season ahead. Beckham Jr isn't the team's only star player on the offensive side of the ball as he joins best friend Jarvis Landry in the receiving corps, a quarterback who is said to be a kindred spirit of Beckham Jr, and a top-class running back set.
Now, many people are looking at the Browns as legitimate Super Bowl LIV contenders, but should this be the case?
Getting Beckham Jr certainly boosts the odds
The impact of the Beckham Jr and Vernon trade is evident in the fact that the Browns are suddenly joint-fifth favourites to win the Super Bowl at 14/1 and joint-fourth favourites to win the AFC Conference at 8/1 in the sports betting. For the most part, teams' odds haven't changed and are very much a reflection of their 2018 seasons, so seeing the formerly 7-8-1 Browns climb to those heights certainly shows that there is a newfound faith in the Cleveland club.
Simply bringing in two big-name players through the trade, as well as some others in the free agency, doesn't automatically increase the team's odds of challenging in the playoffs; it's the fact that Beckham Jr comes into the perfect situation in Cleveland. He has the right calibre of wide receiver and running back support to not be the sole focus of opposing defences, and with a true gunslinger as quarterback, Beckham Jr will be utilised on slant patterns and downfield routes, which perfectly suit his venomous style of play.
How do the Browns fare compared with the rest of the division?
The Browns have perfectly timed their jump to hyperspeed as 2018's big two have seemingly started to crumble away this offseason. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who just missed the playoffs with a 9-6-1 record, just lost two of their best players in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. The Baltimore Ravens, whose defence was so good that it helped hoist the team to a 10-6 record despite transitioning to a rookie quarterback, just lost the glut of their star-studded defence. Then there's the Cincinnati Bengals, who aren't going anywhere very soon.
The AFC North is there for the taking, and Browns fans can sense a return to the playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons. But surely a couple of additions won't be enough to make the 7-8-1 team a playoff contender? This offseason marks the first in a very long time that Cleveland are looking to pad their team with depth rather than just pure talent. Cleveland have a few needs, such as at strong safety and cornerback, but they can be solved in the Draft.
Even though the Ravens and Steelers will be returning with quite strong teams, the offseason work of the Browns has them in prime position to take the AFC North. It seems a bit pre-emptive to say that they'd Super Bowl contenders, given the strength of the AFC Conference, but if they can get off to a hot start, momentum could very well take them to the NFL's grandest stage next season.