Browns finalize trade for Cooper, await word from Watson

Published 8:33 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2022

CLEVELAND (AP) — Amari Cooper is officially Cleveland’s No. 1 wide receiver. It’s still not certain who will throw him passes.

Cooper’s arrival via trade from Dallas — agreed to last weekend — was completed Wednesday while the Browns awaited word from quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is choosing a new team following a troubled finish with Houston.

Watson’s decision could trigger more moves, including the Browns trading quarterback Baker Mayfield.

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Cooper fills a major hole for the Browns, who lacked a deep threat last season following Odell Beckham Jr.’s dramatic release. The team sent a fifth-round pick (No. 155) and swapped sixth-rounders (Nos. 193 and 202) with the Cowboys for Cooper, a four-time Pro Bowler and precise route-runner.

“His skillset fits perfectly with what we want to do on offense,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “On top of that, he is all about that work. He’s a team player to his core.”

Shortly after the NFL’s new league year opened, the Browns formally announced several moves over a busy few days for a team trying to forget an 8-9 record in 2021.

Cleveland added linebacker Chase Winovich in a trade from New England and agreed to terms with linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., defensive tackle Taven Bryan, returner/wide receiver Jakeem Grant and offensive lineman Chris Hubbard.

The Browns also plan to release tight end Austin Hooper, a person familiar with the move told The Associated Press. Hooper hasn’t lived up to the four-year, $42 million contract he signed as a free agent two years ago with Cleveland.

He’s being designated as a post-June 1 release, which will allow the Browns to spread out his dead salary cap hit over two years, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn’t been finalized.

Hooper twice made the Pro Bowl in four seasons for Atlanta. Since coming to Cleveland, he’s caught 84 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns.

Walker will sign a one-year contract to return for a second season with Cleveland, his agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed to AP. Walker provided leadership on a revamped Browns defense last season after signing as a free agent. He had 113 tackles in 13 games.

“Last year when we brought in A-Walk, we knew we were getting a smart and productive linebacker,” Stefanski said. “He proved us right in those areas. He also possesses those leadership qualities that you can’t have enough of on your team, and we are thrilled to have him back.”

All that’s left is for the Browns to figure out their quarterback situation, now more messy than ever.

On Tuesday, a contingent from Cleveland flew to Houston and visited Watson to make a recruiting pitch to the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Watson didn’t play last season because of lawsuits from 22 women who have accused him of sexual assault or harassment, and he still faces civil lawsuits after a grand jury declined to indict him last week.

Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract and would have to agree to any deal before the Texans can trade him.

Watson has also met with Carolina and New Orleans, and is reportedly meeting with Atlanta before making a decision. The Texans are seeking a bevy of draft picks, including three first-rounders, for one of the NFL’s elite QBs.

The Browns’ courtship with Watson has soured the team’s relationship with Mayfield, who posted a letter late Tuesday night expressing that he doesn’t know where he’ll play next and thanked Cleveland fans for their support.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Mayfield has had a turbulent four seasons with Cleveland. He took the Browns to the playoffs in 2020, but struggled last season after injuring his left shoulder in Week 2.

Still, Browns general manager Andrew Berry and Stefanski have said this offseason they expect Mayfield to “bounce back” in 2022.

However, it appears Mayfield’s days in Cleveland are over.

Grant, chosen as a Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears last season, is getting a three-year deal worth up to $13.8 million. The 5-foot-7 speedster averaged 11.9 yards on 26 punt returns — one a 97-yard touchdown — in 2021.

The Browns’ return game hasn’t produced much the past two seasons and needed an upgrade. Grant could also see time at wide receiver.

“We are excited about what Jakeem Grant brings on both offense and special teams,” Stefanski said. “He’s a versatile, dynamic player that has great speed. He’s been one of the top returners in the NFL and we are excited to utilize his skillset.”

The Browns also released center JC Tretter, the NFL Players Association president, to clear $8.2 million in salary cap space.