Browns make big splash, agree with Conklin, Hooper on deals
CLEVELAND (AP) — Free agent right tackle Jack Conklin has agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns, his agent Drew Rosenhaus told The Associated Press on Monday.
Conklin, perhaps the best tackle available on this year’s market, will get $30 million guaranteed and earn $20 million in his first year, Rosenhaus said. Conklin will only be 28 when the deal expires.
The No. 8 overall pick in 2016, when he was an All-Pro, Conklin spent the past four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. The 25-year-old started all 16 games last season and helped block for NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry.
It was a busy day for the Browns and new general manager Andrew Berry, who came back to Cleveland after a year in Philadelphia's front office.
Looking to move quickly past a disappointing 6-10 season, the Browns wasted no time in this unique and unprecedented market amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak by taking care of some in-house business and then making some major free agent splashes.
The Browns first placed a second-round tender on troublesome running back Kareem Hunt. Also, the club agreed to deals Conklin as well as two-time Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper (four years, $42 million) and quarterback Case Keenum (three years, $18 million), a person familiar with those negotiations told AP on condition of anonymity because teams are not permitted to make deals official until Wednesday.
Hooper was one of the main free agency targets for Cleveland, and the Browns were after Keenum, who started eight games last season in Washington, to be a proven backup for Baker Mayfield.
Keenum will be reunited with new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who was his quarterbacks coach in 2017, when he led the Minnesota Vikings to an 11-3 record in his starts.
Berry came in with over $65 million under the salary cap and he doled out a big chunk to Conklin.
The Browns were looking for an upgrade at both tackle spots, and will slot Conklin on the right side while perhaps drafting a left tackle next month. There are some top prospects available in this year’s class.
Conklin will provide added protection for Mayfield, who didn’t trust his line enough last season and bailed on plays. He's expected to replace Chris Hubbard and open holes for running back Nick Chubb, who finished with more than 1,400 yards last season.
Conklin said goodbye to Tennessee on Twitter, posting: "Thank you @Titans, my teammates, and all the fans for a great 4 years! Couldn’t have asked for a better city to start my career in, I love you guys!"
As for Hunt, he's a restricted free agent and can negotiate with other teams. If he reaches an agreement elsewhere, the Browns can match any offer. If the team doesn't match, Cleveland would receive a second-round draft pick from the team that signs him.
Given his background — Hunt was banned eight games by the league for two physical altercations when he played for Kansas City — and the high price to sign him, it would be risky for a team to take a chance on him. The Cleveland native is comfortable with the Browns, who have continued to support him throughout his suspension and following a disturbing incident in January, when police found marijuana in his car after a speeding stop.
Hunt signed with Cleveland last February, two months after he was released by Kansas City. The Chiefs said the 24-year-old Hunt had lied to them about two incidents, including one in which he kicked and shoved a woman during an argument in a Cleveland hotel.
He came back after missing the first eight games and was used primarily as a blocker for Chubb, who finished with 1,494 yards. Hunt rushed for 179 yards and scored two touchdowns. He also caught 37 passes for 285 yards and a TD.
In adding the 25-year-old Hooper, the Browns will have another offensive playmaker for Mayfield, who struggled in his second NFL season. Hooper can a dependable option to go along with star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Chubb.
Stefanski preferred to run two-tight end formations during his one season as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator. Hooper could be paired with 2017 first-round pick David Njoku, who missed most of last season with a broken wrist suffered in Week 2.
The Browns also released veteran safety Morgan Burnett. He tore an Achilles tendon last season and missed the final six games.
Cleveland also tendered exclusive tags to free agents Pharoah Brown, Dontrell Hilliard and KhaDarel Hodge.