Despite a slew of injury troubles at the quarterback position (among others), the Browns managed to post a record of 11-6 and qualify for the postseason. Joe Flacco was a major part in that success, and he plans on playing through the 2025 campaign.
The 39-year-old may not be in Cleveland for the next chapter of his career, however. Flacco is expected to test free agency in March, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports. In the wake of losing Deshaun Watson for the rest of the season, the Browns added Flacco as a depth quarterback option; he ultimately took over the starting role to close out the regular season, averaging 323 passing yards per game.
While turnover issues presented themselves in the wild-card round in particular, the former Super Bowl MVP earned Comeback Player of the Year honors for his surprise resurgence. The Browns are open to retaining him, but a new Cleveland deal would come with the understanding he would back up Watson. For that reason, Flacco’s desire to gauge his value on a potential deal sending him elsewhere is certainly reasonable.
A number of veteran QBs are set to reach free agency, and Flacco would be one of many available as a bridge starter or high-end backup. As Cabot notes, his preference would an opportunity to at least compete for the No. 1 role with his next team. In the event he were to depart, the Browns would move forward with Watson and 2023 fifth-rounder Dorian Thompson-Robinson atop the depth chart.
One of several front seven additions the Browns made last offseason was the acquisition of edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. The three-time Pro Bowler was tasked with serving as a complement to Myles Garrett, and he finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks. Cabot notes that Smith, like Flacco, will test the market before deciding on his future.
Likewise, the Browns’ preference would be to retain Smith at the right cost. Cleveland has Garrett under contract through 2026, but the team also added Ogbonnia Okoronkwo in free agency last offseason. The latter is signed for the next two seasons, and he would be in line for an increased workload in the event Smith were to depart. Now 31, Smith has managed to play 16 games in each of the past two seasons but his 15 total sacks in that span could lead to lukewarm interest on the market.
The Browns are currently over the 2024 cap by a margin of $7.76MM. That figure will change dramatically once Watson’s pact is inevitably restructured, but the team will still have other priorities beyond retaining Flacco and Smith. It will be worth watching to see how much interest both veterans generate and if Cleveland will be able to match any offers from outside suitors.