Following a 2-2 start to the season, the Cleveland Browns know they have room for improvement coming out of the bye. The most problematic area is the offense, which has been rocked by injuries across the board at key positions.
Barnwell put together 15 different trades that could benefit both teams involved. He had the Browns included in two scenarios, but the second is the most noteworthy. The ESPN expert proposed Cleveland and the New York Jets making another deal, this time swapping wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Mecole Hardman.
It's safe to say this trade is shocking at first. DPJ is coming off of a career year in 2022 where he flashed legitimate WR2 upside, recording personal bests in receptions (61) and yards (839). Meanwhile, Hardman was an afterthought on a Kansas City Chiefs team that went on to win the Super Bowl, worryingly being buried on the depth chart after Tyreek Hill's departure.
However, 2023 is a new year, and things haven't gone well for either player. Peoples-Jones has hauled in just six receptions for 75 so far, failing to make much of an impact and struggling to give his full effort at times. Hardman's fared even worse, totaling just one catch for 6 yards, which has prompted trade speculation.
Swapping Peoples-Jones for Hardman doesn't quite make sense from a talent standpoint considering the former's already hit a higher peak despite being younger. Cleveland's receiving corps would likely be taking a step back in this scenario.
Yet, DPJ's contract situation complicates matters. He's on the final year of his rookie deal, and he could be looking to cash in this offseason. With how lucrative the WR market has been, he may find a team desperate to throw money at him in hopes he returns to his 2022 form.
Hardman, then, presents a low-cost veteran who could provide a similar skill set at least for this year. If the Browns don't think Peoples-Jones figures into their long-term plans, or they're worried his 2023 performance instead of 2022 will be his norm, then it makes sense to get something back for him.
Hardman's at least been more consistent, posting at 500-plus yards in each of his first three seasons. He's also a legit return game weapon, earning Pro Bowl and Second Team All-Pro honors as a rookie after racking up 700 kickoff return yards and a touchdown in 2019.
This isn't a swap fans would've expected at the beginning of the season, but the team has to consider everything after DPJ's clear drop-off.
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