With the recent release of inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and the possibility of losing strong safety T.J. Ward in free agency, the Cleveland Browns' run defense could suddenly look a lot weaker. While Jackson's release made sense considering how much he was due to earn in 2014, the team lost a veteran presence and leader in the locker room. Even if past his prime, the move still created another hole at inside linebacker.
The Browns have a substantial lack of depth at the position and this year's free agent class doesn't appear to be all that ample with good starting ILBs.
- ILB Karlos Dansby (32) ARI – Despite being on the wrong side of 30, Dansby has continued to be one of the most consistently productive inside linebackers in the league. He can be very effective in the blitz, but also is not at all a liability in pass coverage. After coming off of a stellar performance in a contract year last season, it's no wonder why the Cardinals are making him one of their top priorities.
- ILB Daryl Smith (31) BAL – Following an injury-plagued season during his final year with Jacksonville in 2012, Smith bounced back in a big way for the Ravens. In what was his tenth season, Smith posted career highs in tackles, sacks, and interceptions. He's another inside linebacker with a nose for pass coverage. Baltimore will try hard to keep him.
- MLB Brandon Spikes (26) NE – One of the younger players on this list, Spikes is actually also one of the most likely to end up on a new team. Despite being an incredibly talented defender against the run, Spikes has struggled significantly in pass coverage. However, the Browns have dealt with those sort of inside linebackers before, and run defense could very well end up being the bigger hole.
- MLB Jon Beason (29) NYG – This is where there's a noticeable drop off among the class of free agent inside linebackers. Beason is a very talented player but has been dealing with serious knee injuries for the last three years. He did help shore up the Giants' defense in their final 12 games after being traded from Carolina for a seventh-round pick. The Giants want to keep him, but injury concerns remain.
- ILB Arthur Moats (25) BUF – Moats made this list primarily because of the experience he had in Pettine's defensive system for the year they shared in Buffalo. While Moats started 12 games for the Bills last season, he only took a quarter of the total defensive snaps. His role was generally restricted to run defense on early downs, but that's exactly where Browns lack depth inside.
To put this simply: the Browns don't have a need on the defensive line. In fact, they might just have one of the deepest 3-4 lines in the league. It's anchored by Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, whom the team recently stated their intention of keeping. They'll also benefit from the return of Desmond Bryant, who may finally be playing at full health after repairing a minor heart issue. The Browns also have considerable talent with their depth guys such as Billy Winn and John Hughes.
However, if they do decide to break the bank, here are some of the premiere free agents on the defensive line:
- DE Lamarr Houston (26) OAK
- DE Michael Johnson (27) CIN
- DE Michael Bennett (28) SEA
- DT Linval Joseph (25) NYG
- DT Henry Melton (27) CHI