The Cleveland Browns were quiet - at least publicly - on Tuesday as the NFL moved through the second day of its “legal tampering” period.
Even though there was not any news coming out of Berea, Browns fans can be excused if they are wondering what the team’s plan is for the safety position.
While it was expected that the Browns would rebuild the position group this offseason, the need was highlighted in a major way after the team released safety Morgan Burnett, and saw safety Juston Burris agree to a deal with the Carolina Panthers and the Eric Murray do the same with the Houston Texans.
That leaves the Browns with just a pair of second-year players in Sheldrick Redwine and J.T. Hassell as the only safeties currently on the roster. (We could count Damarious Randall, but his willingness to re-sign with the Browns has always been in question.)
There are no games to be played on the immediate horizon, of course, so the Browns still have time to adequately address the situation as free agency continues to play out and through the upcoming NFL Draft.
The issue, at least when it comes to free agency, is that some of the top remaining options all carry with them a bit of baggage. Which, if you think about it, helps explain why they are free agents in the first place.
Consider Malcolm Jenkins, who was released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday. Jenkins is 32 years old - not exactly what you want from a free agent - and while he has been durable and consistent, he also hasn’t been what you would consider an impact player, according to Pro Football Focus:
Jenkins earned the lowest single-season PFF coverage grade he’s recorded six years this past season at 70.0. He, however, has still been a durable, high-floor producer for the Eagles in each of the past six seasons in Philadelphia. He’s played 1,000 or more defensive snaps in each of the past six seasons and has yet to earn a PFF overall grade above 70.5 in said span. At 32 years old, Jenkins is a bit long in the tooth, but he’s still a durable short-term option teams should jump on to fill a need at safety. He’s also very versatile, as he played over 100 defensive snaps along the defensive line, in the box, at slot cornerback and at free safety in 2019.
How about Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who spent the 2019 season with the Chicago Bears? He might be more of a playmaker than Jenkins, but he is lacking one particular skill that continually infuriates Browns fans, according to PFF:
Potentially heading on to his third team in fewer seasons, Ha Ha Clinton Dix took a short-term ‘prove-it’ deal with the Chicago Bears to try and hit the open market again with improved interest. As a former first-round pick, expectations for his play are high but may need to be adjusted to simply ‘solid’ given what he has shown so far in his NFL career. Clinton-Dix makes plays on the football in coverage, which is the most important aspect of safety play, but he can come up lightweight against power and misses too many tackles to be happy with (eight in each of the last three seasons).
Speaking of players who move around a lot, Tre Boston shares some similarities with Clinton-Dix, according to PFF:
Over the last three seasons, Boston has quietly been one of the best pure free safeties in the league, and he’s done it with three different teams. He’s not as versatile as other safeties on the list, as he lines up almost exclusively as a free safety, but with 11 interceptions and 16 pass breakups over the last three years, Boston is a game-changer on the back end. On the other hand, his tackling has been poor, as he’s missed 25 tackles over the last two seasons. While his tackling and lack of versatility drop his value, Boston is a perfect fit in a deep safety role for both single- and two-high safety teams.
Perhaps the best option remains Anthony Harris, who received the franchise tag from the Minnesota Vikings on Monday. While that would appear to rule him out, the Vikings are reportedly open to the idea of trading Harris, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
The #Vikings surprisingly applied the franchise tag to safety Anthony Harris but acknowledged to teams that Harris could be had for a mid-to-late round draft pick, source said. A potential tag and trade candidate.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2020
There is a lot to like about Harris, as PFF points out:
It would be an incredibly smart move for Minnesota to keep Anthony Harris. There hasn’t been a better deep safety in the NFL over the last couple of seasons than Harris. He’s played 980 coverage snaps in that span and was responsible for only 216 yards; he didn’t allow a single touchdown, and he also added 17 combined pass breakups and interceptions. He isn’t limited to only free safety, though, as he played over 41% of his snaps either in the box or in the slot in 2019, and he remained a high-level player at those alignments.
Harris will reportedly be paid a little more than $11.4 million this season under the franchise tag. If the Vikings are serious about accepting a mid-to-late round pick, the Browns would be in position to make a deal as they have two picks in the third round (Nos. 74 and 97) and a selection in the fourth round (No. 115).
Any team trading for Harris would be acquiring a player looking for a new deal, of course, and his market value is estimated by Spotrac to be a tick more than $69 million over five years with an annual salary of about $13.8 million.
On any potential Cleveland trade for Vikings S Anthony Harris, I’m told the $$ he would want in a new deal would be a bigger obstacle for Browns over draft compensation. Similar to the Trent Williams situation. But Harris is, and has been, on Cleveland’s radar...— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) March 17, 2020
That would be a big commitment on the part of the Browns after signing right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper on Monday, even with those two deals being front loaded with the guaranteed money payable in the first two years.
How this plays out in the coming days will be interesting. The Browns clearly are not going to head into the upcoming season with Redwine and Hassell as the starting safeties, but they may need to get creative with some short-term deals if they want to start filling the holes via free agency.
If the Browns sign a safety in free agency, it should be ...
This poll is closed
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Screw that! Trade for Anthony Harris