The Cleveland Browns need help at the linebacker position in the worst way.
That was evident on a weekly basis during the 2020 season, as receivers roamed free across the middle of the field and no opposing quarterbacks feared whoever was at linebacker for the Browns.
That is why it makes sense, at least in theory, that general manager Andrew Berry would be interested in veteran linebacker Lavonte David if he leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when free agency begins on March 17.
Tampa Bay reportedly would like to keep David and take a run at a second consecutive Super Bowl title while quarterback Tom Brady is still playing. But salary cap issues may find David looking for a new home and the Browns are keeping an eye on the situation, according to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
There is certainly much to like about David, who just finished his ninth season with the Buccaneers. He is coming off a season where he was selected a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press after finishing with 117 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, according to buccaneers.com.
David also checks in at No. 8 on Pro Football Focus’ list of the Top 200 free agents:
One of the best linebackers of his generation, Lavonte David is still playing at an incredibly high level past the age of 30. In many ways, he has been the archetype for the modern linebacker that counters the league’s shift in offensive philosophy away from smash-mouth football and toward speed and efficiency. David has been able to counter that with speed and efficiency of his own, in addition to exceptional coverage skills. He has four seasons in his career with a PFF coverage grade above 83.0 and has never graded lower than 64.6 in that area.
Those coverage skills will be what teams covet most because even if he begins to lose half a step as he ages, his ability to read the game and be in the right place at the right time will stand the test of time.
So if David can’t work out a new deal with the Buccaneers - which is reportedly his desire - the Browns should be ready to immediately pounce?
Well, maybe not.
There is no question that David would be an immediate improvement at the position, but he just turned 31 years old, which might make him a bit too old for a Browns team that only had four players over the age of 30 on the roster last season.
That might sound a bit silly, but as the Browns prepare to head into free agency, it helps to remember the team’s guardrails for building a successful roster, one of which is “age is important.”
The second factor is how much money David will command in free agency.
The Browns will not be the only team looking to sign David if he is available, which would obviously drive up his price. This is the first time that David will be a free agent - he signed a contract extension with Tampa Bay as he was entering the final year of his rookie deal - so he is going to be looking to maximize what will likely be his final big-money contract.
Spotrac put’s David’s market value at $12.7 million a year, according to The Athletic’s Greg Auman, while PFF predicts that David will re-sign with Tampa Bay on a three-year deal worth $40 million, with $23.5 million in guarantees.
Those are not necessarily unrealistic numbers for a player as talented as David, except when you take into account that linebacker is not a high-priority position in the eyes of the Browns, and another one of their guardrails is not to rely on free agency.
Then toss in that they paid their entire linebacker group of B.J. Goodson, Malcolm Smith, Sione TakiTaki, Jacob Phillips, Mack Wilson, Tae Davis, Elija Lee and Trevon Young a collective total of $7.2 million last season, and it becomes a bit more difficult to see Cleveland paying one player almost double that amount.
We’ll take a break for a moment for everyone to drop their “you get what you pay for” comments about the linebackers.
David will continue to be linked to the Browns right up to the point where he signs a new contract with the Buccaneers or joins a new team via free agency. And it remains a possibility that the Browns could be that new team.
But given the combination of his age and salary demands, it remains just as likely that Berry may be planning to sit this one out.
Should the Browns try to sign Lavonte David if he becomes a free agent?
This poll is closed
Depends on the cost.
Damn the torpedoes and sign him! Did you see the linebacker play last season?
No - too old and too expensive.