The Cleveland Browns entered the 2021 season with a plan at defensive line and knew that there was the possibility that there could be three new starters to meld with DE Myles Garrett. Which actually happened.
DT Larry Ogunjobi was allowed to leave in free agency. Sheldon Richardson and his rich contract was let go. And Olivier Vernon was not re-signed. This left the door wide open for new options.
Jordan Elliott was expected to man one of the defensive tackle positions, but just could not wrestle the spot and regressed all season.
And the right defensive end opposite Garrett had Porter Gustin’s name written all over it. Except Gustin was a final roster cut, then signed to the practice squad in which he played sparingly all year. Atlanta former first-round draft pick Takk McKinley was signed to a one-year deal and expected to give Gustin a run for the starting position until GM Andrew Berry inked Jadeveon Clowney who stole the starting role.
And so on opening day, the new guys were veteran Malik Jackson and the youngster Malik McDowell at the defensive tackle positions, with Clowney the bookend to Garrett.
What is the state of this unit now? What should be done if anything?
It’s weird to think that the Browns have one of the three best defensive linemen in the game, yet still need help. The biggest question is Jadeveon Clowney (6’-5”, 255 pounds). Will he return? He was great for the Browns last year - exactly what they needed from him. And he truly benefited from playing opposite of Myles Garrett having his best season since 2018.
There are still questions with Clowney. And that question needs to be addressed soon as this draft is loaded with edge players. So maybe they go there and look for a longer term solution. He will probably be seeking a three-year deal this time around in the neighborhood of $10 million a season. Will the Browns pay that, or look for cheaper options?
Takk McKinley (6’-2”, 260 pounds) was a great find for the Browns and he is an unrestricted free agent (UFA) coming off an injury. But will he be re-signed? He made $2.5 million in 2021 on a one-year deal, played in just 11 games and had 18 total tackles with eight QB hits, three tackles for loss, 18 pressures, four QB knockdowns, seven hurries and 2.5 sacks.
Then there is veteran Porter Gustin (6’-5”, 257 pounds) who was a roster member all of 2020 yet was regulated to the practice squad (PS) for much of last year and only played in six games with minimal results. He was finally signed to the 53-man roster in Week 16 and is currently a restricted free agent (RFA). His cap hit in 2021 was $141,666 as he was a PS member for much of the year. He was signed to a one-year $850,000 contract.
Ifeadi Odenigbo (6’-3”, 258 pounds) was claimed off waivers from the New York Football Giants and added to the Browns PS yet was elevated in mid-September. He played in nine contests including the fumble recovery against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14 in which the Browns won 24-22. Odenigbo is also a RFA. In 2021 his deal was for one-year at $920,000.
A lot of consideration is being placed on Curtis Weaver (6’-2”, 265 pounds) who was a sack master in college. He currently is tied for the lowest salary at $720,000. On January 10 he signed a reserves/futures contract which protects him.
Joe Jackson (6’-4”, 278 pounds) had some good games and was activated for 12. But his reassignment to the PS enabled the Kansas City Chiefs to claim him once the Browns season was over and the Chiefs needed depth at the defensive end position going into the playoffs.
Defensive tackle is a mess.
Andrew Billings was a whiff, played heavy for most of his tenure and was eventually let go. He had been signed to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million with all of it guaranteed. Malik Jackson (6’-5”, 285 pounds) was not good and is an UFA. Jackson was on a similar one-year contract for $3.75 million. The other Malik, McDowell (6’-6”, 295 pounds) was really good early, fell off but showed promise and at season’s end got arrested and has probably played his last NFL game. Maybe some of these new spring leagues can use him if he is not incarcerated once again.
Jordan Elliott (6’-4”, 302 pounds) has been inconsistent at best and has been a major disappointment since being taken in the third-round of the 2020 NFL draft. For 2022, this will be Elliott’s third season with one year remaining and will have a cap hit of $1.233 million. Rookie Tommy Togiai (6’-2”, 296 pounds) spent the first half with hardly any snaps then played quite a bit down the stretch. He will make $994,286 this year.
You could make the argument the Browns best DT was Sheldon Day (6’-1”, 285 pounds) at the end of the season. He was a last day cut, was placed on the practice squad and then was pulled up in mid-October but was placed back on the PS following the Week 6 game against Arizona in which he was tied for the fourth most tackles. He was brought up for good on November 9 prior to Week 10 in the drubbing by the New England Patriots. He shined in the 16-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders with six total tackles and a half sack. His cap hit in 2021 was $495,000.
That’s not good if Day is your best defensive tackle. The Browns need probably three new defensive tackles actually.
In all, this is a position group that needs a big overhaul and I think it will be done in the draft AND free agency.
In Round 3 the Browns have two picks. Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt (6’-3”, 315 pounds) got a lot of attention at the combine and was equally impressive at the Senior Bowl. He is a proven run stuffer. In the fourth-round, Zachary Carter (6’-4”, 285 pounds) of Florida who also shined at the Senior Bowl or maybe reunite Togiai with his old teammate Haskell Garrett (6’-2”, 299 pounds) from Ohio State.
What would solve the DT position: free agency or through the draft?
This poll is closed