The Cleveland Browns were having a good day in Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals, one of the NFL’s worst clubs. In the end, a 27-0 specimen that was probably the most complete game on offense, defense, and special teams.
But among all the high-fives, bro hugs, and the excitement of being relevant again, one situation stood out - the Browns’ starting left tackle Jedrick Wills had gotten hurt during the game. Make that, carted off the field gotten hurt.
When the franchise placed Wills on IR after injuring his right knee after Cardinals DT Leki Fotu fell into him. The speculation was he would be gone from the field for four weeks. In his stead, rookie OT Dawand Jones was playing extremely well. Then Jones became injured and the news wasn’t pretty. Geron Christian was inserted and seems to be doing a decent job.
All of this came in a very short time. Dawand Jones, S Grant Delpit, DE Ogbo Okorinkwo, DT Maurice Hurst all found IR their new home as a collective group. All starters or has filled in as a starter, all very good talent, all needed players.
The Browns IR list is almost a full team.
Instead of getting ready to rejoin his teammates, Wills had arthroscopic surgery on Monday on his knee at University Hospitals Drusinsky Sports Medicine Institute. Team Head Physician James Voos performed the surgery. The result and analysis from Dr. Voos is that the surgery was a success.
Wills was placed on IR on November 7 and was supposed to come off last week. Instead, he will miss the remainder of the regular season as well as any post-season games. Currently, the Browns are 8-5-0 and own the #5 seed with four games remaining. Wills is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for 2024. He is becoming known to be a player that gets injured quite a bit.
The timing for Wills came at a crucial juncture. After being drafted 10th overall in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft, he is currently in the final year of his four-year $19.703 million rookie contract. The Browns did pick up his fifth-year option and would have had to decide on his future with the team after this season. That fifth-year amount is $14.175 million. The surgery was Wills’ decision.
A lot of negative press has been garnered around his lackadaisical style before the injury. And now with the injury, it will be even tougher for the front office to decide whether to sign him to another contract, trade him, or let him find employment elsewhere.
Cleveland’s offensive line has undergone a lot of changes so far this season. RT Jack Conklin was lost early, OG Michael Dunn was on IR for a spell, and C Ethan Pocic left last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a neck stinger, plus the loss of both Jones and now Wills. Christian, Nick Harris, and James Hudson have been the replacements to date as Dunn eventually returned.
It has already been determined that Christian will be inserted at left tackle while Hudson will man the right tackle position. While Christian has been holding his own, Hudson has not been playing well so something new will probably be in the works for this offensive line group.
Needless to say, Offensive Line Coach Bill Callahan has once again been issued the jumbo size of Band-Aids to attempt to fix the issues of losing so many players once again this season.
Currently on the roster is only three tackles with LT Leroy Watson as backup. Watson went undrafted in the 2022 NFL draft and spent time on the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers practice squads last season. He was in Niners training camp this year and was a last day cutdown, then signed to the PS before the Browns claimed him on November 2.
The practice squad sports Alex Leatherwood and Justin Murray. The 24-year-old Leatherwood is a former first-round draft pick of the Las Vegas Raiders taken 17th overall in the 2021 draft. He has played both tackle positions at Alabama but started at RT for three seasons. Murray, age 30, went undrafted in 2016 and has since been on the roster or practice squad for 10 different NFL clubs.
If Cleveland does not bring up either Leatherwood or Murray, they will certainly have to sign at least a pair of players. Here’s three:
Taylor Lewan (6’-7”, 309 pounds)
The top free-agent offensive tackle prospect available is Lewan. He is the former Tennessee Titans teammate of injured Browns RT Jack Conklin. He was taken by the Titans with the 11th pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. He has since been selected to play in three Pro Bowls after being named Two Time All-American in college.
Except for a concussion in 2018, he was very durable. Then in 2020, Lewan tore his ACL and was placed on injured reserve. Last year, Lewan suffered a knee injury in Week 2 where he landed on IR for the balance of the year. Lewan announced that he would be considering retirement from playing but has not at this point. Like Joe Flacco, he just may want one last shot at playing with a playoff-caliber team like the Browns.
The only thing Lewan seems to be doing currently is he and former teammate Will Compton began a podcast in the summer of 2019 called “Bussin With the Boys” on the Barstool Sports network.
Eric Fisher (6’-7”, 312 pounds)
Fisher was an All-American out of Central Michigan when the Kansas City Chiefs made him the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. He played eight seasons with the Chiefs where he earned Pro Bowl honors in 2018 and 2020 and helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl LIV at the end of the 2019 season. He then moved on to the Indianapolis Colts for a season before playing for the Miami Dolphins last year.
Fisher joined the Dolphins as a free agent on Dec. 5, 2022. He was a 10-year veteran who had played in 132 career games with 128 starts, including 111 at left tackle and 17 at right tackle so he has versatility.
On January 6, 2023, Fisher was placed on injured reserve despite being inactive for every game. He has not retired nor has said anything regarding retirement desires.
Bobby Hart (6’-6, 312 pounds)
Hart was taken in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL draft by the New York Football Giants where he played in nine games as a rookie at right tackle.
In his second season, he started 13 games. Before the 2017 season began, he professed that he was the best right tackle in the league.
“I know I’m the best right tackle in the league. So I just have to act like it every day. You just can’t act like it some days and then some days you don’t. It’s just an everyday thing.”
The next season the franchise started him with seven starts, but he suffered an ankle injury and was placed on IR when he refused to play the season finale. The Giants then waived him. The Cincinnati Bengals picked him up where he had a very good career for three seasons and at one point was the Bengals’ highest-rated offensive lineman.
Commitment has never been was not a problem for Hart and he has been known for working relentlessly on his craft. Hart is truly a natural right tackle which would allow James Hudson to become a swing tackle instead.
Other free agents to consider: Josh Wells (age 32 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad), Marcus Cannon (35), Ryan Hayes (23 - Dolphins practice squad), and the often-injured Ja’Wuan James (31), La’El Collins (30).
What should the Browns do about the offensive tackle position?
This poll is closed
Elevate Alex Leatherwood
Elevate Justin Murray
Sign FA Taylor Lewan
Sign FA Eric Fisher
Sign FA Bobby Hart
Sign a player listed at the end of the article
Sign an FA not listed
Do nothing - go into the post-season with three offensive tackles