During last year’s free agency period, Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry was very busy getting in lots of able bodies to compete along the defensive line.
But what transpired was a very weak group, especially at the defensive tackle position.
Jordan Elliott finally grabbed a starting position. Berry signed Taven Bryan away from the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency to compete and help solve the middle of the line. Holdovers included Tommy Togiai, a rookie the prior season, plus Berry re-signed veteran Sheldon Day in the spring. In the fourth round of the NFL Draft they selected Perrion Winfrey out of Oklahoma, then signed undrafted rookie free agents Glen Logan of LSU and Illinois’ Roderick Perry.
Cleveland signed defensive tackle Ben Stille to the active roster from the Miami Dolphins practice squad, Logan was cut while Perry ended up on the practice squad. Day was released in August and was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings. Logan now plays in the XFL.
When this group settled, it was Elliott and Bryan as the initial starters, with Winfrey and Togiai as backups. Eventually, Winfrey became the starter.
There was one obvious situation with this middle core: teams could run against it. The Browns finished as the 25th-ranked run defense. They allowed 4.7 yards per carry (ranked 25th), gave up 22 rushing touchdowns (29th), plus had 129 runs that resulted in a first down (24th).
Coming up, Berry must address this group with multiple players either in free agency or through the draft – or both.
Here are three defensive tackles the Browns should consider in free agency:
Daron Payne - Washington Commanders
6’-3”, 320 pounds
NFL draft: 2018 Round 1, pick No. 13 (Washington)
Career Pro Bowls: 1
40 time: 4.95
2022 season: Pro Bowl, 17 starts, 64 tackles, 20 QB hits, 11.5 sacks, 25 pressures, 5 hurries, 8 knockdowns, 18 tackles for loss, 0 forced fumbles, 7 missed tackles, 5 pass defenses
Barry Shuck: Cleveland needs a guy like Payne. He is just 25 so there is plenty of football in front of him. He had a great season and the Commanders stated last off-season they would be interested in moving him. What he did instead is put in a Pro Bowl season.
The run-stopping game is Payne’s specialty. He is a stout man and maintains his gap responsibility. Strong hands and even though stopping the run is his best feature, look at his 11.5 sack numbers for 2022 to tell you about his pass rush. Now, with a salary projection of $20 million, with Cleveland being an analytics team, that is going to be a tough sell and perhaps just too much for the cap to handle.
But if the Browns brought him in, DC Jim Schwartz would team him up with DE Myles Garrett as his dominant dominos for this defense.
Contract Projection: Four years, $80 million ($20M per year); $55 million total guaranteed
Javon Hargrave – Philadelphia Eagles
6’-2”, 305 pounds
NFL draft: 2016 Round 3, pick No. 89 (Steelers)
Career Pro Bowls: 1
40 time: 4.93
2022 season: 17 starts, 60 tackles, 16 QB hits, 11 sacks, 57 pressures, 40 hurries, 10 tackles for loss
Thomas Moore: Javon Hargrave is the type of free agent that the Browns should have signed in 2020 when he was coming off his rookie contract. Hargrave went to the Philadelphia Eagles, however, and rewarded the Eagles as he has been one of the league’s best defensive tackles over the past three seasons.
Hargrave has posted a pass-rush grade of 92.2 from Pro Football Focus with the Eagles, which places him behind only Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs. His run defense was better in his four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but as PFF points out that was likely due to being asked to do different things in the defense.
Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz likes to have his defensive ends split wider than most and rely on pressuring the quarterback with just the defensive line, which emphasizes the defensive tackles being able to bring pressure and hold up against the run.
That makes the Browns a perfect landing spot for Hargrave to make his return to the AFC North Division.
Contract Projection: Three years, $55 million ($18.33M per year); $36 million total guaranteed
Dalvin Tomlinson - Minnesota Vikings
6’-3”, 325 pounds
NFL draft: 2017 Round 2, pick No. 55 (Giants)
Career Pro Bowls: 0
40 time: 5.19
2022 season: 13 starts, 42 tackles, 10 QB hits, 2.5 sacks, 29 pressures, 19 hurries, 3 tackles for loss
Thomas Moore: Primarily utilized as a nose tackle early in his career, Dalvin Tomlinson has proved to be a versatile defensive lineman in recent years, with the Vikings using him as a three-technique.
Tomlinson’s biggest value to the Browns would be as a run stopper, and he has never missed more than five tackles in a season, has 55 tackles for loss or no gain since entering the league, and has posted a run-defense grade of 83 since 2017, according to Pro Football Focus.
While rushing the passer may not be his most notable trait, Tomlinson has never graded lower than 74 as a pass rusher, according to PFF, and he is coming off a career-best 79.1 grade this past season with the Vikings. He also draws double teams from opposing offenses, but with the attention paid to Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett, Tomlinson could benefit from less attention and become a nuisance with his ability to provide an interior push into the opposing backfield.
Contract Projection: Three years, $35.25 million ($11.75M per year); $23.25 million total guaranteed
Put on your GM hat. Which of these players profiled would you sign?
This poll is closed