Newly minted Cleveland Browns DC Jim Schwartz has a need for speedy linebackers. He requires backers who can hit and rarely miss. He also needs this group to be excellent coverage players who can track running backs and bigger tight ends.
LB Jacob Phillips is entering his fourth season after being drafted in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft. That means he is in the last year of his rookie deal. He is set to earn a base salary of $1,104,500 while carrying a cap hit of $1,312,574 and a dead cap value of $208,074.
Because the Browns are an analytics organization, this means that the franchise does not pay linebackers a lot, so Phillips’ salary is manageable.
Will the Browns retain Phillips? Will they trade or cut him instead? In this DBN series, we let two writers spar against each other on this question.
Stay or Go?
LB Jacob Phillips
Phillips has been with the Browns organization since 2020 when they drafted him with the 97th pick in the third round and has shown flashes of how good he can be at the linebacker position, but his injury history has stunted his NFL growth.
In 2020, he missed six games due to a knee injury and another game due to COVID-19 protocols. He started 2021 on injured reserve with a bicep injury that cost him 12 games.
This past season, he played in seven games and started four, but his season was cut short again with a pectoral injury. He was put on injured reserve and is now entering the last year of his rookie deal.
Unfortunately, the Browns will have to play the long game with Phillips this upcoming season. His ceiling is too high for him to let walk out the door for nothing, but he has yet to play a full NFL season. Phillips has 88 combined tackles, 57 solo, and five sacks in 20 games.
The Browns should bring Phillips back and see if he can stay healthy for a full season. He has shown the ability to make plays and be a sideline-to-sideline linebacker. They should bring him back for one more season.
DBN Staff Writer
Generally speaking, I have a very patient approach to casting any kind of judgment of draft classes or drafted players. I will never do so until at least three years have passed. There are exceptions, of course, and I believe such an exception exists here in the case of Phillips, whose third season was cut short due to injury.
However, prior to that injury, he was given a mighty opportunity that was very spectacularly not capitalized upon. The starting MIKE linebacker Anthony Walker got hurt in week 3 versus Pittsburgh, which was a significant setback for the defense. This loss was made all the worse because his replacement, Phillips, was woefully underprepared for the task.
It wasn’t just that he seemed incapable of getting his defensive mates lined up correctly (as was Walker’s penchant) he himself struggled in reading keys to fit the runs which turned into gashing plays in the weeks that followed Walker’s injury. In fact, the worst period of time for Cleveland’s run defense in 2022 was when Phillips was leading the unit.
Athletically he’s a specimen, no doubt. Unfortunately, he’s just several clicks too slow in reading and recognizing what offenses are doing, particularly in the run game. At that point, he’s not really an NFL linebacker.