The news of the Browns releasing starting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson rocked the Cleveland sports scene on Friday. Everyone wants to know why the Browns and GM Andrew Berry dumped a good starter at a position where the team lacks appreciable depth.
Without knowing exactly what the Browns were thinking yet, here are some possible reasons, in spitball/brainstorm fashion.
Even after signing Jadeveon Clowney this week, the Browns were still in fine shape on the salary cap front. They had just over $10 million available to work with, ranking 16th in the NFL. Creative accounting in Clowney’s contract made his impact on 2021 as negligible as possible. This was not the Browns cutting Richardson because of Clowney, not financially anyway.
But it could be about the cap beyond 2021. Several key Browns players are due contract extensions in the coming years, including Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward. Rolling over extra money from 2021 can help soften the future blow of any of those potential extensions. It also would allow Berry and the Browns to expand the shopping list and open up more of the premium section of the free agent store next year, when scores of quality players will be coming off one-year contracts.
Perhaps one of those contract extensions is imminent? It’s been quiet on the contract front lately. The team still hasn’t picked up Mayfield’s fifth-year option.
Several have speculated that this is the reason, including the contract gurus at Spotrac,
It’s certainly a plausible explanation. What’s interesting is the timing. There is no impetus to release Richardson before announcing any extensions, unless the team doesn’t want the awkward optics of it appearing a (hypothetical) extension for Chubb or Mayfield pushed Richardson off the roster.
The plan with Clowney
We’ve all generally considered Clowney as an EDGE, a hand-in-dirt defensive end or a more stand-up style pass rusher a la Oliver Vernon. But Clowney has proven he can align more inside and be very effective there throughout his career.
He’s never done it full-time, of course. It’s sort of the inverse of Richardson, who could capably play on the edge for some reps in each game, a trait the Browns occasionally tapped into. Clowney does have that kind of versatility when he’s healthy. Remember, the team has veteran Malik Jackson, too.
Another addition brewing
There are some quality free agent interior linemen still available. Among the notables:
Any of those players would be less expensive than Richardson and his $12 million cap savings from his release. None are as productive or have the chemistry with Myles Garrett and the rest of the team, however.
The Raiders released Maurice Hurst this week. He was Las Vegas’s top-graded defensive player in each of the last two seasons per Pro Football Focus and is a younger talent of similar playing style to Richardson.
Adding any of those players before the 2021 NFL draft is an interesting choice, but it would help explain the impetus for parting ways with Richardson.