Welcome back to the tenth installment of the series. I am taking a deep dive into the Browns roster and how they can best fill the holes in their roster. Every few days I will be releasing a different position room.
For every position room, I have outlined how the NFL structures that position on the roster. The players we have in four categories: starter, rotation (play some snaps), depth (injury backup/special teams), and other (likely cut). Then I will lay out the options currently on the roster, available in FA as well as via the draft for all 53 spots.
The average NFL team has 10.0 DBs on their roster. Six cornerbacks can give you flexibility at the position. With nickel now being the default for many defenses you likely see two outside corners and a slot corner on nearly every snap. As teams phase nearer to a dime defense don’t be surprised if you see them drop to five linebackers on the roster and add an extra defensive back instead. You can never have enough good cornerbacks as one injury can destabilize the entire coverage. The room will need five starting level corners and then at least one more for special teams and upside, possibly a second. We don’t know if Woods wants his nickel to be built with three corners or three safeties as a base, this will change how they breakdown the 11 defensive backs. This might push a starting slot corner into more of a rotational spot just coming in for dime packages rather than playing them all in nickel.
Starting Outside CB: Denzel Ward
Roster – Denzel Ward has been one of the best corners since he entered the league. According to PFF he is the only corner with under 40% completion percentage when in single coverage the last three seasons, he is at an incredible 31%. Health is the concern having missed four games on average each season. He is a great player that any defense would love to have but defense is very much a team sport and more quality around him is essential. There is a good chance they try to lock him up long-term this offseason. Check back on the website for a proposed Ward extension tomorrow.
Starting Outside CB: ?
Roster – There is no starting corner on the roster for the 2021 season. Some fans might wonder why Greedy Williams doesn’t appear here. He has missed all of last season and wasn’t great in his rookie year. While I’m not saying give up on him, he needs to be treated as a depth piece with amazing upside rather than a starter you can rely on week 1 without any concerns going into this offseason.
FA – Last season Washington & San Francisco took shots on Ronald Darby & Jason Verrett respectively and they paid off, both putting in a great season. Could the Browns take a wild shot on one of these, possibly but you likely want someone with better health instead. Richard Sherman is an intriguing option. He gives you a nice bridge to find out what Greedy’s health is like and if you draft someone else, you have 1/2 years of cover before you then need one of them to be a full-time starter opposite Ward. He certainly has a history with Woods plus his talent likely boosts the overall room. The Browns could return to Terrance Mitchell or add Bashaud Breeland if they want to keep the path clear for Greedy.
They could go a different direction and add Troy Hill here instead. He is more suited to the slot but has produced at league average on the outside in the past. Then this allows flexibility for either Greedy or a draft pick to step up and start, meaning Hill can move to the slot once that happens.
Draft – Depending on how they feel about the draft they could address the position in either of the first two rounds. It would be risky bringing in a rookie to start day one on a team aiming for a postseason run but as long as you have the depth in Greedy and a free agent veteran then it is certainly possible.
Starting/Rotational Slot CB: ?
FA – Slot corner is one of those unique positons like blocking tight end, full back or long snapper where the veteran price is so cheap at around $4m a year that it almost makes sense to target your starter there rather than use the draft pick. Some names that are available are Brian Poole, Mike Hilton, Troy Hill, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Desmond King. All can come in and do an amicable job. Some names would be signable on deals worth $2m if they want to go even cheaper. I can’t see them returning Kevin Johnson in this role when better options are available for cheaper, he was a surprise addition for me last season, given his lack of natural slot play.
Draft – They could go the route of trying to address this position in the draft by signing someone on day two or at the higher end of day 3 but it would come with more uncertainty than a free agent.
Depth Outside CB: Greedy Williams
Roster – I’m excited for the future of Greedy Williams, having a third choice outside corner with the potential he has is a blessing. Hopefully, he can come back healthy and then flash when he gets his opportunity. With Ward on the roster, he will no doubt have games where he needs to play. Also, it could be a rookie they draft in the first round to start so he might get chances the first few weeks.
Depth Outside CB: ?
FA – The Browns would need to go really strong at this position if they are planning to draft a starter in the first two rounds. Bringing back Mitchell, signing Breeland or adding another one of these names for $4-5m a year gives them depth in the room that covers them in the event of an injury as well as time for the youngster to develop. They could look to stash a promising young player here and bet on the upside, a name link Gareon Conley would be facinating.
Draft – If they have brought in a starter opposite Ward in free agency like Sherman or possibly trade for Lattimore then they still need to add more corners. This would likely mean they don’t go for one in the first round but adding more talent on day two would be a great idea.
Depth CB: ?
Depth Slot CB: ???
This could be one or could be two roster spots depending on how they structure the 11 defensive backs on the roster between corner and safety. If they are going for a slot corner base in nickel then seven corners are realistic with one of these two special teams corners being a backup slot. If they are looking at a three safety base in nickel then it is likely six corners on the roster, likely no depth slot corner. These players are mainly here for their special teams play so don’t worry if they aren’t players you associate with playing corner.
Roster – In terms of the backup slot corner role, they have the perfect candidate on the roster in M.J. Stewart Jr. who can also provide special teams upside. It would be good to keep him here through the rest of his rookie deal.
FA – The Browns could look to bring back Tavierre Thomas who is a restricted free agent. He has been a brilliant contributor on special teams but isn’t worth the $2.4m an original round tender requires. I think they could sign him to a short term veteran minimum contract to come back.
Draft – They could easily add more talent in the later rounds (6th/7th) or as UDFAs to compete for these spots too.
Other: Brian Allen (ERFA), A.J. Green
Check back on Wednesday for the Safety deep dive.
Any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @JackDuffin. The DMs are open for any salary cap/roster construction questions you have.