Welcome back to the ninth 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 5.9 LBs on their roster. I feel this is likely to start decreasing as teams play more and more nickel/dime packages. The Browns seem to be looking for one starter to play the majority of snaps. Then having three rotational players to come in depending on if they need someone focusing on stopping the run or coverage. Then one depth player who is there predominately to play special teams as well as hopefully showing upside at the position.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Browns try and treat the linebacker room how the Patriots used to treat their running back room. Don’t waste your assets (draft/salary cap) on one do it all player. Instead, find players that are great at one of the three areas between run-stopping, pass rush, and coverage, then rely on the coaching staff to get them on the field at the right time based on the situation. The team finished the season with 3 of the 25 linebackers according to PFF but all three have very specific skills while struggling in other areas.
Starting LB: ?
FA – The Browns currently have zero starting quality LBs signed for the 2020 season. There are three top names available this offseason in Lavonte David, Matt Milano, and Jayon Brown based on how this front office has smartly treated this position over the last year there is little chance of any of these players joining. They could spend more than they did last year and do a $12m/2 deal for K.J. Wright if he makes it to free agency. If they are still intending to go cheap then the obvious name is the return of BJ Goodson.
Draft – While the Browns Front Office is far too smart to spend a first-round pick on a running back or linebacker they could draft someone on day two but it is likely this player wouldn’t be ready to start week one.
Rotational LB: Sione Takitaki
Roster – Takitaki had a good season with the Browns, finishing as PFF’s 12th best linebacker, this was due to his dominating run defense, finishing second in the NFL. He was okay at tackling and pass rush but struggled in coverage, this could limit the plays he is on the field for but makes him a great option at will on likely rush plays.
Rotational LB: ?
Roster – Mack Wilson has had two disaster seasons, ranking as PFF’s 94th best linebacker both seasons out of 100 and 99 in 2019 and 2020 respectively. This means it is highly unlikely they could view him for a rotational role where he faces a large number of snaps.
FA – The return of Malcolm Smith seems to make too much sense here. He would likely return to the side for another one year deal around $1m. This gives them another year when they can evaluate the talent of the other youngsters on the roster as well as any draft picks they add. Smith finished the season with PFF’s seventh-best coverage grade, a position where all the other linebackers in the room struggled. The other free agent they could look towards is Kevin Pierre-Louis.
Draft – The Browns could continue what seems like a now annual tradition of drafting a linebacker in round three. They could also go for an early day three pick too.
Rotational LB: Jacob Phillips
Roster – Phillips struggled at everything other than tackling in his first year. He has the potential to play the MIKE role as a linebacker but we will need to see solid development from him. Hopefully, we can see growth across this season to potentially have him or Takitaki step up to be that starting linebacker in 2022.
Depth LB: ?
Roster – Mack Wilson only played three special teams snaps last season meaning he has got next to no chance of returning in the fifth linebacker spot as specials are the primary function.
FA – The Browns could re-sign Elijah Lee to a cheap one-year deal worth around $1m if they love his special teams’ play but I would guess better options remaining out there. Bringing Tae Davis back on a deal cheaper than his RFA tender would provide a better option for special teams.
Draft – It is likely they will add a late day three pick or some UDFAs to battle for this roster spot. It is a hard one to judge as it will come down to whoever performs the best in special teams drills and shows the most upside at the position. If they like someone as high as round three they could do it if they have two veterans on one-year deals alongside Takitaki and Phillips.
Other: Montrel Meander
Check back on Monday for the Cornerback 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.