Defensive tackle is now near the top of the list of positions to watch when the Browns are on the clock in the April 29-May 1 NFL draft.
That’s because the team announced Friday it released veteran Sheldon Richardson.
The franchise had been pleased with Richardson but made the surprise move to save salary cap space. The Browns had about $10 million in cap space left after signing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year, $8 million contract on Wednesday.
“It was just starting to feel like home,” Richardson, who spent the past two seasons with the Browns, wrote on Instagram. “AYE Dawg Pound I had a great time….#til next time.”
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The Browns saved the $11 million they were scheduled to pay Richardson in 2021, the final year of his deal with the team.
Andrew Berry has emphasized the importance of long-term roster strategy since he became general manager of the Browns last year, and his management of the cap is a reminder of the contract extensions he could pursue this offseason. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, cornerback Denzel Ward, running back Nick Chubb and right guard Wyatt Teller are all eligible for new deals.
With Richardson cut and Larry Ogunjobi signing a one-year, $6.2 million contract last month with the Cincinnati Bengals after being allowed to walk out the door in free agency, the Browns won’t have either of their starting tackles from last season back in 2021.
Malik Jackson and Andrew Billings are the projected starters on the interior of the defensive line. The Browns signed Jackson last month to a one-year, $4.5 million contract and Billings last year to a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Billings opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, but he told the Beacon Journal in February he plans to play this year.
The Browns also have 2020 third-round draft pick Jordan Elliott and fellow defensive tackle Sheldon Day, who signed Wednesday after finishing last season on the practice squad.
Drafting University of Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore in the first round (No. 26 overall) figures to be a possibility for Berry on April 29. Barmore is the only defensive tackle projected to be selected in the opening round this year.
Richardson, 30, had been considered one of the Browns’ better players. He joined the club as an unrestricted free agent in 2019, when former General Manager John Dorsey signed him to a three-year, $37 million contract.
Last season, Richardson and cornerback Terrance Mitchell were the only two Browns defenders who started all 18 games, including two in the playoffs. The Browns let Mitchell leave last month in free agency, and he signed a two-year deal reportedly worth up to $7.5 million with the Houston Texans.
Richardson compiled 64 tackles, 4½ sacks and one forced fumble in the 2020 regular season. He tied for 47th among the 125 qualifying defensive tackles ProFootballFocus.com graded.
The NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and a Pro Bowl selection in 2014, Richardson will likely find a landing spot sooner than later. In eight NFL seasons, Richardson has appeared in 121 games with 118 starts and compiled 461 tackles, including 31 sacks, 92 quarterback hits, 10 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 14 passes defensed and an interception.
In 2019, Richardson was voted the winner of the Dino Lucarelli Good Guy award by the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America. The award is given annually to a player for his cooperation media members and the way he carries himself in the community and with his teammates.