Much has changed along the Cleveland Browns defensive line in the last few days. The Browns signed Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year contract after courting him for several months. But just days after bringing in the former Pro Bowl defensive end, the Browns turned around and released starting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
How do the moves impact the Browns and their approach to the 2021 NFL draft, which takes place in less than two weeks?
It’s a complicated question that doesn’t have an easy or obvious answer.
While Clowney and Richardson play divergent positions, there is some overlap between the two. Clowney can play inside at tackle, and could see more time there in Cleveland than he has in his last two stops. Richardson did kick outside to end at times and was effective there, too.
Because it’s a one-year deal, signing Clowney doesn’t prevent the Browns from taking an EDGE, not even with the first-round pick. Given Clowney’s five knee surgeries in seven years since entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, it should still be a priority–if just to reduce the reliance on Clowney in 2021.
The need at defensive tackle did bump up with Richardson’s release. It was already one of the team’s primary needs with starter Larry Ogunjobi leaving in free agency. While Andrew Billings is coming back from an opt-out year and the team did sign veteran Malik Jackson, there is still a pressing need for a younger building block. Last year’s third-round pick, Jordan Elliott, doesn’t appear to be more than a useful piece in a rotation.
In short, they have no real long-term solutions at the position beyond Elliott. The cobbled-together combination of Jackson, Billings and some of Clowney could get the Browns through 2021, but having the starter(s) for 2022 and beyond on the roster in this coming season would be a smart, savvy move.