The Cleveland Browns have announced the release of longtime inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who was a second round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. The Browns, led by Ray Farmer, wanted to restructure Jackson’s contract, who was scheduled to make around $7 million this season. Jackson was not happy with their offer and the two agreed to part ways. The team and players will say it is a business and they had to make the best move based on the interest of the team, but it seems like a bad move based on where the team is right this second and where they are going in the 2014 season.
Jackson is not worth $7 million on the field in terms of his outright production, but he is a good player. It seems like a yearly event that there is some publication or commentator calling Jackson one of the most underrated players in the league. He was finally able to go the Pro Bowl this past year. In addition to the 75 solo tackles he had, Jackson deflected 7 passes (several of which were intercepted by teammates), caught one himself, forced a fumble, recovered one, and had 1.5 sacks.
The suggestion that Jackson is too old is ridiculous. He is all of 31 and missed two seasons because of pectoral injuries, so he actually has not been beaten up on the field as much as some have. This past year, Jackson was able to be productive in spite of a number of nagging injuries that slowed him down as the year progressed.
The Browns appeared to need a starting inside linebacker before this move happened. Craig Robertson, at least last year, Ray Horton’s, ace in the hole, was not good enough to start. They do not need to get rid of him, but he does need to prove he can do the job and may better suited as depth. Now, the Browns look to need to replace both spots on top of the number of other needs the team already has to address. Had they kept Jackson, they would have had the flexibility to start a new player and bring in a replacement to groom behind Jackson.
The idea that Jackson should be released on principle because he makes a bunch of money is silly, coming from the media or fans. It is not their money. Jimmy Haslam has been perfectly happy to throw it around at other stuff including an ever growing number of coaches. The idea that Jackson simply does not deserve it is idiotic and a slippery slope.
From a financial standpoint, the only part that should matter to fans is the salary cap. Currently, the Browns are already projected to be around $53 million under the cap. There are a number of players who are going to be paid this offseason that will take some of that money, but at least right now, there is nothing to suggest the Browns could not have eaten the money due Jackson. That could change and should if they want this move to make sense. Is even more cap space worth more than Jackson if it is going to sit there unused? Unlikely.
Additionally, Jackson’s leadership might have been worth the money. The Browns have been devoid of leadership for a number of years and Jackson stood up and made himself one. Joe Thomas has been a lead by example guy who tends to get involved only when he is forced while Jackson has taken that responsibility and worn it with pride. The times the team needed someone to represent them, such as with Josh Gordon’s situation, it was Jackson that delivered the message. To a man, Jackson was the no question leader and final word on that defense. Beyond simply being the guy with the microphone in his helmet, players answered to him and spoke highly of him.
Suddenly, the Browns need to find themselves someone willing to not only lead the defense, but the team as a whole. Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard? They need someone to do the job. They need leaders.
The sentimental part of the equation is there in in that it feels like if the Browns are going to become a good team, Jackson deserves to be a part of it. He put up with enough bad teams while has played well to deserve to see it work. That argument does not matter much in the grand scheme of things, but the way fans react to issues with this team, it could provide an ugly backlash. For some, they are still bitter at Joe Banner for not resigning Phil Dawson and much of their hatred for him may have started with that move.
Ultimately, the Browns have to prove that this move was necessary and will yield some benefit. The Browns get a few more million in cap room. The natural leap to that is this would add to the pressure that would have them keep Alex Mack in Cleveland as well as keeping T.J. Ward. This could also make many leap to conclusions about other players from other teams and how they could help the team, but from a front office standpoint, it is more about making good with the players on this roster and the talent they have in the face of this overwhelming amount of cap room.
This provides more financial flexibility for Farmer, but also gives fans and players a reason to raise an eyebrow and wonder how they carry over from here. If they go out, keep Mack, Ward, get Haden to a long term deal, and keep the talent on this team for a long time, this will be a minor blip on the radar. Should Jackson be gone and Mack leave via free agency, there will probably be a palpable amount of backlash and the love affair with Farmer could end before they even get to the NFL Draft.
This also could change how they approach the draft. Suddenly C.J. Mosley of Alabama will be linked to the Browns and there will be increased speculation about Khalil Mack, the outside linebacker from Buffalo. It may also lead to speculation the Browns would like to move down to get a linebacker. Those fans and media whose reach of the college game is only to the Ohio State Buckeyes and their opponents will likely start clamoring for Ryan Shazier and Chris Borland. The Browns are going to need multiple linebackers through free agency and the draft. Last year’s front office flushed the entire roster of depth and unless they really like some of the guys they brought in, they will need a new crop of them.
D’Qwell Jackson was a good player and a class act in his time with Cleveland. He seemed to do nothing but have a positive impact in his time with the Browns and it is a shame to see him leave. Hopefully for Jackson, he can find a good team that wants to give him a good home and he can continue to play well and like with Dawson, he can get a chance to play in the playoffs and beyond. It was sad and disappointing to hear this news, so hopefully Jackson knows just how much he was appreciated in his time in Cleveland. Joe Thomas is now the longest tenured Brown on the team.