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Dec 1, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (97) against the Jacksonville Jaguars at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Browns: Jabaal Sheard decision looming

Joe Haden signed his extension.  Alex Mack got his.  Phil Taylor had his option picked up by the Cleveland Browns.  And there have been talks between the Browns and Jordan Cameron, who may be waiting for Jimmy Graham to sign his deal before really being willing to negotiate dollar figures.  On the eve of mandatory minicamp, the next player that is entering the last year of his deal and of similar importance is Jabaal Sheard.  Sheard rarely gets talked about, which is part of why his deal has snuck up on people.  He is not an elite player, but he has been a reliable and productive one both in the 4-3 and 3-4, who might be ready to really have a strong year and enter his prime.  The time is quickly approaching for the Browns to decide if they want to try to get a deal done with Sheard or if they, perhaps Sheard, or both want to wait and see what happens this year.  The rest of the NFL is keeping close tabs to see which way the two sides choose to go because like with Mack, there would be plenty of suitors interested in signing Sheard in free agency.

In the 45 games Jabaal Sheard has played for the Browns, he has recorded 21 sacks.  He has not matched the production he had as a rookie on the stat sheet, where he had an impressive 8.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles, but he has improved his play against the run and been a meaningful presence in the passing game each of the past two seasons.

This past year, his production dipped in part because he suffered a knee injury in the game against the Minnesota Vikings after he had a strip sack against Christian Ponder in the Browns red zone right before the half that proved to be a key in the Browns winning the game.  He was also adjusting to the switch in scheme, though he received a lot of praise from the previous coaching staff about how well he was able to make the adjustment.

Similarly, Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neil have been excited about what they hope to have in Sheard coming into this year.  If that excitement is legitimate and there is no reason to think it isn’t, it stands to reason they and general manager Ray Farmer would like to see Sheard stick around the team for a few more years.

Sheard and his agent may not want to talk about doing a contract extension because he could be in line for more money on the open market, if he is able to get there.  For reference, Kamerion Wimbley  signed a free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans a few years ago that was roughly worth 5 years for $35 million.  That deal has since been restructured, but Wimbley, who had a great rookie year and was never able to touch that production again, still saw a substantial pay day.  Pass rushers get paid; even average ones.

To this point, Sheard has been pretty productive.  And if they want to keep him in the fold, they may want to try to keep him than avoid a situation they had with Alex Mack where there were talks going into his final year, but did not reach fruition.  Mack then decided to try to maximize his value on the open market and the Browns may have ultimately had to pay more to keep him.

Despite the fact that the Browns are already in the midst of paying Paul Kruger a $40.5 million contract, almost $20 million should be paid out by the end of this coming season.  Barkevious Mingo’s rookie contract is just 4 years and a total of $16 million which has a fifth year team option, so they can easily pay Sheard if that is indeed how they want to proceed, especially if they decide they want to put some money up front and have some money out at the end he may never see.  Mingo, assuming all goes according to plan, has four years left on his deal.  The Browns could pay Sheard over the next two seasons, have a dip in year three, and then have money out there in years four and five that give them the ability to dump the contract, much like they did with Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner.

In doing so, the Browns would potentially free up a tag to use on Jordan Cameron or Brian Hoyer, should they need it.  A team can never have too many pass rushers and having a trio of Mingo, Kruger and Sheard for the long term would be a smart investment, especially considering how Pettine wants to run his defense, which could use all three on the field at the same time in certain situations.

Sheard does not get a ton of press for the things he does, because he is generally a pretty quiet guy who does not get himself in trouble off the field, but was sorely missed when he was out for injury last season.  Deion Sanders is not going to go on TV screaming “Pay the man!”, but when it comes to the type of attitude and culture the Browns insist they are building, Sheard is exactly the type of player that fits that mold.  Keep in mind, Sheard is still just 25, so a five year extension would still only take him to 31 years old, allowing both sides to make sure he plays his prime years in Cleveland.

There has been no indication which way the Browns want to proceed with Sheard or Sheard with the Browns, but if both teams are intent on keeping him here for the foreseeable future, the Browns can deliver the security Sheard would love to have, potentially multiplying his current yearly income by six to eight times.  Meanwhile, the Browns could continue to build goodwill with its locker room and staying true to their word, also working to keep players in house that they have been able to draft and develop, saving money at the same time.  There is a small level of risk in going this route as Sheard’s last year was his least productive, but if the Browns are confident in him, they should get around to getting a deal done before the season starts.  Hopefully, the Browns can continue their run of smart business decisions and keep Jabaal Sheard in Cleveland for most, if not his entire career.

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