Phil Taylor has been a mainstay along the Browns’ defensive line since being drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
At least he has been when he’s been healthy, as he was in 2011 and 2013. But Taylor played just 13 games total in 2012 and 2014 and the numbers may not be in his favor as he enters the final year of his current contract.
The Browns made numerous moves in the offseason in an attempt to fix a run defense that was last in the NFL. They let Jabaal Sheard and Ahtyba Rubin walk away in free agency. They signed Randy Starks as a free agent, gave John Hughes a contract extension, and retained restricted free agent Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. On draft weekend, they selected Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper. They also return Desmond Bryant, Billy Winn and Armonty Bryant (although the Browns are experimenting with using him as a rush linebacker, he is still listed as a defensive lineman).
For a team that only carried seven defensive linemen on the opening roster last season, the Browns have a lot of bodies (13 to be exact) in camp right now. Of course, after seeing Taylor and Armonty Bryant struggle to stay healthy last year, a lot of bodies may be a good thing.
“You feel much better now when you realize you have so many more options,” Pettine said about the situation. “You don’t go into a game holding your breath thinking, one guy we can’t afford to lose is this guy, and next thing you know that’s the guy the trainers are running out to see. I’ve said it before, no sympathy cards get sent out amongst coaches when guys get hurt. You have to be able to withstand the attrition during the season.”
While stats are not the only telling feature, Taylor’s numbers don’t always live up to a player who was a first-round pick. Taylor only has seven career sacks (only one in his past 17 games) and 69 career tackles. He is also still recovering from knee surgery, and while Taylor has said he expects to be ready for training camp, you just never know.
One factor working in Taylor’s favor is that the final year of his contract, which will pay him $5.477 million, became fully guaranteed when the new league year began back in March. The team was in a similar situation last year with Rubin and kept him on the roster, so Farmer and Pettine could follow the same line of thinking this year.
The Browns are planning to move the 330-pound Taylor to nose tackle, where he could form a formidable rotation with the 339-pound Shelton, but if Taylor is limited by his surgically repaired knee, of if Shelton outperforms him, it could make it easier for the Browns to move on from Taylor, even with the cap hit.
Next: Offensive Linemen John Greco and Mitchell Schwartz