Browns defensive line: Stay or go in 2018?
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns have several roster decisions to make for 2018, but the defensive line looks to only be in need of a minor adjustment.
The Cleveland Browns are currently working their way through another one of their “most important off seasons ever” as the franchise undergoes its latest rebuilding project.
But unlike their past attempts to turn themselves into an actual NFL franchise, this rebuild is taking on a different look and feel.
Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown did a considerable amount of work before he was fired late in the 2017 season, and because of that general manager John Dorsey has a solid foundation to build on.
In addition to sound offensive and defensive lines, along with young, promising players at tight end, linebacker and in the secondary, Dorsey has somewhere north of $100 million in cap space at his disposal, along with 12 selections in the 2018 NFL Draft – including picks No. 1 and No. 4 in the first round, plus another three selections in the second round.
Dorsey needs to hold onto some of that cap space to start resigning players nearing the end of their rookie deals, running back Duke Johnson comes to mind, but the cap dollars, draft picks and unwritten NFL rule that a new general manager needs “his players” to make things work means that the roster will undergo changes between now and Week 1 of the regular season in September.
To that end, let’s take a look at the defensive linemen on the roster to determine who will likely still be in Orange and Brown come the fall, and who will be seeking employment elsewhere.
Current defensive linemen
Defensive ends: Ricky Ali’ifua, Lavar Edwards, Myles Garrett, Carl Nassib, Emmanuel Ogbah and Nate Orchard
Defensive tackles: Collin Bevins, Caleb Brantley, Trevon Coley, Jeremy Faulk, Jamie Meder, Larry Ogunjobi and Danny Shelton
Coley, Orchard and Shelton are signed through 2018; Bevins, Faulk, Ogbah, Nassib and Ali’ifua are signed through 2019; Brantley, Garrett and Ogunjobi are signed through 2020. Edwards is an unrestricted free agent, while Meder is a restricted free agent. (All per spotrac.com)
Stay or Go?
The Browns have made considerable investments along the defensive line in recent years and the team started to reap the dividends in 2017.
The run defense was among the league’s in allowing just 3.4 yards per carry (second-best in the NFL) and 97.9 rushing yards per game, good for a No. 7 ranking. Those numbers were fueled by the play of the defensive line, which was led by No. 1 overall selection Myles Garrett.
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Despite missing five games with injury, Garrett still finished with a team-high seven sacks, which was second among all NFL rookies and the third-highest sack total by a rookie in franchise history.
Garrett was at his best when playing opposite second-year defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who had four sacks and held the edge of the defense as teams consistently ran away from Garrett.
The only drawback was that Ogbah missed the final month of the season with a broken foot, meaning that Browns fans — and opposing offenses — only got a glimpse of what is to come with Garrett and Ogbah together on the field.
Danny Shelton was joined by rookies Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley, who showed some flashes toward the end of the season, to produce a solid effort on the interior of the defensive line.
Those five should be a lock for the roster this fall, which admittedly is not going very far out on a limb. The only question will come when the Browns decide if they are going to pick up Shelton’s fifth-year option, a decision that has to be made by the beginning of May.
As for the rest of the players, we’ve likely seen the last of Orchard in a Browns uniform as he was one of the most-invisible players on the defense when he was on the field in 2017. Outside of a brief stretch near the end of his rookie season, Orchard has not done much to ensure a roster spot.
Nassib could be in a similar situation since he was not drafted by the current front office regime, but while he is not a starter, when he is on the field Nassib always seems to be in the middle of things, so he should be safe.
Meder, like Ogbah, finished the year on injured reserve, which opened the door for Brantley to receive more playing time. Meder is valuable as a role player, but that doesn’t mean the Browns shouldn’t look to make a depth upgrade at defensive tackle.
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The team will also likely look to add another defensive end in the draft to go along with Garrett and Ogbah and give the team a three-player rotation to give opposing quarterbacks a headache on a regular basis.