Danny Shelton trade was business, not personal
By Joel W. Cade
The Cleveland Browns traded Danny Shelton on Saturday to the New England Patriots, a move that was a business decision and not a reflection on his talent.
The trade winds were blowing over the weekend with the Cleveland Browns pulling off trades that reshaped the team. Although not exactly to the proportions of the recent team overhaul performed by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Browns went a long way in an attempt to make themselves better at wide receiver, quarterback and defensive back. If the re-shaping was for better or worse is yet to be seen.
One of the more controversial moves over the weekend was the trade that sent defensive tackle Danny Shelton to the New England Patriots. Before looking at this move, let’s walk down Danny Shelton memory lane.
Shelton was the guy who wore a lavalava to the 2015 NFL Draft. A lavalava is “a rectangular cloth of cotton print worn like a kilt or skirt in Polynesia and especially in Samoa.” His lavalava was the talk of the draft, and Shelton even began selling them through his now defunct website. Who can forget his famous bear hug of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on draft night?
But Shelton’s star came to Cleveland already losing its luster. He was drafted to play nosetackle in the 3-4 system of then head coach Mike Pettine. Usually a 3-4 nose tackle is a space eater who takes up double teams. But this was not Shelton’s game in college.
At the University of Washington, Shelton was known for his hustle and ability to penetrate gaps. His game was to cause disruption in the backfield. Although his game was great in college, the nose tackle role in the NFL, particularly the scheme Pettine was running, called for a space-eating, double-gap player.
Shelton’s rookie season was a learning curve on how to play a double gap scheme at nose. He struggled to take on double teams. He also tried too often to penetrate and cause disruption instead of allowing linebackers to clean up the mess.
The departure of Pettine brought the return of former defensive coordinator Ray Horton as head coach Hue Jackson’s defensive coordinator. After extending his old contract, Horton was fired again a year later.
For Horton, Shelton once again was called upon to be a space-eating, double-teamed style nosetackle. This continued to not fit his bill. However, during the 2016 NFL season, Shelton was much improved at the position as he effectively learning to take on double teams.
Exit Ray Horton after one year. Enter Gregg Williams. By this time, Shelton was on his second head coach and third defensive coordinator in three seasons.
Under Williams, Shelton played the 1 technique lining up shaded on the center. Once again he was asked to eat up space and take on double teams. By this time, Shelton had figured out that his was his job in the NFL and how he would make his money.
The 1 technique in Williams’ aggressive gap defense needs to be able to both command double teams and penetrate the gaps depending on the call. It seemed that Shelton’s skill set would finally be put to its proper use. Except that he was never quick enough to penetrate gaps like he did in college.
Over the course of the 2017 season, he became a two-down run stopper as he was usually replaced for third downs and passing downs.
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On the other side, rookies Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley showed flashes of being able to penetrate against the run and effectively rush the passer. The smaller, quicker guys were eating into Shelton’s playing time.
Ogunjobi played the 1 technique in a similar style defense in college at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Brantley played the 1 technique during his time at the University of Florida. Both players spent time at the 1 and 3 techniques this past season. The Browns may feel it is time to move on from Shelton and give the rookies more playing time.
If that is the case, then Shelton’s future comes down to his contract. As a first-round contract comes with a standard four years with a fifth-year option. That fifth year must be picked up before the start of the fourth year. Thus, this offseason was decision time for the Browns and Shelton.
The Browns needed to pick up his option for the fifth year, negotiate a longterm contract or let him test free agency after the 2018 season. Normally the team would pick up the fifth year as an overture to negotiating a contract extension.
It seems the Browns did not want to pick up the option or sign Shelton to an extension. The options left would be to let him play out his contract or trade him. If they let him play out his contract and leave, the absolute most they could have gotten in return is a third-round compensatory pick.
Trading Shelton to another team was the other option. Trading Shelton to the Patriots netted the Browns a slightly better pick than the best compensatory pick they would have gotten. Thus, if the Browns were done with Shelton and ready to hand the position over the younger players, the trade makes sense.
Does this trade make the Browns better? Probably not. Now Ogunjobi, Brantley and Jamie Meder must make up for the run stopping ability that just left town.
Is building a team from the ground up easy? No. Growth comes with pain. Shelton was a good player, no doubt. But for the rebuild of the defensive line to move forward, Shelton with all his glorious run stopping ability had to move on.
Next: Jarvis Landry not a game changer
It is sad to see such a talented player and huge personality leave the Browns.
But as they say, this is show business: The rebuild most go on!
But this one hurts . . .