Free agent defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has already visited the Cleveland Browns and is now set to see what the Baltimore Ravens have to offer
The Cleveland Browns are in a high-stakes competition with arch-rival Baltimore for the services of Gerald McCoy, a star defensive tackle who was cut by Tampa Bay in a salary cap move. McCoy is rumored to have both Cleveland and Baltimore on his short list, and he has already visited Cleveland but came away without a contract. He’s scheduled to visit Baltimore on Tuesday.
There’s a very good chance that Baltimore and the Browns might both be playing meaningful football come December 22, when the Ravens invade FirstEnergy Stadium, and thus it makes a difference if he plays for one of these two teams.
The Browns have already added two parts to the puzzle in Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. These upgrades may be even more important than the additions on offense, because the offense wasn’t broken last year.
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However, the defense was weak, especially against the run, and that has to be upgraded if the Browns are to get past the Ravens this year. Yes, the Browns have Myles Garrett, but they didn’t have much help for him last year. The Browns managed to give up 2,163 yards against the run, which makes them bottom five.
Even more dire, the Ravens are now a premier running team in the NFL, and the Browns could use an extra defender to shut down the run. That may seem absurd given that the Ravens did not have a single back break the 800 rushing yard mark in 2018, but have a look at the following graphic, recalling that Lamar Jackson took over for veteran Joe Flacco in Game 10.
After doing nothing for the first nine games, suddenly the Ravens’ running game was number one in the NFL down the stretch, and they went 6-1.
The Browns have to stop the Baltimore running game if they are to have any chance to overtake them for the AFC North Championship. Two of my biggest soapboxes this off-season has been that the Browns need to improve their defense against the run; and that the Browns must not take Lamar Jackson and the Ravens lightly. Jeepers, if there is one thing we have learned since 1995, it’s to not take Baltimore lightly.
Look, if you want to say Lamar Jackson has the worst passing stats in the NFL, that is probably true, unless, of course, you are counting Nathan Peterman. If you want to say that he has trouble spotting the open receiver, that is also true. And if you want to say he holds the ball too long, that is true as well.
But it is not true that he is an ineffective quarterback. As a runner, he’s right up their with Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Saquon Barkley. He may not be great shakes as a passer, but he is potentially one of the best running quarterbacks in NFL history. Even more importantly, he forces the defense to commit eight or even nine players in the box, and the attention he draws causes ordinary runners to become stars.
You may laugh at Gus Edwards and his paltry 718 rushing yards for the season, but 663 of those yards came in the Jacksonian era, and he averaged 5.4 yards per carry over that stretch. Holy kazoo, if you look at the numbers, the Ravens averaged over 200 rushing yards per game under Jackson (and that includes their playoff game in which they were mostly shut down by the Chargers).
That pace corresponds to over 3,000 yards rushing in a single season. That’s completely nuts, so much so that the Ravens are a definite threat even if they are not throwing the ball quite as effectively as the rest of the NFL.
It is not purely about stopping Jackson, it is about stopping Gus Edwards and the other running backs in what is now shaping up as the number one rushing offense in the NFL. Hence it may make an important difference which side McCoy lines up on.
Division games are often not decided until the last minute of the game, and often come down to just a few points and a good play here or there might prove to be decisive. McCoy’s agents, Kelli Masters and Ben Dogra, are smart to set up a confrontation between Baltimore and Cleveland. Neither team wants to lose to the other, rightfully so.
With McCoy at age 31, it is probably better for everyone to have a rotation on the defensive line. Defensive linemen like to be fresh, get on the field and quickly blow up the offense and go sit down. They get cranky if they are on the field too long. Conversely the rushing offenses like to stay on the field a long time, and the edge goes to them when everyone on the field is sucking wind. Even with Sheldon Richardson and Gerald McCoy as the starters, there would be room for Trevon Coley and Larry Ogunjobi to come in and so some damage. It’s definitely a fit.
As far as the salary cap is concerned, the Browns have decided to push their chips to the center of the table. They have already dipped heavily into the carryover cap space that they brought into the season, and they can keep up he spend rate for another year or two.
Signing McCoy would have downstream consequences, but it might be that Mr. Dorsey wants to go for all the marbles in 2019. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Baltimore, and the Browns are going to have to stop the run in order to overtake the Ravens.
This is a very important off-season battle for both the Browns and the Ravens.