The Cleveland Browns addressed one of their biggest needs this offseason by signing Sheldon Richardson, but did it take a bad contract to do so?
Entering this offseason, building up the defensive line was the biggest need for the Browns. And it didn’t take long for Cleveland to address that need, trading for Vernon and agreeing to a deal with Richardson before the new league year opened in March.
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Both moves received initial praise, but it was Richardson’s addition that filled the biggest need, a reliable No. 2 defensive tackle next to Ogunjobi. Last season, the Browns did not receive much production from Trevon Coley, their No. 2 defensive tackle in 2018. He seemed to be overwhelmed playing as a starter and it ultimately impacted the entire defense.
But even though Richardson’s signing addressed an important need for the Browns, Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report believes Richardson’s three-year, $37 million deal is the worst contract the Browns have.
"The 2013 first-round pick is coming off a decent season with the Minnesota Vikings. But he’s now on his fourth team in as many years, and he hasn’t gotten back to the Pro Bowl since earning a nod as a sophomore in 2014.He’ll turn 29 this season and might not be worth his $12.3 million average annual salary, a rate that makes him the ninth-highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL. – Gagnon, Bleacher Report"
As Gagnon points out, Richardson has not been the same player since he reached the Pro Bowl in 2014. In 2014, Richardson made 66 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, eight sacks, one forced fumble and 21 quarterback hits. Since that season, Richardson has played in 57 games and has made 111 total tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 47 quarterback hits.
The Browns were willing and able to give out the contract they did to Richardson because of the massive amount of cap space they had entering this offseason, so Richardson’s deal will not negatively impact the Browns right away. But as Cleveland’s cap space dwindles over the next couple of seasons, that is when the Browns may feel the impact of Richardson’s contract.
Cleveland may have been forced to overpay for Richardson as the defensive tackle was looking to cash in on his final contract before he turned 30-years-old. And for the price the Browns paid to sign Richardson, they will be hoping playing on a stacked defensive line will help him return to producing like he did in 2014.
However, if he does not return to his 2014 form and continues to play like he has the past four seasons, it may be hard to justify Richardson’s salary in 2021, the final season of his contract. Richardson could prove to be a high-risk, high-reward signing for the Browns.