Cleveland Browns release Chris Smith, creating major depth concern

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BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 29: Orlando Brown #78 of the Baltimore Ravens blocks Chris Smith #50 of the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns released Chris Smith on Tuesday, creating a major concern about the depth at defensive end, and the defensive line as a whole.

The Cleveland Browns released veteran defensive end Chris Smith on Tuesday, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Smith was in the middle of the second year of a three-year, $12 million deal he signed with the Browns during the 2018 offseason.

Smith has played in nine games for the Browns this season, but only 18.25 percent of the team's defensive snaps. In that limited time on the field, the 27-year-old has only made one total tackle, one quarterback hit, and one pass defensed.

Since signing with the Browns, Smith has not made a big impact for the Cleveland defense. Playing in all 16 games last season, Smith made 21 total tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble.

The timing of the decision to release Smith comes at a curious time for the Browns because of their lack of depth at defensive end. With Myles Garrett suspended for the rest of the season, Smith was only one of the five active defensive ends. But two of the defensive ends on the depth chart, Bryan Cox and Porter Gustin, were either signed or promoted from the practice squad in the past three weeks.

However, the Browns have had even more issues with their depth because Olivier Vernon has been dealing with a knee injury. The injury forced him to miss three games, but was able to return against the Steelers. However, Vernon was clearly not 100 percent, hobbling off the field on several occasions. He only played 19 percent of Cleveland's defensive snaps against Pittsburgh.

Despite the Browns having a lack of depth up front, Smith has not seen an uptick in playing time. He only played 39 percent of the snaps against Miami. He also was an inactive against Pittsburgh, which may have foreshadowed this decision.

With their lack of depth up front, Cleveland has struggled to create a pass rush following the loss of Garrett. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has been forced to dial-up more blitzes to manufacture a pass rush, leaving the secondary vulnerable if the blitz does not get home.

Now that the Browns will be without Garrett and Smith, and potentially Vernon, Gustin seems to be the most likely to see consistent snaps at defensive end. Cleveland will also likely play Sheldon Richardson at end more frequently, something he has done the past two games and has played well in the role.

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If Vernon will be forced to miss another game due to his knee injury, the Browns will likely be forced to sign a free agent or promote Robert McCray, the only defensive linemen on their practice squad.