The Browns make a surprising and puzzling roster move by parting with Sheldon Richardson
Richardson started every game over the past two seasons, playing fairly well despite lacking a true one-tech to play alongside.
That was supposed to Andrew Billings in 2020, but Billings opted out. Richardson is still a quality player at the age of 30, and moving on from him does make the team worse.
He was owed $13.6 million this season, which is more than he is worth. However, he was guaranteed just $1.6 million of that amount, which made him a restructure/extension candidate if the Browns were to need more cap space. Based on how they have structured their free agency deals this offseason, it seemed like Cleveland would not need to make any cap-saving transactions, but here we are.
Larry Ogunjobi also departed in free agency, signing with the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns interior defensive line will look very different in 2021, with Billings and Malik Jackson as the presumed starters with second-year man Jordan Elliott rotating in. With how often defensive coordinator Joe Woods likes to keep his tackles fresh, the Browns are going to need four quality inside players, and they have two-and-a-half at the moment.
There are still some decent veteran options on the free agency market, but it appears that the Browns will need to add a defensive tackle rather early in the 2021 NFL Draft, and that’s not a good thing, because this is a very weak class for the position; the player whom most consider the top prospect, Alabama’s Christian Bamore, is a second-round pick in many mock drafts.
Richardson’s release will net the team about $12 million in cap space to add onto their ~$10 million in room at the moment. That number will decrease after signing the rookie class, but that’s still a healthy amount of rollover space. It would be wise for the team to continue rolling over a decent stack of cash to prepare for the massive contract extensions that are coming, including those for Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward, among others.
However, the Browns have a Super Bowl window over the next two seasons before those players get paid, so it is possible that shedding Richardson’s salary was a prerequisite for a move yet to be made. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Andrew Berry and Paul DePodesta-led front office, it’s that there’s always a plan.
It’s understandable from a financial perspective, but there’s no getting around the fact that the Browns are a worse football team than they were yesterday. We’ll just have to wait and see what the reasoning behind this move was, and how Cleveland will replace Sheldon Richardson.