4 former Cleveland Browns free agents worth signing

Nov 15, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball as Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (98) tackles him during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 15, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball as Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (98) tackles him during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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Some surprising talent is still available on the free agent market, and some of the players have connections to the Cleveland Browns

There are several former Cleveland Browns on the free agent market, and at least four of them are worth signing for at least a look-see this summer. That does not mean they are All-Pro, but they are potentially good enough to play in the NFL and make the team better.

Let’s ask first of all, if you and I were working in the front office, what would we advise Andrew Berry to do at this point in the preseason? We would probably want to identify the biggest weaknesses and plug the holes with the best value possible: the best realistically available talent at the lowest possible cost.

We probably don’t want to blow huge amounts of cap dollars, knowing that the team has to carry over significant dollars into 2023 in order to pay several large contracts, headlined by Deshaun Watson’s $55 million dollar due bill. There’s some chance that they might escape that if Watson is suspended long enough, because the clock will reset on his contract, but let’s assume for the time being that the team needs to be on a financial diet. So no extravagant signings can be contemplated for us, as junior front office members.

The needs that the Browns have are, in order: a run-stopping defensive tackle, a situational run-stopping linebacker, a third string quarterback and a third string tight end. It turns out, for whatever reason, that some of the best free agents still out there are actually former Browns, starting with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.

Former Cleveland Browns free agents worth signing

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (98) sacks Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during the first half of an NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal] /

4. Sheldon Richardson

Richardson was originally signed for way too much money by John Dorsey. His deal was for three years, $36 million, but only partly guaranteed. He had been making $8 million per year with the Minnesota Vikings prior to this.

The Browns terminated his deal after two years, which saved them $11 million dollars, whereupon he returned to the Vikes for $3.6 million. That vindicates Andrew Berry’s judgment, but there could be $7.5 million worth of hurt feelings also.

Richardson did an awesome job for the Browns in 2019 and 2020, coming up with big plays against the run and also providing a pass rush. Cleveland also lost Larry Ogunjobi to the Bengals as a free agent. Ogunjobi showed talent with the Browns, but not necessarily great consistency. Ogunjobi will now be a Steeler, by the way.

However, the Browns never adequately replaced Richardson. They were thinking that they had a bargain in ex-Bengal Andrew Billings. However he sat out 2020 due to Covid concerns, and when he showed up in 2021 it was clear that he was not the same player that he was in Cincinnati.

He made one tackle in six games with the Browns and was given his release. They also signed free agents Malik Jackson (still available) and Malik McDowell, and both made big plays at the beginning of the year. However, they faded as the season went on.

Veteran Sheldon Day bounced back and forth between the practice squad and active roster and made a contribution. They also drafted Jordan Elliott out of the University of Missouri in 2020 and Tommy Togiai from The Ohio State University in 2021. Neither are ranked as anything but replaceable by Pro Football Focus, though they are young enough to improve, perhaps dramatically. They need to improve to stay in the leage.

Recently the Browns added DT Taven Bryan from Jacksonville, who has a reputation for playing the pass better than the run.

Richardson will turn 32 next November, meaning he’s at the tail end of an excellent career, but he’s old, not dead. There’s every reason to believe there is still some gas in the tank and teaming him with Bryan might help to form a really good rotation.

The Browns would still like to see one or two other defensive tackles on the roster step up their game. If it doesn’t happen, they may not make it out of summer camp. Cleveland could very well add another player from the waiver wire at roster cutdown time.

Based on only on conjecture, this fan has suggested that a 3-3-5 alignment might work for the Browns because they have very good run-stopping middle linebackers (Sione Takitaki, Jacob Phillips, Willie Harvey) who are not getting enough snaps in the usual 4-2-5 base alignment, and so they might want to play some 3-3-5.

Where’s Danny Shelton when we need him? Someone like the 335-lb Shelton might be helpful in shutting down the run and plugging up the middle of the line.

The traditional 4-3-4 commends itself twice a year when the Browns play Baltimore and they often play 22 personnel (two tight ends, a halfback and a fullback)

Speaking of very good middle linebackers, Joe Schobert is still available also.