Browns

The addition of Mychal Kendricks adds intrigue to the linebacker corps

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The saga of will he or won’t he sign with the Cleveland Browns seems to be over. On Monday, former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks agreed to join the Browns, according to his agent Doug Hendrickson. The first report on his potential signing came from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Sunday, but Kendricks made a fierce contradiction on Twitter that the report was not true. Another report came out later in the day from Yahoo Sports’ Jordan Schultz, saying that a one-year contract worth $3.5 million was struck between the two parties. But, once again Kendricks denied the reports. At last, though, his agent looks like he is ending the weird saga and announcing the agreement with the Browns.

Following Tuesday’s practice, head coach Hue Jackson made it official, stating that he was ecstatic when the Browns signed Kendricks and knows that his newest linebacker can do a number of different things to improve the defense.

“It was very exciting for me. He is a really good football player. Obviously, he brings a unique skillset to our football team. He can cover. He can rush. He can play the run. He can play the pass. He can play at all three different [linebacker] spots, which I think is very good,” Jackson said. “His versatility is outstanding. As I said last week, if we have chances to add really good football players to our team, then we will. That is what we have done.”

The Cleveland Browns will be adding a really talented player to their defensive depth chart. Kendricks was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of California. He is still just 27 years old and entering his seventh season in the NFL with all of his career being in Philadelphia. In his six seasons in the NFL, he has 459 tackles, 14 sacks, 26 passes defended, three interceptions and six forced fumbles. Last season in 15 games (14 starts) with the Eagles, he posted 75 tackles, a sack and nine passes defended. He was instrumental in helping the Philadelphia defense replace the injured linebacker Jordan Hicks midway through last season.

So, the Browns are definitely getting a very talented player to add to their already stacked linebacker unit. The Browns already boast two Pro Bowlers in Joe Schobert and Jamie Collins, along with one of the defense’s biggest leaders, Christian Kirksey. So, the depth of the unit is extremely strong. The unit is filled with athletic linebackers, who can fly around the field. But, how will the Browns get all four linebackers enough playing time?

The Browns played a lot of last season with all three linebackers on the field at once, but in a passing league, defenses are in Nickel a lot, meaning the defense only plays with two linebackers. So, what will the team do with four talented linebackers? Well, we could see the Browns moving Collins or Kendricks. Kendricks is a talented pass rusher for a linebacker, with 14 sacks in his career. Collins is built like an edge rusher, so physically he could handle the move. Thus, the Browns could go that route and move the linebackers around in different roles so they can have all four linebackers receive consistent playing time.

Once again leaning on his versatility, Jackson believes Kendricks will play both as an inside and outside linebacker, depending on the type of package defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is using.

“I think we will start him out in the middle (linebacker) and also, start him out on the outside. As you know, (defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams) plays a lot of different packages so he will be a little bit at every place,” the head coach stated. “I think he is very bright. I think that he can learn it all. When he walks out there, I think he will start to move.”

However, the other option could be that Jamie Collins could be on his way out. Collins has not produced since coming over from New England. He missed most of last season with an MCL injury. The Browns could be worried that Collins cannot regain his top-level talent after suffering the injury. Or they could just be unenthused with how he has played for them so far in his two seasons. He has a hefty contract, so that is another factor that could lead to his departure. Though, I do not think this is the most likely scenario.

Jackson seemed to go along with that, admitting that you can never have too many good football players on your team and when you do, you find a way to play and maximize all of them to make your team (and the player) the best it can be.

“You know how Gregg is. Gregg is creative that way. I think that if you are a good football player and you can make plays for us, Gregg is going to find a way to get you onto the field. It is a good problem to have. Like we said, if we can keep adding good football players to this team – again, kudos to (general manager) John Dorsey and his group for continuing to add good players to our football team.”

I believe the Browns have added Kendricks because they could not resist adding another talented player to the defense. The front office wants to build depth throughout the roster, so his addition does that in the linebacker unit. That unit could be one of the best and deepest linebacker units in the entire league. I think the Browns like the versatility the four linebackers provide. All four are athletic and most of them are strong in coverage. I believe the Browns believe they can mix and match these four linebackers in different packages and roles. It will be really intriguing to watch how the four are used this coming season. Now, hopefully, Browns defensive coordinator will use these players in the right situation, contrary to how he coached the defense last season.

Update: Mike Clay of ESPN notes that Gregg Williams used three and four linebacker sets more than any other defensive coordinator in the NFL during the 2017 season.