The Cleveland Browns had yet another underwhelming, lost season as they went 6-10. The season led to massive changes within the organization including at head coach and general manager. The Browns addressed their coaching position with the hiring of Kevin Stefanski and their general manager position with Andrew Berry, but there are a lot of things left to do this offseason. I have examined each of the team’s offensive position’s to-do list this offseason. We will now move to the defensive side of the ball in this series to look at the defensive line position.
The defensive line had so many expectations before the season, but it ended up being an injured, inconsistent position for the Browns last season. The interior of the line saw a strong year from Sheldon Richardson. But, beyond him, the interior defensive line was not good. Larry Ogunjobi was average at best with just spurts of impressive play. The rest of the interior defensive line was a mess with a group of below average linemen, like Devaroe Lawrence and Eli Ankou, who rotated throughout the season because no one could stick and actually play well enough to be trusted for backup role duty. Depth was non-existent.
On the edges, the Browns two starters, Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon, could just never get on the field at the same time for half of the season. Both players played well this season with Garrett having another elite-level season. But, the two both played in just 10 games with the two playing just eight games together. Vernon suffered nagging injuries throughout the season that caused him to miss time and be hampered some when he did play. Garrett was suspended for the last six games after the infamous fight against the Steelers. These two missing time put heavy pressure on the depth of the edge unit and the depth failed them. The head-scratching Genard Avery saga of him getting benched and then ultimately traded increased the depth problem. Chris Smith struggled to produce in a season fraught with tragedy, leading to his eventual release. In the ruins of these dismissals, the Browns relied on three young players, Chad Thomas, Bryan Cox Jr. and Porter Gustin. Thomas was propelled into a starter role and showed that he is nothing more than a backup, while Cox and Gustin showed a few glimpses of impressive play, but in the end, neither of these two players are guys who the team can fully rely on yet. The edge group became a fluid group with dwindling depth throughout the season.
1. Find out the status of Myles Garrett for 2020
This is priority No. 1 for the defensive line. The Browns must figure out what the status is for Myles Garrett entering the 2020 season. Hopefully, and what I expect, the league should reinstate Garrett for the beginning of the season. But, the Browns must get an answer so that they can plan for whatever the decision is going to be. Garrett is the Browns’ best defender and they need him. His playing status is paramount to the success of the defensive line.
2. Keep Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon together
There has been a lot of discussion about Olivier Vernon’s performance last season. Many have said that he underperformed. That is wrong. Yes, he missed crucial time with an injury, but when he played, he was productive and the second-best defender on the team. It is hard to find a player like Vernon in free agency or in the draft. There is no reason to give up on him now. The Browns need to keep Garrett and Vernon together for this coming season. The two, when healthy and both on the field together, form one of the best edge duos in the league. Especially with the lack of depth behind these two, it is immensely important to keep these two edge players to lead the defensive line next season.
3. Find a starting nose tackle
Sheldon Richardson was the only good and consistent interior defensive lineman for the Browns last season. After a strong rookie season in limited play, Ogunjobi’s career has not boosted since that point. He quite frankly was average at best last year. So, the Browns need to find a starting level nose tackle to play next to Richardson. I think Ogunjobi would be better suited in a role where he can move around the defensive line behind the starters, earning a little fewer snaps than he has been receiving as a starter. His propensity to head upfield rather than staying stout does not fit the need at nose tackle the Browns want next to Richardson. I think free agency is the best route to go to fill this need. There are three realistic candidates to fill this hole, D.J. Reader, Javon Hargrave and Leonard Williams.
4. Add depth on the edge
The Browns need to get more depth at the edge behind Garrett and Vernon. Chad Thomas simply does not cut it as the primary backup. The Browns need one or two edge players who can spell both Vernon and Garrett to limit their playing load. The team should look to get more players who can provide pass rushing ability. The team cannot go into next season with Thomas as the primary backup. There are a lot of edge rushers in free agency this offseason. So, one of them could be available at a cheaper price given the deep pool. The Browns could also use a mid-round pick to draft a young edge rusher.
5. Add backup depth on the interior defensive line
Along with getting a starting nose tackle, the Browns could use one other interior defensive lineman to put into their rotation. The lack of depth last season in the interior of the defensive line affected the entire defense and so the Browns must be better prepared to face injuries at this position. The Browns can go in any avenue (draft, free agency or trade) to address this need.