You may remember back in 2010 (you know the last time there was a complete overhaul in Berea) we wanted to give incoming President Mike Holmgren a hand evaluating the roster. We are nothing if not equal opportunity. The Browns have a completely new group in charge this year. Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner and Ray Horton take over a 5-11 team. They have plenty of important decisions to make about the roster between now and the 2013 NFL Draft. WFNY wants to offer our assistance with The Banner Position Reports. Previous reports:LB, QB, RB, DBs
Let me just crack my knuckles a little bit as I take on the position group that might need the smallest amount of work for the Browns this off-season. If there is any debate at all about Tom Heckert’s ability to acquire talent, I don’t think we should look at this position as proof that he needs to improve. Heckert inherited the premier player on the defensive line in Ahtyba Rubin, but other than that it was all Tom Heckert’s work.
Tom Heckert acquired Phil Taylor with the 21st pick in the 2011 draft after trading with Atlanta, who picked wide receiver Julio Jones. Regardless of whether you like that trade or not, Phil Taylor has done his part to make it look better. Despite being injured last season and only appearing in eight games, the talented mix of size and speed in Taylor is unmistakable. Watching a 6’3″ monster at 335 pounds chase plays down from behind is astonishing. Beyond that, Heckert found really good value in the draft with John Hughes (3rd round) Billy Winn (6th round,) and undrafted Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. Even with the departures of 4-3 scheme players like Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, the Browns’ defensive line appears to be in pretty good shape going into 2013.
The 2012 Season
As I said in the open, the 2012 season was incomplete for the defensive line because the team was missing starter Phil Taylor. Rubin also only played in 13 games this season due to injury. That being said, Rubin led the way on the defensive line with 30 tackles with Frostee Rucker following closely behind with 29. Phil Taylor had 12 in eight games, while John Hughes and Billy Winn racked up 18 and 19 respectively rotating in and out. Juqua Parker led the way with six sacks, but that won’t be very important going forward as Parker was a 4-3 defensive end and that position won’t be featured (at least not primarily) going forward. Also note that Jabaal Sheard had 36 tackles and seven sacks as a member of the defensive line. He’ll be considered a linebacker in 2013.
Phil Taylor – 2013 $1.1 million, 2014 $1.5 mil, 2015 FA
John Hughes – 2013 $480k, 2014 $570k, 2015 $660k, 2016 FA
Billy Winn – 2013 $480k, 2014 $570k, 2015 $660k, 2016 FA
Ishmaa’ily Kitchen – 2013 $480k, 2014 $570k, 2015 Rest. FA
Rubin received a $5.5 million signing bonus that will add to those salaries for a bigger cap number, but as long as the 26-year-old remains productive, it’s hard to imagine him not being worth his money to the end of his deal. Phil Taylor needs to stay healthy and show the same ability he showed in eight games a year ago, but then he’ll be one of the prime targets for a rich extension. One of the main reasons teams that have cap space don’t want to spend it all in free agency is the chance to pay their own people who’ve grown up in their systems. Speaking of which, John Hughes, Billy Winn and Kitchen appear to be a real luxury for the Browns considering their apparent ability to play already and the small amount of money they make going into their second years in the NFL.
Banner Report Advisory Alert: Low
Low low low low low. Five times low. It will a little more difficult to project how well everyone will fit going forward as the Browns migrate from the 4-3 to Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense. Thankfully, the Browns do have two candidates in Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin who approach the size requirements for a 3-4 nose tackle. Think Casey Hampton from the Steelers and Vince Wilfork from the Patriots. While Rubin and Taylor aren’t to that level, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for them to be in that conversation. These are two big, athletic beasts who could make a lot of Browns fans dreams come true if they get to play a full sixteen games together making life miserable for opposing offensive lines.
I don’t want to speak out of turn, but if the Browns were ever going to try to jump-start another part of the team by trading someone, this is the group I would expect them to work from. Granted, I like the idea of depth and the Browns have a particularly economical situation with this crew. Still, if they’re going to get this party started with additional draft picks, then you have to trade something to bring them in.
2013 Draft Class (Mel Kiper’s Big Board)
1. Ezekiel Ansah – BYU
2. Bjoern Werner – FSU
3. Datone Jones – UCLA
4. Damontre Moore – Texas A&M
5. Margus Hunt – SMU
1. Sharrif Floyd – FLA
2. Star Lotulelel – Utah
3. Sheldon Richardson – Missouri
4. Sylvester Williams – UNC
5. Kawann Short – Purdue
Free Agents via Scouts Inc.
Defensive Ends include:
Cliff Avril, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Bennett, Glenn Dorsey, Matt Shaughnessy, John Abraham, Ty Warren, Robert Geathers
Defensive Tackles include:
Casey Hampton, Cullen Jenkins, Chris Canty, Alan Branch, Isaac Sopoaga, Sedrick Ellis, Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Terrance Knighton, Richard Seymour
I know the Browns have been rumored to be interested in Cliff Avril, but whether it actually happens remains to be seen. Avril will command some big money, possibly to the tune of $10 million per year if you believe ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. Avril is a talented player, but that’s a big number for anyone who isn’t throwing the ball for your team or protect his backside. Still, it would definitely upgrade the Cleveland Browns pass rush instantly.
The Browns have a position of strength going for them on the defensive line and I think they’ll find themselves needing enough impact players in other positions that this one might not get much attention this off-season. While I wouldn’t complain because I think spending money on the defensive line is an efficient and generally predictable position to project, I think if it takes away from other focuses like cornerback or linebacker, it is a questionable use of effort and resources.