July 24, 2014

Banner Report: The Linebackers

Banner Repor HighYou 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.

Today, we kick things off with a look at the linebacking position. The Browns will be moving from Dick Jauron’s 4-3 to Ray Horton’s 3-4. Due to injuries and Bountygate suspensions, the 2012 linebacking corps was in a constant state of flux. The 2013 Browns will not only require more from the linebackers, but could potentially look like a completely reformed group when it’s all said and done.

What do we have on the roster, and what players might be available to add? Let’s dig in and see.

2012 Season

LB table

D’Qwell Jackson led the team in tackles and snaps played again. Had it not been for a concussion that forced him out of a game, he might have played every snap for the Browns this season. Due to injuries to Gocong, Acho and Fujita, undrafted free agent Craig Robertson saw extended time and was a pleasant surprise for the Browns this season. James-Michael Johnson also saw his season cut short due to injury. He figures to benefit most from the switch in defensive scheme, likely challenging for an ILB spot.

Contract Situation

Acho- 2013: $405,000, 2014: $570,000, 2015: $660,000, 2016: Free Agent

Carder- 2013: $480,000, 2014: $570,000, 2015: $660,000, 2016: Free Agent

Fort- 2013: $480,000, 2014: $570,000, 2015: Restricted Free Agent

Fujita- 2013: Free Agent

Gocong- 2013: $4.45 million (+ $100,000 workout bonus), 2014: $4.7 million (+ $100,000 workout bonus), 2015: Free Agent

Jackson- 2013: $3.6 million (+ $1.3 million roster bonus + $100,000 workout bonus), 2014: $2.6 million (+ $4 million roster bonus + $100,000 workout bonus), 2015: $6.4 million (+ $500,000 roster bonus + $300,000 workout bonus), 2016: $7 million (+ $500,000 roster bonus + $300,000 workout bonus), 2017: Free Agent

Johnson- 2013: $480,000, 2014: $570,000, 2015: $660,000, 2016: Free Agent

Maiava- 2013: Free Agent

Moten- 2013: $555,000, 2014: Restricted Free Agent

Robertson- 2013: $480,000, 2014: Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Browns Roster Upgrade Advisory: HIGH

This unit has two strikes against it from the start. First, the switch to a base 4-3 means the team will need more bodies to begin with. Second, it isn’t exactly loaded with Pro-Bowl players. On the plus side, outside of Jackson and Gocong it is a very cheap unit. (Stares at Jackson’s 2015 and 2016 contract numbers. He’ll be 32 in ’15? Anyone else nervous for D’Qwell?)

Scott Fujita, if he hasn’t played his last NFL snap, has most likely played his last in a Browns uniform. Maiava could be brought back. He reminds me a little of former Brown Mike Adams. No matter who the Browns bring in, events keep unfolding to put Maiava on the field.

Gocong and Jackson would make the most sense of this group to be on the inside. That is of course if Gocong returns healthy and strong. Robertson doesn’t have ideal size to play the outside in a 3-4, but he is the best of the group in pass coverage. We really have no idea what to expect from Acho, the sixth round pick from last year’s draft.  Johnson, Robertson and Fort do have two things going for them- they are athletic and they are young.

Using Ray Horton’s “big men who can run and little men who can hit” philosophy, I would say the Browns may have 3 starters from this group. The piece they are missing is an outside pass rush specialist.

Top 2013 Free Agents

Paul Kruger, DE/OLB, Ravens. Age: 27

Anthony Spencer, OLB, Cowboys. Age 29

Philip Wheeler, OLB, Raiders. Age: 28

Daryl Smith, OLB, Jaguars. Age: 31

Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 26

Shaun Phillips, DE/OLB, Chargers. Age: 32

Nick Barnett, OLB, Bills. Age: 32

Thomas Howard, OLB, Bengals. Age: 30

Manny Lawson, OLB, Bengals. Age: 29

Justin Durant, OLB, Lions. Age: 27

Erin Henderson, OLB, Vikings. Age: 27

Brad Jones, ILB, Packers. Age: 27

Dannell Ellerbe, ILB, Ravens. Age: 27

Brian Urlacher, ILB, Bears. Age: 35

Larry Grant, ILB, 49ers. Age: 28

Rotoworld.com predicts the Browns will sign Paul Kruger to a five-year, $60 million contract. (That means absolutely nothing in reality. Just thought I’d throw it in there. They also have the Browns getting CB Keenan Lewis.) Kruger and Anthony Spencer are the top two linebackers available this year according to most pieces available.

I went back and looked at Kruger’s games against the Browns. He had a sack working against Schwartz, and a few passed defensed. Here’s a look at his work covering a pass in the flat-

Kruger PD 1

He’s lined up as the OLB opposite Thomas, but he will drop into coverage immediately.

Kruger PD2

You can see him reading Weeden’s eyes.

Kruger PD 3

He makes a nice break on the ball.

Kruger PD 4

He’s able to close and break up the pass.

This was not an exhaustive film study on Kruger by any stretch. I looked at a couple dozen plays from the two games against Cleveland. Kruger had a fantastic finish to the regular season for the Ravens recording 7.5 sacks over the final 8 weeks of the regular season. In addition, he had 4 sacks in the postseason, including a pair in the Super Bowl. His 9 regular season sacks were 2 better than Jabaal Sheard’s team high 7. He could easily be an every down LB in Ray Horton’s system.

But that’s if the Ravens let him get away.

There’s no doubt that Baltimore would love to resign Kruger, Ellerbe and Ed Reed. Realistically it isn’t in the salary cap cards for them. So who do they target? The Browns could swoop in and offer Kruger or Ellerbe more, the question remains will they and are they worth it? Kruger had 6.5 sacks total in his three years prior to 2012. Did he come into his own or was it something else? Can he be as good on a team with fewer defensive superstars?

Anthony Spencer could certainly be an option. His 11 sacks in 2012 matched his career total. He also totaled 95 tackles form his OLB spot. He picked a good time to have a career year. Dallas is unlikely to franchise Spencer again, and even less likely to have the cap space to sign him to a deal close to what he could get on the market.

The 2013 Draft Class

Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon, Height: 6-6. Weight: 248

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia, Height: 6-2. Weight: 242

Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU, Height: 6-4. Weight: 241

Alec Ogletree, OLB Georgia, Height: 6-3. Weight 242

Khaseem Greene, OLB/S, Rutgers, Height: 6-1. Weight: 241

Arthur Brown, OLB, Kansas State, Height: 6-0. Weight: 241

Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford, Height: 6-3. Weight: 244

Trevardo Williams, OLB, Connecticut, Height: 6-1. Weight: 241

Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss, Height: 6-3. Weight: 250

Sio Moore, OLB, Connecticut, Height: 6-1. Weight: 245

Brandon Jenkins, DE/OLB, Florida State, Height: 6-2. Weight: 251

Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State, Height: 6-1. Weight: 243

Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M, Height: 6-1. Weight: 229

Zaviar Gooden, OLB, Missouri, Height: 6-1. Weight: 234

These are generally considered the top OLB prospects in this year’s draft. I’ve seen mock drafts with Jordan, Jones and Mongo going to the Browns at #6. (For the record, I counted Ezekiel Ansah as a DE though some call him a hybrid DE/OLB.)

Players like Hodges, Porter and Gooden could easily be on the board when the Browns are on the clock in round 3 should the Browns decide to go elsewhere with their first round pick.

The Browns will need to add 2-3 linebackers in my opinion, even if they bring back Maiava. If they plan to use Sheard as a hybrid player, perhaps 1-2. I’ve always said the best way to add depth to your organization is bringing in someone at the top. Kruger or Spencer would help tremendously. I lean towards Kruger because of where he came from. Hate them all you want, but the Ravens have had a special group defensively for years. Kruger could help bring some of that toughness to the Browns. A second B-list free agent would be nice as well. The team has some youth. They could use a few productive vets.

  • Robbie S

    I would love to see us sign a free agent linebacker, and still draft a linebacker at 6. It could easily take this from a position of weakness, to a potential strength.

    -I’m hoping for Ziggy, I just love that speed he has.

  • HoosOnFirst

    The “total tackles” column must include special teams tackles. Otherwise, there is no way Tank Carder had seven. Even considering that, Craig Robertson’s tackles/snaps played percentage is very impressive. I know he is not the biggest guy but he should have a role in the new defense.

  • depressed@work

    Ed Reed

  • matt underwood

    I agree – I loved Robertson play last year. I was impressed

  • mgbode

    I agree, but I still only want him on the field in pass situations unless injuries force him to play more.

  • mgbode

    yes, sign and draft. we need starters and depth.

    I don’t know how to separate the top LBers in the draft as they all have huge ? and huge upside. I just hope we pick the right guy :)

  • dwhit110

    Welp so much for Anthony Spencer. Dallas is franchising him.

  • mgbode

    most likely for the best. he would have been extremely expensive with all the teams transitioning to the 3-4.

  • Henry Brown

    Carder was on the field in a lot of goal line/red zone situations.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Signing Kruger would be a double win therefore it won’t happen but hey, we can all dream!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Agree 1000%!

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Rick, that picture of Banner’s head for your graphic is about the best you could hope to find. It’s perfection.

  • BenRM

    I, like many, wonder if Kruger’s production is a result of playing with Suggs.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Possibly a few years ago but not last year. In the games I saw Kruger play he didn’t have alot of help as far as an opposing end rusher.

  • mgbode

    however, it should be noted that Suggs came back in week7 last year (wk8 w/ full snaps) and 7.5 of Kruger’s 9 sacks were after Suggs came back.

  • Kildawg

    We can poach more than one former ratbird with Kruger at LB and Williams at CB. Would also be good for us to trade down if possible if a team like the 49ers or Rams falls in love with a guy like Warmack, Milliner, and/or Moore. Then again, a team like Dallas (who tagged Spencer) might want to make a splash in the draft by getting a complement/replacement, leaving the Browns in a prime situation. We need picks, especially in the 2nd round area.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Hey who asked you fella? Quit ruining my comments with all your darn facts!

  • mgbode

    :)
    I’m not saying you are wrong. Just pointing it out.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I smelled what u were cookin’!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Trading down probably makes the most sense and I hate it but it makes the most sense.

  • steve-o

    The Ravens will probably find a way to keep Kruger. I doubt we’d spend 60M on him anyway. It’s more likely we’ll bring in a veteran like Shuan Phillips on a short contract and draft someone to learn behind him. Maybe we’ll also add a former Cardinal LB for depth.

    As for our existing LB’s, all our FA’s are as good as gone. It can’t hurt to bring all those still under contrtact into camp and see where/if they fit. I’m guesing only three or four will actually make the final roster. With that salary, Gocong will have to do something special to avoid being cut.

  • maxfnmloans

    The Raven I’d like to see them get is Dannell Ellerbee. He’s 27, played at a high level in the SEC and isn’t going to break the bank like Kruger. If we were to offer Ellerbee a front loaded contract we could force Baltimore’s hand a bit, as well.

    I just get the feeling that someone is going to come in with a ludicrous offer for Kruger, and in order to sign him, the Browns would have to go to plaid. Ellerbee, meanwhile is a solid LB and can likely had for a nice price (relatively speaking), or a good sized signing bonus. Theoretically.

  • mgbode

    and allow us to not rely on Gocong’s health and ability to play ILB in a 3-4

  • Harv 21

    Even your pretty negative assessment of current LBs is overly kind, Rick. DQ is our best by far, but he made big plays in the 4-3 because his strength is his speed in running to the ball, not shedding blockers before making plays as he must in the 3-4. He’s thrived in the 4-3, where he used to get big tackle totals in the secondary but without many big plays. Robertson looks to me like another speed guy who may be too light. Without a second rounder I think they have to try and find the impact LB in the first round and hope Ray Horton can work enough smoke and mirrors to hide deficiencies until they can accumulate and coach up more physically suited candidates.

  • mgbode

    “former Cardinal LB”

    I like Groves

  • mgbode

    I think you need to see how Horton used Daryl Washington in AZ to appreciate why many are not worried about DQ at ILB.

  • maxfnmloans

    I don’t think Gocong is going to be on the roster too much longer.

    Jamison Hensley has something up at ESPN about how the Ravens need to get a deal done with him because they are pretty thin in the middle themselves right now. He also noted the Browns “with their switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4″ could be interested in him as well. Although, the way he words it make me think that was more him spitballing due to our switch moreso than him having any inside info

  • mgbode

    yeah, if we could get K.Lewis and Ellerbe, then we would hurt 2 division rivals in areas they would be weak without those players while helping ourselves.

  • http://twitter.com/RickWFNY rick grayshock

    Scott gets the credit for that graphic.

  • Leon

    I’d prefer if Browns upgraded the linebacking core through the draft, preferably by drafting Dion Jordan. I’ve watched his tape and he’s great at pass-rushing and coverage

  • Jaker

    I think Ellerbe is gunna get paid by the Ravens, and Spencer got the franchise tag, so i think the priority shifts to Kruger. I think Groves would add nice, affordable depth behind Sheard and possibly Kruger, and I wouldn’t be against drafting Ansah or Jones(although I’m now on the Milliner bandwagon). Making LBs a strength would be nice.

    Also, there are plenty of CBs available in FA as well, so depth can be added there as well, thus letting us focus on the draft for LBs

  • Robbie S

    It’s time for us to draft impact players high,. There’s certainly enough ‘middle of the road’ players on the Browns right now. Plus we have a 2nd round pick, we just used it already!

  • mgbode

    that seems to be the great and terrible thing about this draft. FA should clue us into which direction we NEED to go in for the draft. but, if we go LBer heavy in FA, then we need a CB and there is only 1 with a top10 grade (though I do like Xavier Rhodes). It would tip everyone else off to that as well.

  • porckchop

    I’m hopefull the Browns don’t push their offers past “ludicrous”.

  • Jaker

    That’s why it’s important to make a signing at CB in FA. Someone like Cason or Munnerlyn, or hell, even both of them. Right now it’s our biggest weakness, in depth and at starter. Another Haden injury and we have zero (0!) reliable CBs. We can’t rely on any one player being available in the draft, so it’s important to add depth at OLB and CB in FA.

    That way we don’t run into an “all our eggs in one basket” type problem in the draft.

  • Kevin

    Please don’t ever mention Cason as a possibility. I’m hearing this way too often purely (I hope) because of the Norv SD connection. This guy is Eric Wright horrible. Keenan Lewis is the obvious preference, and if we miss on that there are good corners available in FA like Sean Smith or Chris Houston. Even someone like Greg Toler (AZ/Horton) is infinitely more attractive than Cason.

  • Kevin

    Not only is the salary a problem, but Gocong should be cut for performance/skills or lack thereof as well.

  • mgbode

    hey, we’ll always have that Pitt goalline stand to remember fondly. I think Mendenhall is still recovering from Gocong stoning him 4 straight times.

  • mgbode

    I don’t think Sean Smith or Chris Houston gets away (same for TB’s Biggers).

    Keenen Lewis is the obvious choice and Pitt just signed Gay out of worry they might lose him.

    I like what Toler did in limited snaps (AZ).

    Or, we could always take a flier on DJ Moore (Chi) who played well filling in for Tillman in previous seasons and might want a real chance to start.

  • Kevin

    Kruger makes the team and the LB corp infinitely better and makes a divisional rival weaker adding even more value. We should definitely try to sign him even though we will be overpaying. We should cut Gocong and most of Kruger’s salary will be paid for by that singular move. I like DQ and JMJ in the middle with Fort and I’m excited to see the further development with Carder and Robertson. We should absolutely let Maiva and Fujita walk. I’m a huge Dion Jordan fan, and we should run to the podium should he be there at #6. If he’s not there, I think we should try to do everything we can to trade back, and that opens the door to a Jamie Collins/Trevardo Williams/Sio Moore selection–which are the three guys that I’m very high on with the 2nd round selection.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Agreed, he should still see plenty of time in nickel packages… that seemed to be a perfect fit for him.

  • gregincali

    That was truly special… one of the few really memorable Browns moments since ’99.