The Cleveland Browns have released veteran defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson on Friday, moving on from a player who had been a key member of the defense the past two season.
The move saves the Browns $12 million in cap space but also leaves a massive hole in the middle of their defense.
Richardson joined the Browns as an unrestricted free agent in 2019. Last season, he started all 16 games and totaled 64 tackles, 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He also showed off a versatile skill set, being able to flex out to defensive end at times when injuries ravaged the position.
Richardson was a first-round pick by the Jets in 2013 and was voted the 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was named a Pro Bowler in 2014 and won the 2019 PFWA Dino Lucarelli Good Guy award.
The Browns had just under $11 million in cap space left after signing Jadeveon Clowney on Thursday to a one-year deal worth $8 million, with another $2 million in incentives, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. She also noted that with that number, the Browns have to allot $9 million for their rookie pool.
There’s also the fact the Browns are thinking about long-term extensions for both quarterback Baker Mayfield and running back Nick Chubb. This move could assist in getting those done.
With Richardson gone, the Browns will rely on Malik Jackson, Andrew Billings and 2020 third-round pick Jordan Elliott to fill the void. The Browns recently re-signed journeyman Sheldon Day this offseason. Cleveland lost Larry Ogunjobi — who started 46 games over the last three season — to Cincinnati this offseason.
Malik Jackson Set for Larger Role With Browns
Richardson is, unfortunately, a cap-space casualty, and he will be missed. And his departure means that Myles Garrett will be the only returning member of the starting defensive line from a year ago.
Richardson was one of the most consistent Browns on the defensive side of the ball, but the move signals the team is happy with what they have at the position after a busy offseason. There’s also the fact that Richardson was a John Dorsey guy and might not have fit the vision new general manager Andrew Berry has for the roster, especially with his large cap figure.
Berry has seemed very game for giving players one-year “prove-it” deals on defensive. Jackson was signed this offseason after some down years in Philadelphia and is on an affordable one-year deal worth $3.75 million.
Jackson won Super Bowl 50 with Denver and made the Pro Bowl in 2017 while with Jacksonville. The big man has recorded 267 tackles, 35 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 25 pass deflections in his 10-year career.
He gave some credit to Richardson when he inked a deal with the Browns.
“I know [Sheldon] Richardson has been doing a great job over there. It is one of those things where I am just coming in just trying to be a supportive role and not try to come in and do too much or act like I am an end all be all,” Jackson said. “What they have been doing over there has been great. I am just coming in and trying to just add a little bit, and like I said, push that quarterback out to the ends, and hopefully, Myles and the ends can do the same thing to make that quarterback jump up so we have a good partnership.”
Andrew Billings Returning to Browns Lineup
The Browns will be getting the services of Billings back after he decided to sit out last season due to the risks of COVID-19.
“I noticed the difference in not being beaten on, but I also noticed the difference of not taking any snaps, too,” Billings told the Browns official site this offseason. “It’s a bit of a give-and-take, but I’m planning on getting as many reps as possible to get ready for this season.”
Billings collected 35 tackles and one sack as a starter with the Bengals in 2019. He’s eager to find his place on the Browns defense and will have more opportunity with Richardson out of the picture.
“I wanted to be out there in practice. I wanted to be in those meetings. I wanted to be in those games. Coming into next year, it’s even more important for me to get out there and work harder because there’s a team out there that I want to be a part of, so I have to find my place.”