The Cleveland Browns announced the release of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson on Friday, which is a cost-cutting move that’ll save the team $11 million in salary cap space for the 2021 season.
This leaves Cleveland with just under $21 million in cap room, which is more than enough to not only sign its incoming 2021 NFL Draft class, but also to take care of some other business on the personnel side.
Richardson’s departure leaves a hole on the Browns’ defensive front, featuring a suspect rotation of interior linemen led by free-agent acquisition Malik Jackson and 2020 opt out Andrew Billings.
While there’s a chance Richardson comes back at a reduced price, let’s assume he’s out of the picture. Here are three big moves Cleveland can make with Richardson leaving.
Give Nick Chubb a nice contract extension
While quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward are going to be big priorities next offseason, elite running back Nick Chubb is worthy of a contract extension right now.
Unlike Mayfield and Ward, whose fifth-year options will inevitably be picked up to keep them locked in through 2022, Chubb was a second-round pick who’s in the final year of his rookie deal.
All Chubb has done since entering the NFL is take the league by storm. Through three seasons, he has 3,557 yards rushing on 5.2 yards per tote and 28 touchdowns on the ground. Given how run-centric Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense is, Chubb is more valuable to Cleveland’s cause than most other replacement-caliber tailbacks.
Chubb’s blend of power, elusiveness and breakaway speed make him well worth a second contract. He comprises the all-business, blue-collar mentality the Browns have talked about, but haven’t been about in the past. That’s changed, and Chubb is a huge reason why. He should be rewarded in short order instead of being forced to play out one more season without his future secured.
Trade Odell Beckham Jr. for a high draft pick
It’s not that OBJ is an undesirable player. The argument can easily be made for keeping him: His first year in Cleveland was under the overwhelmed Freddie Kitchens, who got fired after one season. As the Browns adjusted to yet another new system in 2020, Beckham and Mayfield struggled to get on the same page before OBJ went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Other teams could use a No. 1-caliber wideout like Beckham more than Cleveland. Again, the rushing attack led by Chubb and Kareem Hunt is far more integral to the Browns’ identity than Mayfield slinging it all over the yard.
Mayfield already has great chemistry with Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins. The Browns have three legitimate pass-catching tight ends in Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant. Hunt is a lethal receiving threat out of the backfield, and Chubb is making strides in that area, too.
Trading Beckham would save the Browns another $15.75 million this year and bring their projected cap space up to $54.2 million in 2022. That’s considerably more room for Cleveland to lock up Mayfield and Ward for the long haul.
The Washington Football Team and Chicago Bears spring to mind as non-conference, receiver-needy teams who’d likely part with either their first-round or first Day 2 pick in exchange for Beckham.
Select Christian Barmore 26th overall in NFL Draft
With the recent addition of Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end to pair opposite Myles Garrett, it appears general manager Andrew Berry is counting on rising second-year tackle Jordan Elliott to play a big role in 2021, along with Jackson and Billings.
But none of those players boast the explosive talent and upside of someone like Alabama’s Christian Barmore, who ranks 30th on Sportsnaut’s big board of top 100 prospects.
Interior defenders are sliding down mock drafts all across the Internet, so even if Barmore is the first player off the board at his position, it’s conceivable he’d still be available when the Browns go on the clock at No. 26.
Barmore is clearly the crown jewel of defensive tackles in the 2021 class. He earned defensive MVP honors in the Crimson Tide’s national championship triumph over Ohio State, facing multiple Buckeyes linemen who’ll play in the pros.
Adding in a freakish athlete like Barmore in between the likes of Garrett and Clowney would really make Cleveland among the best fronts in football — despite losing a key veteran presence in Richardson.