Free agent defensive linemen for the Browns to consider in 2021

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Jeff Risdon
·5 min read
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Defensive line is a tricky position to project with the Cleveland Browns. The team has a big question with pending free agent Larry Ogunjobi, a solid starter for the last three seasons. Top starter Sheldon Richardson will be back, but he’s 30 and entering the final year of his contract with the team.

The depth is in question, too. Andrew Billings returns after opting out for 2020, but we don’t yet know how he’ll fit in Cleveland. Jordan Elliott didn’t do much as a third-round rookie last season in limited reps. He was outshined by Vincent Taylor, who is also a pending free agent.

In short, Cleveland at least needs to bolster the depth chart on the defensive interior. They could well stand to do much more than that, too. And that’s where free agency comes in…

It’s an interesting crop of free agent DTs in 2021. Here are a few who could help the Browns in the coming season, and perhaps beyond too.

All players listed will be unrestricted free agents as of March 17th

Dalvin Tomlinson, Giants

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Tomlinson is remarkably consistent as a nose tackle with the Giants. He has exactly 49 tackles and 3.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons. That's not bad for a player who is primarily a nose tackle but can also play out to the 3T or 4i spots on the interior. Tomlinson just turned 27 and has proven himself a durable, reliable contributor; he's never missed a game since being a second-round pick by the Giants in 2017. While he's not a great creator of pressure, he works well in tandem with his linemates. Tomlinson has always been rock solid on interior run defense and finishes plays well.

Shelby Harris, Broncos

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If the Browns are looking for a player who fared well under defensive coordinator Joe Woods in his former coaching haunts, Harris is a good find. The 29-year-old spent his first two seasons in Denver with Woods' last two years on the Broncos coaching staff and played well. Harris has blossomed even further since being trusted with more playing time and responsibility over the last two seasons. He was quietly one of the most productive rushing linemen in the league in 2019 with six sacks and nine deflected passes. He's at his best in the role Richardson currently plays for Cleveland, but each has positional versatility and athleticism to work in tandem or move around the formation and present a formidable interior pressure package together.

Ndamukong Suh, Buccaneers

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Even at 34 years old, Suh remains one of the most physically menacing and effective interior rushers in the NFL. The Buccaneers would not have won the Super Bowl without his dominating presence at DT. Suh spiked back up to six sacks in 2020, his second season in Tampa Bay. It was the most he's bagged since his last first-team All-Pro year in 2014. He's still in incredible physical condition and has never missed a game due to injury since being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The burst and bull rush remain devastatingly effective. Having covered Suh in his Detroit days and knowing his personality, he's not apt to take less money to play anywhere. But he's still capable of being the best player on this list — even as a one-year, ring-chasing rental.

Leonard Williams, Giants

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If the Browns are going big-game hunting at defensive line, Williams is the top target. He exploded into his free agent year with 11.5 sacks in his first full season with the Giants, who played him in a more aggressive upfield manner to great benefit. Williams will command top dollar on the market, no question. He's 26, in the best physical shape of his career and coming off a fantastic season. If the Browns prioritize the interior defensive line, getting in a bidding war for Williams is the biggest splash they can make. It seems unlikely Cleveland will reach that high, but Williams still needs to be mentioned for his high-end potential impact.

Vincent Taylor, Browns

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

On the other end of the spectrum from Leonard Williams is Taylor, who showed enough in limited duty in Cleveland in 2020 to be worthy of bringing back for more. Taylor played just under 20 percent of available snaps as the fourth DT in the rotation and played well. His energy and willingness to mix it up on the inside were welcome additions to Cleveland. Now 27, Taylor is the kind of smart role player the Browns can use as a scheme fit and locker room fit, too.

Derek Wolfe, Ravens

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Another player with lengthy Denver ties to Joe Woods, Wolfe tied his career-high in tackles (51) in his one season with the Ravens in just 14 games. An undersized tackle who can also play the DE spot in an odd front, Wolfe is a very good tackler and alert run defender who doesn't stay blocked. Now 31, Wolfe isn't likely to break out with the seven-sack season he racked up in 2019, his final year with the Broncos. But he's a smart, aggressive defender who instantly upgrades the run defense and shouldn't break the bank to reunite with Woods.

Sheldon Rankins, Saints

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The price would have to be right for the Brown to go after Rankins, a good player with an unfortunate history of not being able to stay on the field consistently. If Rankins is willing to take a low-salary, high-incentive deal, the 2016 first-round pick of the Saints could be an excellent risk. In 2018, the last time he played more than 12 games, he was one of the best pass-rushing 3Ts in the league. The last two seasons were not impressive, however. Rankins is a player the Browns coaching staff and training staff would have to trust, but the payoff could be grand if the 26-year-old plays to his prime potential.

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