Salvaging the defense: Playing stay or go for every member of Joe Woods’ unit

There is no other way to cut it, the defensive unit of the Cleveland Browns has been putrid in 2022. While their run defense is no longer historically bad, it is still the worst run defense in the NFL, and the Browns have been just average at stopping the pass as well. While they may rank as a middle-of-the-road pass defense, blown coverages have marred a talented group of defensive backs.

This defense, led by Joe Woods, falls 28th in the NFL in EPA per play, 14th against the pass in the same metric, and dead last against the run this season. Outside of Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett, this unit does not have a single other high-profile player playing up to their name.

Changes are going to be made this off-season. How much overhaul will this side of the ball see? We play a game of Stay or Go here. Who will be on the roster by the time roster cuts next summer are complete and who will not?



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Browns Bengals Perrion Winfrey

DC Joe Woods: Go


Browns. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods is a lame duck for the rest of 2022. Everybody within the building knows it, everybody in the fanbase knows it, and Woods himself probably knows he will be looking for another gig this off-season.

There are plenty of qualified candidates out there to take Woods’ job from former Miami Dolphins’ head coach Brian Flores to Ryan Walters at the college level. There is too much talent and too many players who are locked in for salary cap purposes for this defense to be performing as poorly as they are.

Only four more weeks until changes start to come down.

Defensive Ends

Cleveland Browns Myles Garrett

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Myles Garrett: Stay

Does this one even need any more detail? He is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate year in and year out who consistently gives you an average of a sack per game.

Jadeveon Clowney: Go

Clowney’s second one-year deal is expiring this offseason, and it would be shocking to see him sign a third one in Cleveland. He is friends with quarterback Deshaun Watson, so that could have some pull for Clowney, but he’s likely out the door.

Alex Wright: Stay

Wright was thrown into the fire as a rookie coming out of a Group of Five program. He did not get any leeway or ramp up to seeing the field due to the injuries of Clowney. Entering year-two, and his first full off-season in an NFL program, Wright may be asked to start opposite Garrett in 2023.

Isaiah Thomas: Stay

Thomas has locked down a rotational spot in the future. For a seventh round pick, Thomas has already out-played his draft slot and will get every chance to hold down that post next season. It’s early, but it looks like the Browns got a good one in Thomas for where he was selected.

Chase Winovich: Go

After swapping Mack Wilson for Winovich, this was a low-risk, no-harm trade made by both the Browns and the Patriots over the summer. Both players will likely hit the open market as neither has proven to be a consistent contributor who demands snaps and a new contract.

Defensive Tackles

Browns Bengals Perrion Winfrey

Browns. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Elliott: Go

It has been three long years of the Elliott experience as he has failed to make a consistent impact for the Cleveland defense. There is a chance the Browns can flip him for a pick this off-season, but more than likely Elliott will enter training camp on the outside of the bubble looking in.

Taven Bryan: Stay on a conditional basis

Proving to be a consistent pocket pusher in the passing game over the past few weeks, Bryan returning on a rotational basis for the Browns may not be the worst idea as they look to overhaul the entire room. He should not see starter reps, but Bryan is proving he can contribute in a specific role.

Perrion Winfrey: Stay

Winfrey is here to stay. He has seen significant snaps over the past three weeks and is starting to leave his mark on the field. After a rough start to his NFL career in Cleveland, Winfrey is beginning to find his footing and make an impact in the defensive trenches for the Browns. He looks like the only piece in the room that is safe to return next season.

Tommy Togiai: Go

Togiai has already lost all of his snaps over the past three weeks to Winfrey and Ben Still. It seems highly unlikely he has a roster spot in 2023 as he has failed to look worthy of a 53-man slot on any of the 32 teams in the league. Togiai has been one of the very worst defensive tackles in all of football this season for the Browns.

Ben Stille: Go

Added off of the Dolphins’ practice squad a few weeks ago, Stille will enter the season as a restricted free agent. This means the Browns have a chance to retain him for cheap. As they overhaul the defensive tackle room, however, Stille is going to have competition for a roster spot next summer.


Browns Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Browns. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: Stay

This one is a no-brainer. Owusu-Koramoah has been one of the few flashing defenders this season and will be back without a second thought.

Anthony Walker Jr.: Stay

Tearing his quad early in the season, the Browns and Walker Jr. may be in luck by the time the offseason rolls around. Given the timing, Walker Jr. could be ready to roll by training camp. Given the injury to Takitaki and the need for a solid veteran leader amid an offseason of change, bringing Walker Jr. back would do nothing but positive things for this franchise.

Sione Takitaki: Go

This marks three seasons in a row where the Browns have seen a significant contributor suffer a long recovery time injury near the end of the season. First, it was Olivier Vernon and Takk McKinley. Now this year, Sione Takitaki suffered an ACL injury a week ago. The Browns have not re-signed the other two, meaning Takitaki may be on the move as well.

Jacob Phillips: Go

Phillips has battled the injury bug each and every season of his NFL career, and when he was not particularly stellar on the field. The Browns more than likely end the Phillips experiment this offseason.

Reggie Ragland: Go

Sitting in as a stop-gap player after the Browns suffered three season-ending injuries at the position, Ragland is a long shot to make not just the Browns’ roster, but a roster in general.

Tony Fields II: Stay

Fields II has found a role in base packages and has played well when he has seen the field. With two years left on his rookie deal, Fields II has the inside track to a roster spot next year.

Jordan Kunaszyck: Stay

One cannot understate the impact Kunaszyk has had on special teams units. He has even found snaps on defense. As a free agent this summer, Kunaszyk will be cheap to retain, and a cost the Browns should be willing to pay.


Browns Week 14 injury report

Browns. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Denzel Ward: Stay

There is no way out of Ward’s contract one year into his extension. Besides, he played like a top-five cornerback a year ago, so there is hope that a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme can bring Ward, who is just 25 years old, back to his old form (and closer to the line of scrimmage).

Greg Newsome II: Stay

Throw out year two of Newsome’s tape after an All-Rookie season a year ago. Playing predominantly in the slot, the Browns need to get him back on the boundary. This must be a priority of the next defensive coordinator.

Martin Emerson: Stay

The Browns have found a player in third round rookie Martin Emerson. He came in from day one and took all of A.J. Green and Greedy Williams’ snaps and did not look back. He isn’t going anywhere.

A.J. Green: Stay

While Green’s contract is set to expire, he is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Browns have the opportunity to retain him for very cheap. They love their depth at defensive back, so expect Green to return next season.

Greedy Williams: Go

Williams is an unrestricted free agent, so it feels unlikely he returns after losing all of his defensive snaps and even being among the healthy scratches this past weekend against the Bengals.

Thomas Graham Jr.: Go

Graham Jr. is also an exclusive rights free agent, so he could return next summer and battle it out in training camp. His roster spot, however, is not solid as he will be a fringe-53 player by the time cutdowns start coming in for the Browns.



Browns. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

John Johnson III: Go

Perhaps the biggest disappointment over the past two seasons, John Johnson III has not lived up to the hype of the best safety available that he was two years ago. The Browns can save nearly $10 million by cutting him with a Post-June 1 designation (as they did tight end, Austin Hooper, a year ago), so expect general manager Andrew Berry to do that.

Grant Delpit: Stay

The Browns cannot turn over every starting position, and Delpit has flashed enough to keep his job for one more season. It will be a contract year for Delpit as well, so he will have much to prove for the Browns and himself.

D’Anthony Bell: Stay

There are not three better special teams players on the roster in Cleveland than D’Anthony Bell. He is under contract for two more seasons as well, so do not expect the Browns to move on from cheap and productive players anytime soon.

Ronnie Harrison: Go

It was shocking when he returned on a one-year deal in the first place. Don’t expect that to happen again.

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Story originally appeared on Browns Wire