Sad News From Cleveland Browns Today…….

Sad News From Cleveland Browns Today…….

With NFL free agency literally just hours away with the official start Monday with the poorly named “legal tampering” period, every fan wonders if their team can make the right moves. The Cleveland Browns are already set, reportedly, to add WR Jerry Jeudy but have been rumored to make a big splash on defense as well this offseason.

As covered in Sunday’s rumor report and roundup, DT Christian Wilkins has been the big name attached to the Browns for about a week now. Many expected the Miami Dolphins would place the franchise tag on the interior defender but he’ll enter the free agent market officially on Wednesday.

A look at the list of NFL free agents for 2024 shows very few top young guys available in the front seven on the defensive side of the ball who didn’t get the franchise tag. Besides Wilkins, DE Jonathan Greenard, OLB/DE Bryce Huff, LB Patrick Queen, oft-injured Chase Young, LB Frankie Luvu and OLB/DE Josh Uche are the only top 40 players who will play next season under the age of 30.

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Cleveland is unlikely to spend big money on a linebacker or injury-prone player while Uche isn’t expected to break the bank.

Two players who are likely to sign big contracts but have had concerns raised about their production are Wilkins and Greenard, two players the Browns might be willing to spend big. First, Wilkins, along with Huff, were listed as potential “regrets” if they got big deals this offseason:

The caveat is that he wasn’t quite as good against the run as he had been. Which version shows up after signing a massive new contract? Clearly, teams hope last season’s pass-rushing production isn’t an aberration that occurred during a contract year. Yet, a potential huge deal should be for a complete player who serves as the spearhead for the entire defense.

Wilkins has never been that player. He’s a very good one, to be sure. As a top free-agent signing, you’re asked to be a true difference-maker. The question here is whether a team will get enough juice based on the amount of squeeze it’ll need to enact.

The concern with Wilkins, along with the fact that he is already 28 years old is a real one. Is he a tweener who just happened to have a good pass rush year, which impacted his run defense, before hitting free agency?

With Greenard, it is a nuanced look at how he created his production. In a lot of ways, it is similar to the discussion around TJ Watt:

His pressure rate was fine, at 12%, but his 14 sacks came at an unsustainable 26.4% rate. Only Jihad Ward’s 30% rate and Leonard Floyd’s 26.7% were higher among pass rushers with at least 100 snaps. It should be noted that 8 of his 14 sacks came against three QBs- Bryce Young, Will Levis and Zach Wilson, who all rank top 7 in highest pressure to sack ratio. He had a below average 8.9% pressure rate in the three seasons prior to last year. Yannick Ngaouke (10.1% pressure rate, 27% sack rate, 12 sacks) had eerily similar numbers in 2022 then only generated four sacks in 2023 on virtually the same pressure rate. He likely will be a solid player in 2024 but not nearly worth what he will get in the open market.

The linked article does an amazing job of breaking down which specific players GM Andrew Berry is likely to be interested in given his history and free agent’s production.

To simplify the above data, Greenard’s sack production is more related to the quarterbacks he played and luck than anything else. Generally, a player that creates pressure at the rate Greenard does gets much fewer sacks because the QB moves, the ball is out fast or another player makes the play.

Last year, Greenard’s 53 pressures were tied for 44th in the NFL. Browns free agent DE was 31st with 61 pressures but, due to other factors, had just six sacks compared to Greenard’s 14. Myles Garrett was seventh in the league with 89 pressures.

Sometimes, the details matter. Could Wilkins and Greenard continue to be very good players on new teams? Certainly. Would Cleveland be better with either guy? For sure. Are either worth being paid like one of the top players at their position? That is a decision GMs around the league, including Berry, have to make.

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