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NFL Draft

Did Cleveland Make The Right Move Releasing Sheldon Richardson?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 17, 2021
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The Cleveland Browns’ defense was one of their Achilles heels in 2020. It’s the area that could use the most improvement in order for Cleveland to maximize the talent it has. The linebacker corps is arguably the weakest area on the team. While Cleveland certainly addressed the linebacker room in this year’s draft, some of its recent personnel moves invoked many questions from fans and prognosticators as well. With the linebacker corps being the unit that needed the most growth, was releasing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson the right move?

When the team acquired Jadeveon Clowney, it released Richardson in a subsequent move. This freed up approximately $12 million relative to the salary cap. Since Richardson’s arrival in 2019, he was an effective player and became a team leader in a short time. He was lauded for his leadership and held the team together. When the Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph fiasco happened and Baker Mayfield made some disparaging comments, it was Richardson who addressed the team (and Mayfield) reminding them that you always have your teammates back. 

Richardson started 33 games in two years there. In 2020, he started all 17 games and led all defensive linemen with 64 tackles. His 10 quarterback hits, five tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks all ranked third on the team. Cleveland prioritized its interior defensive line with players like Malik McDowell, Andrew Billings, Tommy Togiai, Marvin Wilson, Jordan Elliott, and Malik Jackson. Cleveland made it clear it wanted Richardson to return, ideally at a lower number if he were unable to find a better deal. However, the manner in which the team handled Richardson’s situation was somewhat unethical, maybe unprofessional. Cleveland held him on the roster so close to the draft leaving no money in free agency and then chose to release him; had Cleveland released him sooner, he would have had an opportunity to earn what he deserved on the market.

Cleveland hasn’t always been a desired destination for free agents. Someone who wanted to come to Cleveland, embraced the community, and almost instantly became a team leader deserves more respect than what was given to them. Cleveland hasn’t had enough sustained success that would immediately convince one of its own pending free agents to stay there.

With core players like Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward up for new deals, I can assure you they are keeping a watchful eye on how the team deals with the contract of other key players. The phrase, “it’s a business” is often thrown around in the NFL. However, the term that should often be associated with it “people.” The NFL at the very core is a people business.  Sure, Cleveland may be able to replace Richardson with another body but replacing his effectiveness as an interior presence, his influence on the entire defense (particularly the linebacking corps), and his leadership in the locker room may be challenging to do with just one player.

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