With the long-term injury suffered by second-year linebacker Mack Wilson, who was scheduled to be a starter in 2020, the Cleveland Browns looked to the open market to the bolster the position, and came across a former Super Bowl MVP, bringing former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Originally a seventh-round draft pick by Seattle all the way back in 2011, he would spend his first four seasons with the Seahawks, gradually working his way into a rotational/spot-starting role. When he hit free agency, the Oakland Raiders brought him in to take over as a full-time starter in 2015, where he would last for two seasons.
He has since then become a journeyman, spending the 2018 season with the San Francisco 49ers and splitting time last year between the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting a total of six games over the course of the past two seasons.
Smith actually originally signed a five-year deal with the 49ers in 2017, but he missed the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle. He failed to make the final roster at the end of the preseason a year ago, and remained available until late October when the Jaguars signed him. He was let go a couple of weeks later, with the Cowboys signing him in mid-December due to injuries.
Since the 2019 season ended, he has been available, yet another experienced veteran who was left on the open market in spite of the fact that he has proven playing experience, likely greatly influenced by the circumstances that teams faced due to the pandemic.
It is unclear if the Browns are bringing him in with the intention of handing him a starting job while Wilson is out. The latter suffered a hyperextended knee, and is expected to miss at least a large chunk of the season, if not all of it.
The team did add another veteran linebacker during free agency in B.J. Goodson, a fifth-year player who was with the New York Giants. Fellow second-year linebacker Sione Takitaki is the other linebacker of note. They also drafted Jacob Phillips in the third round out of LSU in April.
Last year’s two starters, Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, have both readily found new homes. Schobert was allowed to walk in free agency, while Kirksey, who has battled injuries the past two years, was released a week before free agency opened.
Now with Wilson injured, the Browns have a depth and experience problem in the middle of their defense. Takitaki is the only one who was in the system last year, also a third-round pick, who did play 105 snaps defensively, recording 21 tackles.