The Cleveland Browns made a late first wave free agency splash earlier this week when they landed big-name pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to pair with Pro Bowler Myles Garrett. But it came at a cost. Just days later, the team announced on Friday that they were releasing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
The Browns originally signed the former Pro Bowler in free agency in 2019, agreeing to terms on a three-year, $36 million contract in what was part of a major rebuild of the team’s defensive line. That rebuild also included the acquisition of pass rusher Olivier Vernon.
Two years later, both of them are now gone. Over the course of his two seasons in Cleveland, Richardson did play in every game, registering 126 tackles, nine for loss, 7.5 sacks, seven batted passes, and four forced fumbles.
It’s worth noting that they also allowed their other starting defensive tackle, Larry Ogunjobi, to leave in free agency. Ogunjobi actually signed a one-year contract with the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals. But they did sign Cincinnati’s Andrew Billings last year, who opted out of last season but returns in 2021 looking for a role.
Well, now there are openings. Or one, at least. The Browns did add Malik Jackson, a 10-year veteran, in free agency earlier this offseason. Sheldon Day is another veteran on the roster who has the benefit of having the same first name as Richardson, and Jordan Elliott now enters his second season in the league.
But it’s certainly a major turnover from last year. With Vernon, Ogunjobi, and now Richardson all gone, only Garrett remains intact. The new faces figure to be Clowney, Jackson, and Billings or Day, with possibly a rookie thrown into the mix. Takkarist McKinley is another edge defender whom they added via free agency this year.
Richardson was the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. He played four seasons in New York, earning the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 and then making his lone Pro Bowl a year later, posting a career-high eight sacks that season. Eighteen of his 31 career sacks came during his four years with the Jets.
Just before the start of the 2017 season, they traded Richardson to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a second round pick and Jermaine Kearse, a wide receiver. He would start 15 games, but would leave in free agency, signing a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings in 2018.
He played well enough there to land his big deal with the Browns, with the $36 million contract including $21 million guaranteed. Cleveland opens up about $11 million in salary cap space with his release — enough to pay for Clowney.