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2021 Browns free agency preview: What are the options at linebacker, defensive line?

Cleveland is in position to possibly upgrade its front seven via free agency

The first wave of big NFL offseason headlines will arrive next week as the first wave of big ticket free-agents select their new homes. The landscape of the league could make a drastic shift — this appears to be one of the most talented free-agent classes in recent memory — and the Browns, who have an ample amount of cap space for 2021, will have plenty of options to potentially improve their roster.

It all starts March 17. Until then, we're taking a look at some positions the Browns could target in the free agent market.

First up: Linebackers and defensive linemen

Who's Back?

Myles Garrett (DE) - The Browns' top defensive leader built one of his best seasons with the Browns and earned Pro Bowl and first team All-Pro honors. His 12 sacks, four forced fumbles and 48 tackles gave Cleveland a massive spark on defense.

Sheldon Richardson (DT) - Richardson, an eight-year veteran, finished his second year in Cleveland with 4.5 sacks, 64 tackles and one forced fumble. He also played in all 16 games for the third consecutive season.

Jordan Elliott (DT) - Elliott, a 2020 third-round draft pick, played in all 16 games and made 15 tackles in his role in the interior defensive line rotation.

Porter Gustin (DE) - Gustin was a part of the edge rusher rotation and playing in 14 games. He recorded 30 tackles, one tackle for a loss and intercepted a deflected pass in the Browns' playoff win over the Steelers.

Joe Jackson (DE) - Jackson played in three games and made five tackles and one fumble recovery.

Cameron Malveaux (DE) - Malveaux played in two games and recorded four tackles. He also forced a fumble in Week 10 versus the Eagles.

George Obinna (DE) - Obinna signed with the Browns for a portion of training camp and spent the season on Injured Reserve.

Curtis Weaver (DE) - Weaver, a 2020 fifth-round pick, was claimed by the Browns after the Dolphins placed him on waivers in August. He spent the season on Injured Reserve.

Trevon Young (DE) - Young, a sixth-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 2018, spent the 2020 season on Injured Reserve.

Jacob Phillips (LB) - Phillips was a 2020 third-round pick and made 25 tackles, including a team-leading 10 in the Week 17 playoff-clincher against the Steelers.

Sione Takitaki (LB) - Takitaki played in 15 games, 12 of which were starts, and recorded 67 tackles and one sack. He ended the season with two interceptions — one that went for a touchdown in the regular season, and one in the playoff win over the Steelers.

Mack Wilson (LB) - Wilson suffered a knee injury in training camp and didn't make his season debut until Week 3. He played in 13 games and notched 39 tackles.

Montreal Meander (LB) - Meander played in four games and was used as a special teams player in 2020.

Who Could Hit the Market?

B.J. Goodson (LB) - He was the top leader for a young Browns linebackers room and for the defense as a whole. Led the Browns with 91 tackles and was lauded for his guidance on and off the field.

Olivier Vernon (DE) - He really turned up his play in the second of the season, where he tallied all nine of his sacks and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Week 11. An Achilles injury forced him to miss the playoffs, though.

Larry Ogunjobi (DT) - He's been a reliable player for the interior for the last three years and finished 2020 with 46 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Over four seasons in Cleveland, Ogunjobi, a third-round pick in 2017, has appeared in 60 games with 47 starts.

Malcolm Smith (LB) - Smith, the former Super Bowl MVP, filled all the roles the Browns asked of him when he signed in training camp. He finished second on the defense with 72 tackles, including an interception and a forced fumble.

Vincent Taylor (DT) - Claimed via waivers before the start of the season, Taylor appeared in 15 games as a key member of the Browns' rotation along the defensive line. His top moment was when he deflected the pass that led to Porter Gustin's interception in the playoff win over the Steelers.

Elijah Lee (LB) - Claimed via waivers from the Lions midway through the season, Lee appeared in eight games and primarily played on special teams.

Tae Davis (LB) - Davis, who is a restricted free agent, was a key piece of the special teams unit and finished with seven solo tackles in 2020.

Top LBs/D-Linemen Available (rankings from NFL.com's top 101 free agents)

2. Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers (Edge) - Barrett recorded eight sacks in the regular season and added four more in the Bucs' playoff run that ended with a Lombardi Trophy. He's reportedly begun talks for a long-term extension with Tampa Bay.

4. Bud Dupree, Steelers (Edge) - He suffered a late-season ACL injury that stopped his season at 11 games with eight sacks.

5. Trey Hendrickson, Saints (Edge) - The 26-year-old edge rusher is looking to cash in after a massive 13.5-sack season in New Orleans.

6. Carl Lawson, Bengals (DE) - Yet another talented edge rusher in the free-agent class, Lawson finished fourth in pressures (64) and second in QB hits (24) among edge rushers. 

8. Jadeveon Clowney, Seahawks (Edge) - He failed to record a sack in 2020, but he's still 28 and capable of being a game-wrecker in the second half of his career.

10. Matt Judon, Ravens (Edge) - Judon's been a consistent force at outside linebacker for the Ravens and had six sacks in 2020.

12. Yannick Ngakoue, Ravens (Edge) - He hasn't been able to replicate the same Pro Bowl-level production he sustained in 2017 in Jacksonville, but he's still coming off an eight-sack season and is in his prime years at age 26.

14. Matt Milano, Bills (LB) - Milano possesses quality skills as a run-stuffer and in pass coverage and recorded 3.5 sacks and 45 tackles in 10 games last season.

23. Romeo Okwara, Lions (Edge) - Okwara was quietly one of the best players on Detroit's otherwise porous defense in 2020. He notched 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and, at age 26, could be hitting his stride as a top-level pass rusher.

25. Dalvin Tomlinson, Giants (DT) - Tomlinson has great size and strength to be a quality interior lineman on any team. He had 49 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2020.

28. Leonard Floyd, Rams (Edge) - The talented edge rushers just keep coming. Floyd flourished alongside Aaron Donald and built a 10-sack season that could lead him to a big contract this offseason.

30. Shelby Harris, Broncos (DE) - His pass-blocking skills are among the best of all defensive linemen in the league. He recorded seven of them last season and could be looking for a new home.

31. Justin Houston, Colts (Edge) - Still possesses plenty of talent at 32 years old and showed no signs of stoppage in an eight-sack season in 2020.

32. Haason Reddick, Cardinals (Edge) - Performed a career-best season in a contract year and should have plenty of interest in the free-agent market. Reddick tallied five of his 12.5 sacks in Week 13.

33. Jayon Brown, Titans (LB) - Brown has been a tackling machine for Tennessee for the last four years and made 76 of them in 10 games in 2020.

37. Carlos Dunlap, Bengals (Edge) - Still has plenty left in the tank at age 32 and provided a big boost to the Seahawks defense after a midseason trade from the Bengals.

42. Melvin Ingram, Chargers (Edge) - He's been one of the best defenders on the Chargers for the last nine years, but he's missed 12 games over the last two seasons and is 32 years old.

44. K.J. Wright, Seahawks (LB) - One of the top defensive leaders for Seattle for the last decade, Wright is set to test free agency at 32 after making 86 tackles in 2020.

50. Denico Autry, Colts (LB) - He'd be another quality linebacker for whichever team suits him next. He had 7.5 sacks last season and is capable of making big plays anywhere on the field.

58. DaQuan Jones, Titans (DT) - 49 tackles and two sacks in Tennessee last season, but the stats don't fully show the kind of assistance Jones can bring to a defensive line. 

63. Larry Ogunjobi, Browns (DT) - Cleveland knows what Ogunjobi is capable of and could consider bringing him back for his fifth season.

64. Ndamukong Suh, Buccaneers (DT) - Age is just a number for Suh, who still racked up six sacks and 44 tackles last season and is 34 years old.

68. Sheldon Rankins, Saints (DT) - Has played in just one game the last two seasons but could have plenty of interest as a free agent due to a big 2018 season that included eight sacks.

74. Aldon Smith, Cowboys (Edge) - Five sacks in his first season back on the field since 2015. Could be a viable starting option, but could also be a quality rotational piece.

79. Derek Wolfe, Ravens (DE) - He was a great rotational piece for the Ravens in 2020 and could provide depth somewhere different in 2021.

80. Tyson Alualu, Steelers (DT) - Another rotational piece for a defensive line that needs some veteran depth. He notched 38 tackles and two sacks in 2020.

84. Takkarist McKinley, 49ers (Edge) - He was released from the Falcons in his fourth and final season under contract and finished the year on Injured Reserve with the Raiders. He totaled 16.5 sacks in his first three seasons and should still have more to come once he's healthy — he's just 25.

88. Lawrence Guy, Patriots (DT) - Another veteran player that can provide a spark in a rotation after four seasons in New England.

92. Kawaan Short, Panthers (DT) - One of the best defensive tackles in football over the last decade. He's only played five games the last two seasons, but he'll have a chance to be serviceable with a new team.

95. Kerry Hyder, 49ers (DE) - Here's what NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal said about Hyder: "No one has recorded more sacks on more teams over the last few years without anyone noticing."

97. Al-Quadin Muhammad, Colts (DT) - Muhammad recorded two sacks and 23 tackles in 2020.

98. Everson Griffen, Vikings (Edge) - Started to show regression last year but is still a quality veteran playmaker.

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