The Browns on Tuesday lost one of their biggest offseason additions to the defensive line, tackle Andrew Billings, who was placed on the reserve/opt-out list.
The former Bengal was brought in to help the Browns improve against the run and provide a veteran rotational option alongside Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi, but his impact has been put on hold until 2021. Billings, who signed with Cleveland in March, became the third Browns player to opt out for the 2020 season, joining offensive linemen Drew Forbes and Drake Dorbeck. Players league-wide have until Thursday to opt out for 2020.
"It is a deeply personal and an individual choice," Browns Executive VP of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry said. "We will know at that time if there are more guys, but suffice it to say organizationally, we support all those guys and we understand that it is a difficult decision. And again, it is very very personal. But we support the three guys who have opted out so far, and I look forward to them being back with the team next year."
The strength of any potent NFL defensive line lies in its numbers. That much was clear for the Browns during the second half of last season after they lost a slew of key players and never recovered. Even without Billings in 2020, Berry expressed confidence in the players who remain on a defensive line that serves as one of the most experienced position groups on the entire team.
Behind Richardson and Ogunjobi — who were among the few defensive linemen on the team to escape major injury or extensive absence last year — the Browns have third-round selection Jordan Elliott, Daniel Ekuale, Eli Ankou and undrafted free agent Jeffery Whatley left to fill out the defensive tackles room. Ekuale was a force in the 2019 preseason who had his season cut short by an injury. Ankou joined the Browns midway through last season and has played in 20 games dating back to 2017.
Check out photos of the team working out Monday
In a typical game, four defensive tackles will play at least 10-15 snaps, so every player who makes the 53-man roster will matter in a big way on Sundays. Whoever fills the void for Billings will be handed the collective task of bolstering the Browns' ranking against opposing running attacks. Cleveland finished the 2019 season ranked 30th in the NFL against the run.
"We think that we have a number of guys who are really talented players," Berry said. "We have added a number over the course of the spring. It really is going to be a 'next man up' mentality. It is no different than if you are dealing with an injury in season. We have some younger players that will push for more playing time so we are excited about that. We are excited about the guys that we have internally.
"Hate to lose Andrew, but certainly understand and are 100 percent supportive of his decision."
Garrett missed the final six games because of a suspension while Vernon missed most of the second half of 2019 with a knee injury. Their combined absences severely limited the Browns' pass rushing potency, which had a negative trickle-down effect on the rest of the defense.
Garrett and Vernon will be joined by veteran Adrian Clayborn, who was signed in March, Chad Thomas, who performed well after he was thrust into the starting lineup, and a slew of others vying to make a defensive line that should be one of the biggest strengths on Cleveland's entire team.
"We think that Myles and OV can be a really strong duo for us this upcoming season," Berry said. "Obviously, we want to make sure that OV stays healthy and stays on the field. We think that we can be tough to block up front when those two guys are really going."