Active in adding defensive starters this offseason, the Browns subtracted one on Friday. They released Sheldon Richardson.
The former first-round defensive lineman had started for Cleveland over the past two seasons. The Browns will save $11MM by making this move, one that comes a month after free agency’s outset, while also leaving a void in the middle of their defensive front.
With Larry Ogunjobi having signed with the Bengals, the Browns now no longer employ either of their starting D-tackles from the past two seasons. On a three-year, $37MM deal agreed to in 2019, Richardson was due a $10.9MM base salary in 2021. This move comes two days after the Browns agreed to terms with Jadeveon Clowney. While Richardson and Clowney do not play the same position, the Browns committed to sign the edge rusher for one year and $8MM.
This move will send Richardson into free agency at an inopportune time — following the most significant cap reduction in the cap era and four-plus weeks after the market opened. The Browns did add veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson — on a one-year, $3.75MM contract — and have Andrew Billings, who opted out in 2020. But the team now figures to be on the hunt for interior D-line help.
The former Defensive Rookie of the Year, Richardson has played with four teams in his eight seasons. The Jets traded him to the Seahawks in 2017, and Richardson signed a one-year deal with the Vikings in 2018. After signing with the then-John Dorsey-run Browns a year later, Richardson accumulated 7.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits during his two Browns seasons. Richardson did not miss a game during his Cleveland stay.
Pro Football Focus graded the Mizzou product as a top-30 interior defensive lineman in 2019 and slotted him just inside the top 50 at the position last season. While now 30, Richardson will surely generate interest and should have a path to a starting lineup in 2021.