Projected $81 Million DT Dubbed ‘Key Free Agency Move’ for Browns - Sport News

Projected $81 Million DT Dubbed ‘Key Free Agency Move’ for Browns

The Cleveland Browns transformed their defensive line ahead of the 2023 season, which played a crucial role in rendering their defense the NFL’s best, but the impending free agencies of multiple players is about to create a hole the front office must fill.

Christian Wilkins, Dolphins

Aaron Schatz of ESPN on March 1 suggested the Browns address this gap by pursuing defensive tackle Christian Wilkins of the Miami Dolphins when free agency officially opens on March 13.

“Cleveland’s defense was a primary reason the Browns were able to overcome injuries and make the playoffs, but they need help on the defensive line,” Schatz wrote. “Defensive tackles Shelby Harris, Jordan Elliott and Maurice Hurst II are all free agents, leaving a space open next to Dalvin Tomlinson. Wilkins had nine sacks, 35 pressures and 63 combined tackles for the Dolphins last season. He ranked 13th in pass rush win rate among interior linemen while taking on a lot of double-teams, and he’s a very strong run defender.”

Christian Wilkins Can Replace Shelby Harris, Maurice Hurst on Browns D-Line
Christian Wilkins

Wilkins checks all the boxes for a Browns defensive line that must be dominant again given potential deficiencies on offense — namely the availability/performance of quarterback Deshaun Watson, who continues to rehab from a season-ending shoulder surgery he underwent last November.

Harris was a quality pickup late last offseason for Cleveland, finishing the year ranked 31st out of 130 defensive interior players who saw enough snaps to qualify at the position, per Pro Football Focus. Hurst was even better in a slightly lesser role, earning the 13th overall rating on 299 snaps played compared to the 432 snaps Harris played for the Browns defense in 2023.

Wilkins played 894 snaps for the Dolphins last season and finished with the 29th overall positional ranking, per PFF’s metrics-based rating system.

 

A former first-round pick (No. 13 overall in 2019), Wilkins is seeking the first big payday of his NFL career. The 28-year-old lineman played last season on a $10.75 million fifth-year option exercised by the Dolphins, which followed a four-year rookie deal worth $15.4 million in total. Spotrac projects Wilkins’ market value at north of $20 million annually over a new four-year contract ($81 million total).

Harris made just $3.5 million with the Browns last season, while Hurst played on a one-year contract that came in just shy of $1.25 million. Both could be back in Cleveland next season, though each man probably earned a raise based on his play in 2023, which could be tough to accommodate if the Browns decide to go all-in at the position on a player like Wilkins.

Elliott, a third-round pick of the franchise in 2020, had the least productive season by far and is therefore the least likely to return in free agency.

Browns Will Also Look for New Defensive End if Za’Darius Smith Leaves in Free Agency
Za'Darius Smith of the Cleveland Browns has been labeled trade block material.

Cleveland may also be looking for a new edge rusher this offseason, depending on what kind of offers defensive end Za’Darius Smith can garner in free agency.

Smith was solid for the Browns last season alongside Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett, racking up 6 sacks and 60 overall pressures. However, Smith will become a free agent in roughly a week and a half and will test the waters for the best deal possible.

Smith’s market value is roughly $25 million over a new two-year deal, which could price out the Browns depending on which positions the team prioritizes this offseason. That said, general manager Andrew Berry told reporters at the NFL Combine last week that Cleveland will attempt to bring Smith back if possible.

“He fit really well. Really pleased with his production,” Berry said of Smith. “He was awesome in the room. We really loved having him around.”

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