CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from Jan. 20, 2021.
Analytically driven front offices like the Cleveland Browns' aren't typically known for investing heavily in linebackers.
That, however, doesn't make it any less of a need for the Browns this offseason.
Even if Cleveland re-signs B.J. Goodson, who is set to hit free agency, the Browns could use an upgrade to their linebackers corps. Fortunately, there are a number of intriguing options set to hit the market this offseason, who could test the preconceived notions about Cleveland's strategy.
Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The top linebacker on this year's free-agent market, Lavonte David has spent the entirety of his nine-year career in Tampa Bay. A three-time All-Pro selection, David played a key role in the Buccaneers' run to Super Bowl 55 and has been one of the most underrated linebackers of his era.
While he's older than the free agents the Browns often target, the 31-year-old is still playing at a high level, ranking sixth among linebackers in pass coverage last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether Cleveland would be willing to give him a sizable contract -- PFF projects a three-year, $40 million deal -- may be a moot point, as most expect David to re-sign with Tampa Bay.
Matt Milano (Buffalo Bills)
While his production dipped in 2020, Matt Milano was one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL in 2018 and 2019. The Boston College product has also shown an ability to rush the passer, which could make him a versatile piece in Cleveland's defense.
Considering his age, the Browns front office might be more comfortable targeting the 26-year-old Milano than David. Still, his projected contract -- four years, $50 million, per PFF -- would certainly run contrary to how most expect Cleveland to handle the linebacker position this offseason.
Jayon Brown (Tennesee Titans)
Like Milano, Jayon Brown fits the profile of a modern linebacker. According to PFF, he has ranked as the 10th best player at his position in coverage since 2018.
Having just turned 26-years-old, the UCLA product is young enough that Cleveland's front office could feel comfortable signing him to a larger-than-expected contract. All things considered, if the Browns are willing to pay for a linebacker this offseason, making a run at Brown might make the most sense.
K.J. Wright (Seattle Seahawks)
Should Cleveland opt to make a run at a less expensive veteran, K.J. Wright could fit the bill. While he's 31-years-old, the 2016 Pro Bowl selection ranked seventh in coverage last season according to PFF and should be available for an affordable short-term contract.
Kevin Pierre-Louis (Washington Football Team)
Should the Browns take the route most expect them to at linebacker -- not investing heavily at the position -- Kevin Pierre-Louis fits the profile of what they'd be looking for.
While he isn't thought to be highly sought after, the Florida product excels in coverage, ranking fifth among linebackers, per PFF. At 29-years-old, he's also younger than Wright but unlikely to command any significant money on the free-agent market.
Other free agent linebackers:
- Denzel Perryman (Los Angeles Chargers)
- Kyle Van Noy (Miami Dolphins)
- Eric Wilson (Minnesota Vikings)
- Raekwon McMillan (Las Vegas Raiders)
- Brandon Copeland (New England Patriots)
- Alex Anzalone (New Orleans Saints)
- Darron Lee (Buffalo Bills)