On Thursday, the Browns traded their starting inside linebacker, Demario Davis, to the New York Jets for safety Calvin Pryor. Pryor was very highly regarded as the 18th overall pick in the draft three seasons ago out of Louisville. Davis came to the Browns from the Jets before last year and had a very solid season for them. By all accounts, Davis was also a great guy to have in the locker room, and his four years of experience made him one of the more veteran influences on a young Browns’ roster. This move is an interesting one for the Browns for a couple of reasons.
Reasons for Concern
The first reason it seems a little puzzling is that the Browns traded away basically the only option on their roster to fill their starting middle linebacker position. After moving Christian Kirksey back to outside linebacker during the beginning of OTA’s, the team is left without anybody with any real NFL experience to fill the void in the middle of the defense. They didn’t draft any inside backers this season either, so their only options would be career backups and undrafted free agents unless they are going to make another move to fill that void.
Another reason some are left scratching their heads is the fact that Davis was considered to be a great addition and good influence in the locker room, and Pryor had reportedly fell out of favor with the Jets for his poor attitude and inability to live up to the expectations of a first round pick with his production on the field. The Browns have purged their roster of most of its veteran leadership and have quite a few young guys that would benefit from the solid, veteran leadership provided by a productive leader like Davis. He had 99 tackles last season to go along with 2 sacks, 2 passed defensed, and a forced fumble. The team will definitely miss that production.
Those are two reasons for concern about the deal, but the most concerning part of the deal to me is the fact that Pryor seems to play the same position as this year’s first round pick, Jabrill Peppers. Pryor and Peppers are both tremendously talented safeties, but both of them seem to be lacking a little in pass coverage. Both are seen as guys who are hard hitters and have the ability to step up and stop the run. Peppers registered only one career interception at Michigan, and Pryor was able to pull down just two in his three-year NFL career.
Reasons to Make the Deal
There are also some reasons for optimism about the deal. The Browns got a first round talent who is only 24 years old for a 28 year-old who was drafted in the third round. If Pryor can develop into the player the Jets hoped he’d become, the Browns could have a pro-bowl caliber player in his prime this season with the ability to lock him up long-term at the end of the year. A change of scenery, a contract year, and a kick in the butt from Gregg Williams could be just what this guys needs to get his act together and live up to his name as the Louisville Slugger.
There is also the possibility that Williams sees something in one or both of them that makes him think he can make them into better coverage safeties. If he could do that, there is no limit to the types of things he could do on defense with two versatile safeties that could play up in run support or fall back into coverage.
Finally, there is also the option that the Browns could move the ultra-productive Kirksey back inside where he produced 143 tackles including 11 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks a season ago. They could fill the outside with another outside backer on the roster like Joe Schobert or undrafted free agent, Kenneth Olugbode, or they could try to convert Pryor or Peppers to a walk-out linebacker or run more of a 4-2-5 defense. This could maximize their abilities to help against the run while also having someone on the field who is quicker and can defend in coverage better than a traditional linebacker.
At the end of the day, we will have to trust that the Browns made the correct decision for now, and they have a plan to keep improving the defense. I know that Gregg Williams likes to run multiple fronts and do many things on defense to keep the opposition on its toes. The team has invested a lot into the defense this offseason, so we should see some massive improvements. They committed long-term contracts to Kirksey and Jamie Collins at linebacker. They used three draft picks on defensive linemen Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobe, and Caleb Brantley, and they added Jason McCourty, Peppers, and Pryor in the secondary. Now it’s Williams’ job to bring these players’ talents together and build a dominant young defense that can make and keep the Browns competitive for a long time.