Browns notebook: Kevin Stefanski: 'I hope there's a scenario' Sheldon Richardson can return
Sheldon Richardson and the Browns broke up last week, but coach Kevin Stefanski would like to see them get back together.
"I hope there's a scenario, but those are the hard decisions that are made," Stefanski said Tuesday on Zoom when asked if a reunion with Richardson could be in the cards.
"But I really want to point out that Sheldon was such a big part of what we did last year."
The Browns announced Friday they released Richardson, a veteran defensive tackle who had played every game since he signed with them in 2019.
The Browns made the move to save the $11 million Richardson had been scheduled to make in the final season of the three-year, $37 million contract he received from General Manager Andrew Berry's predecessor, John Dorsey. Two days before the Browns terminated Richardson's contract, they signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year, $8 million deal, leaving them with about $10 million in salary cap space.
"As a coach, I want to keep everybody, and there's some salary cap constraints that I think everybody understands, and they're hard decisions," Stefanski said. "And Sheldon in particular played really productive football for us, and he played through injuries and he took great pride in getting to the playoffs for the first time in his career. So he was a big part of that."
Richardson, 30, had established himself as one of the Browns' most reliable players. Last season, when the Browns went 11-5 to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, he had 64 tackles, 4½ sacks, 10 quarterback hits and one forced fumble. He tied for 47th among the 125 qualifying defensive tackles ProFootballFocus.com graded.
Whether Stefanski's hope to re-sign Richardson becomes a reality will likely depend on what other teams are willing to pay him on the open market.
Since the New York Jets drafted Richardson 13th overall out of the University of Missouri in 2013, he has appeared in 121 games with 118 starts and had 461 tackles, including 31 sacks, 92 QB hits, 10 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 14 passes defensed and an interception. He was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 and a Pro Bowl selection in 2014.
Browns have plan for Baker Mayfield
Two things likely hold the key to the Browns success this year — a reconstructed defense and, of course, quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield, heading into his fourth NFL season, enjoyed a successful season in leading the Browns to their first postseason victory since Jan. 1, 1995, in a wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers before eventually succumbing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs.
It all unfolded during his first season in Stefanski’s offense with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt as a collaborator. The upcoming season will be the first time Mayfield will have the same head coach and same offense in consecutive years, something that could make all the difference in the team’s fortunes. With the offseason in virtual mode, getting him to elevate his game is key.
"Baker is no different than the rest of the guys. They'll have a list of things they'll need to work on, and as coaches, we're giving them the resources and the tools to do the things they need to improve,” Stefanski said. “Some are watching more tape. Some are drills. Really all of the above. I think Baker, as we've talked about, is someone who constantly wants to get better, and I think Alex Van Pelt has a really, really strong plan in how we're going to attack that with Baker in particular.”
And it could be an easier process offering more comfort in the offense. Stefanski said some offensive concepts have been pared down and the offensive coaching staff is more in tune with the quarterback.
“I hope it's significantly better," Stefanski said of Mayfield's comfort with the system. "I hope as he starts to listen to the installs with AVP and you are hearing it for not the second time — he's heard these plays over and over again, we've streamlined concepts and we've tried to adjust what we do based on his strengths and our players’ strengths — I would hope he's much more comfortable from that perspective. That's what time allows you to do — time together.”
— George M. Thomas
Greedy Williams' recovery encouraging
Stefanski had nothing but praise for players still rehabbing injuries, including wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who suffered a torn ACL in October, and safety Grant Delpit, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in August.
“He's progressing very well, trending in the right direction really,” Stefanski said of Beckham. “Odell, Grant Delpit and Greedy [Williams] they're all on track. I don't know what the exact date that is for all of those guys, but I really like how they're progressing.”
Stefanski singled out Williams. Williams sat out all last season with nerve damage in a shoulder he suffered during the same training camp practice in which Delpit was carted off the field.
“He continues to get good news, and I'm just so happy for the kid," Stefanski said. "He just battled his butt off in the rehab room for months, and had a great attitude throughout and I'm really, really just happy for him as he keeps getting better. And he's got ways to go, but he's trending in the right direction.”
— George M. Thomas
Coach appreciates Jadeveon Clowney
With the release of Richardson, versatility could be at a premium for the Browns defensive ends. That’s one of the attributes Stefanski said free-agent acquisition Jadeveon Clowney brings to the team — the ability to play on the interior and edge of the defensive front.
“He has shown that over the course of his career. He's a disruptive football player in the run and the pass game," Stefanski said. "He's somebody that over the many years and certainly in the last few has seen a lot of attention. Teams have slid to him and put a tight end in there to chip or their running back.”
That skill could prove beneficial across the board.
“We feel like [Clowney] will have opportunities here playing opposite [All-Pro defensive end] Myles [Garrett],” Stefanski said. “That should help him in the pass game. He's a disruptive player. Excited to add him to the front.”
— George M. Thomas
Stefanski looks for continued collaboration with Berry
With the NFL Draft set to take place next week in Cleveland, Stefanski said he continues to like the way he and Berry work together. They won’t inhabit the same draft room this year, working from their respective offices in Berea. But last year’s virtual draft assisted in fostering a comfort level with a virtual setup. The Browns have the 26th overall pick.
“I was really pleased with communication we had last year, even as we were in different states and different locations, and the communication we were able to have,” Stefanski said. “So we want that collaborative experience to constantly be a part of what we do, and I've already seen it in our preparation to this point and it will be important for us going forward. “
He added: “I just think that's what Andrew and his staff and Andrew in particular does a really nice job of listening to everybody, gathering enough information and ultimately he knows he makes the decision. Ultimately, I think he does a great job of procuring all of that information.”
— George M. Thomas
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com