Cleveland Browns Targeting Christian Wilkins in NFL Free Agency for Defensive Tackle Role

Cleveland Browns Targeting Christian Wilkins in NFL Free Agency for Defensive Tackle Role

The Cleveland Browns have played the short game in recent years when it comes to the defensive tackle position.

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins

The move has been to acquire a couple of players that most fans have at least heard of, essentially on one-year deals, then later, rinse, and repeat the following season.

That plan worked out in 2023 with Maurice Hurst Jr., Dalvin Tomlinson, and Shelby Harris joining incumbent Jordan Elliott on the interior of one of the league’s best defenses. But there have also been times when the plan did not go as expected, like in 2021 with Sheldon Day, Malik McDowell, and Malik Jackson spending a forgettable season in town.

Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry is back at it this offseason as Hurst, Harris, and Elliott are all unrestricted free agents. Berry could decide to run it back with the group, but it seems more likely that there will be at least one if not two, new faces when training camp opens this summer.

Say someone like defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who is entering free agency after five seasons with the Miami Dolphins?

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tosses out the idea of the Browns pursuing Wilkins if the Dolphins do not place the franchise tag on Wilkins:

While Miami’s stance is that all options are on the table for defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, several league sources say he probably won’t be franchise-tagged. That would put a big-time tackle who had 63 tackles and nine sacks in 2023 on the market.

Houston is intriguing here. The Texans have ample cap space, a quarterback early on a rookie deal, and a playoff roster. There would be several teams in the mix, though. The Browns are always good for a splash or two, for instance. Would they strengthen an already stout defense with the versatile DT?

We’re not sure about the idea of Berry and the Browns always being “good for a splash or two,” but the idea of adding Wilkins to a defensive line that features the league’s best defensive end in Myles Garrett is intriguing, so let’s take a look at Wilkins.

Name/Position

Christian Wilkins, Defensive tackle

Height/Weight
6-foot-4, 310 pounds

2023 Team
Miami Dolphins

Stats
2023: 17 games, 65 tackles, 9 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss

Career: 81 games, 355 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 50 quarterback hits, 43 tackles for loss

PFF Grade
2023: 74.9 (overall), 71.5 (run defense), 53.4 (tackling), 72.8 (pass rush)

3-year average grade: 81.1 (overall), 77.8 (run defense), 52.7 (tackling), 71.9 (pass rush)

2023 Contract
$10.75 million base salary, $10.75 million cap number, per Over the Cap

Fit with the Browns

Christian Wilkins will help fill the void at defensive tackle that has plagued the Browns for several years. He has shown improvement throughout his career, although his commitment to tackling has not always been there.

Still, he is the type of player that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz could utilize to create issues for opposing offenses, as The Athletic’s Randy Mueller highlights:

Wilkins is an incredibly versatile defensive tackle, given where he aligns and his ability to blend quickness with power. He can play in any scheme. He’s strong at the point of attack but also has athletic ability and range. He’s a really good player, and his value keeps climbing after a career season. Will the Dolphins be able to keep him?

A stout run defender, Wilkins upped his pass-rushing game last season, according to Brad Spielberger at Pro Football Focus:

Wilkins hoped to get an extension done before the 2023 season but didn’t let the lack of one amid many at the position slow him down. Wilkins is as good a run defender as any interior defensive lineman in the NFL, setting career highs in every pass-rushing category this season — including pass-rush win rate, pressure rate, sacks, quarterback hits, and pressures.

It can be a bit risky, and expensive, to sign a player coming off a career year, but Wilkins has been consistent and durable the past three seasons, so some of those fears might be a bit mitigated.

Browns player signing could impact

No matter who the Browns target in free agency, it appears that Jordan Elliott’s time in Cleveland is coming to an end after he played a career-low 42 percent of the defensive snaps last season. If the Browns do invest big money in Wilkins then that also probably signals that Hurst or Harris will not return.

But a big-money move could also have an impact on Berry’s plans at defensive end as he ponders whether to bring Za’Darius Smith back for another season or dip into free agency. Berry will need to balance salaries out, so money going to Wilkins might leave the Browns considering a rotation of Alex Wright and Ogbo Okoronkwo opposite Garrett at defensive end.

How singing could impact the NFL Draft

Signing Wilkins pushes the tackle position down the draft list a bit, although building young depth is also a good idea. It could also push defensive end higher up the list if there is not enough money to sign a defensive end in free agency.

Priority

Medium to High as the Browns need to address the position in some fashion.

Projected Contract

One year at $22.1 million, fully guaranteed, per PFF. But that is based on the Dolphins placing the nonexclusive franchise tag on Wilkins, which they would need to do by Tuesday. If Wilkins does hit free agency, it is highly unlikely that he will sign a one-year contract, with spotrac.com putting his market value at four years with an average salary of $20.2 million per year.

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