With Joe Schobert out, what are the Browns’ options at linebacker? This Week in the Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A year-long waltz of “will Joe Schobert return to the Browns or not” finally came to an end last week.

His departure shouldn’t be met by too much surprise. He’s a Pro Bowl player who made history this season by recording back-to-back multiple-interception games while posting a third straight 100-plus tackle year.

It’s been reported by cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot that Schobert could command a double-digit million salary when free agency starts March 18. The fact Schobert and new GM Andrew Berry couldn’t find middle ground is reasonable.

The Browns defense cannot afford to pay that much for a linebacker who doesn’t fix their plethora of needs, and Schobert is in line for the biggest payday of his life.

He’ll secure his bag. But what remains unknown is how coach Kevin Stefanski, Berry and defensive coordinator Joe Woods will replace the Madison, Wis., product.

Options are scarce, and limited at best.

First, let’s say the Browns look internally.

Mack Wilson, who is entering his second year out of Alabama, is the only backer on the roster who saw time last year. Wilson showed promise, but he isn’t ready to be a top linebacker and probably will never be a traditional middle backer.

Last year’s third-round pick Sione Takitaki couldn’t get on the field a season ago, which is worrisome. Perhaps Christian Kirksey makes a full recovery from a Week 1 chest injury and is brought back at a fair number. But that remains to be seen.

Even if Kirksey returns, just him and Wilson aren’t enough.

Then there is free agency, which looks bleak. Considering the Browns wouldn’t pay their own free-agent linebacker, why would Berry pay someone else market value?

That leaves the draft.

The 2020 class has some blue-chip talent at linebacker, highlighted by Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons. But after his eye-popping combine performance, it’s doubtful he is available at pick No. 10. The next best linebackers are Oklahoma’s Ken Murray and LSU’s Patrick Queen.

Both Murray and Queen have late first-round or early second-round grades and will likely be gone by the time Cleveland selects at No. 41. After Murray and Queen, the position gets thin, which will make finding a traditional middle linebacker difficult.

If Berry, Stefanski and Woods want to build a smart and affordable roster through the draft, then they have to get both aggressive and creative on draft day. Maybe packaging No. 41, plus a later pick and a player, could move Cleveland back into the first round to select Queen or Murray.

If the Browns don’t land either, then their 2020 linebacking room could seem ignored.

FILE – In this Nov. 11, 2018, file photo, Washington Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.AP

On acquiring an offensive tackle

Browns will explore LTs Trent Williams and Jason Peters — Mary Kay Cabot gives her view on two tackles the Browns have interest in.

Jason Peters could offer short-term fix for Browns — Dan Labbe reacts to Jason Peters becoming a free agent and explains why he’d make sense in Cleveland.

Should the Browns get their left tackle from the draft, free agency, or elsewhere? (poll) — Scott Patsko asks readers what they think the Browns should at left tackle.

On Joe Schobert not returning

Joe Schobert will hit the free agent market — Cabot breaks news about Schobert not returning to the Browns.

If Schobert doesn’t find his payday, Browns shouldn’t close door — Labbe explains why a reunion between Cleveland and the Madison product could work.

Hey, Terry: If the Browns don’t bring back Schobert, then what? — Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto talks about how he thinks the Browns should address their linebacker situation.

Orange and Brown Talk podcast

On this week’s Orange and Brown Talk podcast, Ellis L. Williams, Dan Labbe and Mary Kay Cabot talk about Schobert’s departure and what that means for the Browns. Then they debate what backup quarterback would be best for Baker Mayfield before catching up on news around the league. The trio concludes with some stories and takes questions from Football Insider subscribers.

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