As Schobert Awaits Contract, Dorsey Risks Defensive Overhaul
As Joe Schobert continues his stellar season at middle linebacker, he still hasn't heard from general manager John Dorsey in regards to a contract offer for an extension, which leaves the linebacker position and the middle of the Cleveland Browns defense in a lurch. One of the truly great aspects of a frustrating Browns season, it would seem an easy win for an organization that could use all the good news it can get right now to sign one of the team's best players, leaders and representatives. Beyond the fact Schobert seems to embody all the things the team should want, he might be the only player between the linebackers and safeties that would be a starter next season, meaning if they were to let him walk, they'd largely be building the middle of the defense from scratch.
Schobert seems a lock for the Pro Bowl and could receive additional accolades. He is the second or third best player on the defense behind Myles Garrett and perhaps Olivier Vernon. With the suspension of Garrett and injury that has limited Vernon, Schobert has been the best this year. The four interceptions in two games is an impressive, quirky mark, but that's a product of what Schobert has been doing all season. He's consistently in the right spot in pass coverage and run defense, so if he's not making the play himself, he's in position to take advantage of tipped balls and fumbles.
Schobert's tackling has improved significantly, missing far fewer than any year he's been in the league. His 76 solo tackles dwarfs anyone else on the team. In fact, the next two highest marks combined add up to 80.
Meanwhile, the starting weak side linebacker position is being manned by Mack Wilson. He's a fifth round rookie put in an incredibly difficult position, doing the best he can. Nothing he's done this season can make the Browns feel confident they can pencil him to start next year. He will make a nice play here or there, but on balance, he's been a massive liability on defense. It's the same for third round rookie Sione Takitaki, who has done well in limited opportunities, but there simply enough for anyone to pencil him to start next year.
In addition to Al Holcomb, the team's linebackers coach, the other voice that has been a constant for Wilson and Takitaki has been Schobert, trying to help them as much as possible in terms of preparation and seeing the right things on the field. Schobert and Wilson have developed a strong relationship, which would also be impacted.
At strong safety, Juston Burris has played pretty well after injuries to Morgan Burnett, Eric Murray and the release of Jermaine Whitehead have forced him into the starting role. He's certainly a player the Browns should want back next year due to the player he is and the person he is, but they also may not be satisfied with him being the starter there.
That leaves Damarious Randall at free safety, who has had an incredibly disappointing season. Injuries, being grounded for a game and poor play, he's scheduled to be a free agent and it's incredibly difficult to believe he'll be back next season.
In the event the Browns were to fail to re-sign Schobert, they would be potentially in the market for a starting middle and weak side linebackers as well as both strong and free safeties. The team would be losing the guy who's been the leader of the defense, making all the calls and effectively trying to overhaul over a third of the defense. That's on top of the other areas the team has to address, such as offensive tackle, which is no small feat.
There's no indication as to why Dorsey hasn't come up with a contract offer that should've been done before the season, could've been done at the bye and can be done any time now. The move to extend the contract of J.C. Tretter was a good one, but getting Schobert under contract should be just as obvious and for whatever reason, it hasn't been.
Dorsey, who has already mishandled this, could put himself in the position to bungle this situation as badly as former Executive Vice President Sashi Brown did with Mitchell Schwartz, the biggest failure of his tenure. The hope is that Dorsey wakes up and realizes just how valuable Schobert is and gets this contract done. It would provide badly needed direction on defense as well as keeping one of the team's leaders in the mix for the prime of his career.
With mounting questions about the job he's done to this point as GM of the Browns, Dorsey could benefit from the win this move would provide and eliminate one task from a long offseason to-do list.