Cleveland Browns: Is Malcolm Smith the answer at linebacker?

New Cleveland Browns linebacker Malcolm Smith (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
New Cleveland Browns linebacker Malcolm Smith (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Will Malcolm Smith really bolster the weak linebacking corps for the Cleveland Browns?

Heading into the 2020 NFL offseason, the Cleveland Browns had some glaring holes across their roster. Aside from maybe the offensive line as a whole, no position was weaker than linebacker for the Cleveland defense.

With the departures of former Pro Bowl linebacker, Joe Schobert, and locker room leader, Christian Kirksey, the Cleveland Browns were left with a couple glaring holes in the middle of their defense. After failing to sign a real proven top-talent at the position, it was clear that the Browns front office and coaching staff were going to rely heavily on their younger backers to step up to the plate and fill the gap.

Coming off of rookie campaigns that showed varying levels of promise, Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki have been presumptive starters all offseason. Also drafting Jacob Phillips out of LSU in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns were set to have a very young and inexperienced, yet talented, linebacking group.

The Cleveland Browns did sign veteran B.J. Goodson this offseason to bring some experience and leadership to the group, but after starting just 29 games in four NFL seasons, it’s pretty clear that Goodson would not be relied upon as an every-down player in 2020.

A thin position group got considerably weaker Tuesday at Cleveland Browns training camp. Seen below, impressive second-year player, Mack Wilson, suffered a hyperextension of his left leg:

While the latest rumblings are hopeful that Wilson could return at some point this season, the presumptive starter will undoubtedly miss some time, with season-ending surgery still allegedly on the table.

Recognizing the lack of bodies remaining at the position, Cleveland Browns general manager, Andrew Berry, and head coach, Kevin Stefanski, went to work. Thursday the team brought in journeyman linebacker, Malcolm Smith, for a workout and it was announced on Sunday that the team would be signing the former Super Bowl MVP for the 2020 season.

What does Malcolm Smith really bring to the table for the Cleveland Browns? Can he step in and immediately fill the void left by Wilson? Let’s take a look at what Cleveland is getting in the eight-year vet.

After being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Smith played his way onto the field early in his career, playing in 12 games as a rookie and all 16 games in his second pro season.

In 2013, Smith entered the season as a starter for the Seahawks, eventually earning Super Bowl XLVIII honors after racking up 10 total tackles, a pass break up, a fumble recovery and a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown in Seattle’s beat down of the Denver Broncos.

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After his Super Bowl heroics, Seattle let Smith go, as the backer signed a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders. In his two seasons in Oakland, Smith led the Raiders with 225 total tackles and helped lead a much-improved Oakland defense to a playoff appearance in 2016.

Following his two impressive seasons with Oakland, Smith stayed in the Bay Area, signing a five-year, $26.50 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers. In 2017 a pectoral injury knocked Smith out for the season, and in 2018 he mustered just 35 tackles on the season, leading to his release prior to the 2019 season.

Last year, Smith spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars early in the season, failing to record a tackle in two appearances. He later signed with the Dallas Cowboys in December, recording five tackles, one for loss and a forced fumble in two games which included a start.

Throughout his career, Smith has shown the ability to be a versatile and reliable NFL linebacker. He plays very well around the line of scrimmage often getting tackles for loss and even sacks and QB hits at times. He can hold his own in coverage but lacks the speed, especially at this point in his career, to roam sideline-to-sideline to make plays.

For the Cleveland Browns, Malcolm Smith makes sense to bring in as a veteran leader with valuable NFL experience. Smith, like Goodson, likely won’t be a staple on the field in 2020, assuming a limited role as a player for the Cleveland Browns. However, if Smith can be a leader in the locker room and on the practice field, he could be instrumental in the growth and development of the younger players the team has at the position.

Has Alec Ogletree been more productive throughout his career? Yes. Does Darron Lee have more upside? Absolutely. Would Clay Matthews be a more versatile option? Sure. But I believe that Malcolm Smith will still be a valuable addition to the Cleveland Browns organization.

Hopefully, Smith can find his form from his Seattle and Oakland days and can find a way to contribute on the field for Joe Woods’ Cleveland Browns defense. He should have a chip on his shoulder to go out and prove that he can still play, and must have impressed enough in his workout to warrant a signing.

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Regardless, his leadership and experience are things that the Browns team, defense and particularly the linebacking group were lacking. His signing speaks to the expectations of the younger guys in Takitaki and Phillips, who should have the chance to learn and improve with the guidance of a veteran presence like Malcolm Smith. If he can become a real leader in the locker room and on the practice field, his value should go far beyond the box score on Sundays.