A Cleveland Browns Switch To the 4-3 Defense Could Leave Jabaal Sheard On the Trade Block

Updated: January 5, 2014

With the firing of Rob Chudzinski as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, the winds of change will once again blow over the football team. Before even hiring a coach, rumors are already swirling that former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz will become the Browns newest defensive coordinator.

It should be noted that both Norv Turner and Ray Horton are currently still under contract with the Browns, but the odds of them sticking around once Cleveland decides on a new head coach are slim. With a new set of coaches comes a new set of philosophies, one of those could mean a switch in defensive philosophies.

When Chudzinski took over as head coach (and brought in Horton to be his defensive coordinator) the Browns switched from a conservative 4-3 style defense to an attacking 3-4 defense (this is not to say all 4-3 defenses are conservative and all 3-4 defenses are attacking). Whether the Schwartz to Cleveland rumor is true or not, changes are coming in some form. If the Browns switch over to a 4-3 defense (one that Schwartz’s Lions ran under his tenure as head coach) that might not just mean a change in philosophy but a change in personnel.

So who could be traded due to a system change?

The first name that may immediately come to mind is Barkevious Mingo.

Mingo was drafted to fill the role of premier pass rusher in Horton’s 3-4 attacking defense. While his size (6’4”) and length fit a mold for a 4-3 defensive end, he only weighs 241 pounds and at times struggled when asked to stop the run, something he’d have to do a lot more of as a 4-3 defensive end. However, it’s unlikely that GM Michael Lombardi and Joe Banner will look to move Mingo after spending the 6th overall pick on him in last year’s draft. Mingo also played defensive end at LSU, so he has familiarity with the position.

Paul Kruger is another name that might surface as a potential trade candidate should the Browns switch to a 4-3 defense.

Kruger is known mostly around the NFL as a 3-4 edge rusher, but he did spend some time as a defensive end in Baltimore, specifically in 2009. Kruger also has a prototypical frame for a 4-3 defensive end, standing at 6’4” and weighing in at 270 pounds.  While it would be a slight change in role, if the Browns switch to a 4-3 Kruger would still be asked to rush the quarterback from the defensive end position. Also having just signed a five-year, $40.5 million contact with $20 million in guarantees, the likelihood that the organization would look to move Kruger following such an investment is slim.

Enter Jabaal Sheard.

This is not an indictment on his skill set, but rather a case of being the odd man out. Sheard had a lot of success in Horton’s 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker this past season. Changing to a position he had very limited experience with, many questioned whether he’d be on the roster to start the 2013 season with the additions of Kruger, Mingo and Quentin Groves. Sheard answered all those questions by leading the team in sacks (5.5) despite missing three games due to injury and showing some ability to cover opposing tight end’s and running backs. This is partly why Sheard could be traded.

Sheard spent his first two seasons with the Browns as a 4-3 defensive end, and had some success there as well. However, with the current front office ties to Mingo and Kruger combined with Sheard’s productivity as an outside linebacker, Sheard could very well find himself on the trading block because of his new-found skills as a 3-4 edge rusher – something NFL teams put a premium on. Sheard is also considered an undersized defensive end (6’2” and 255 pounds) and with Mingo also fitting the bill for an undersized defensive end in a 4-3 system, the Browns would likely favor the bigger Kruger over the lighter Sheard.

This is not to say that the Browns will look to trade Sheard at all costs.  In his first two seasons as the Browns starting defensive end Sheard has combined for 110 total tackles and 15.5 sacks as a defensive end, and quality depth is always an asset. This might just be the case of odd man out for Sheard.  The front office has no ties to him (other than his current contract) and his skills as a 3-4 pass rusher could yield a nice return in a trade.

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