Inside linebacker now a need for Browns

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
10:26
AM ET
The Cleveland Browns now need an inside linebacker. They needed one before Wednesday, but in light of D'Qwell Jackson's release, they now need two.

This is part of the fallout, mind you, from constant change. Two years ago, the Browns ran a 4-3 and were built for a 4-3. They had Jackson playing the middle, and he was rather adept at it. Then came a coaching change to a 3-4, and the defensive staff had little choice but to try Craig Robertson inside. He struggled. Now Jackson is gone, because a new regime decided he wasn't worth the money.

[+] EnlargeD'Qwell Jackson
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsAfter cutting D'Qwell Jackson, the Browns have two inside linebacker slots to fill on the depth chart.
Is it at all surprising that Jackson wanted a place with more stability, as he told the Northeast Ohio Media Group on Wednesday?

Had Jackson stayed, he would have been on his fifth head coach and sixth defensive coordinator -- in nine seasons. He gets to choose his team, and teams were in touch within two hours of his release.

The Browns now can add another need to the list that includes quarterback, running back, wide receiver, guard and cornerback. They may have two other positions to add if Alex Mack and T.J. Ward decide to pursue free agency.

It could well be that the Browns had determined inside linebacker was a need before Jackson's release. They tried to work out a new contract with him, but Jackson balked at the number and decided to move on. There also was a brief tweet from USA Today that prior to the combine coach Mike Pettine tried to persuade Bart Scott, who is older than Jackson, to come to Cleveland. He chose TV.

It's worth debating the wisdom of a team that creates needs when it went 4-12 last season and already has holes to fill, but this is where the Browns are.

The best of a thin inside linebacker group in the draft is C.J. Mosley of Alabama, but he's not good enough to go fourth and will be gone by the time the Browns pick 26th.

As for free agents, there are players available, but Riley Cooper's re-signing with the Eagles illustrates what free agency has become. Teams don't often let really good players hit the market.

Here's a look at some players the Browns might consider who are at the top of ESPN's draft prospect list :
  • Mosley of Alabama is a tackling machine who was the best defender on the Crimson Tide last season.
  • Chris Borland of Wisconsin is undersized but brings some comparisons to former Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas. Borland is a scrapper.
  • Shayne Skov of Stanford fits the bill at 6-foot-2 and 239 pounds plus the Mohawk haircut.
  • Max Bullough of Michigan State led the Spartans in tackles two of the past three seasons but was suspended for the Rose Bowl.

Only Mosley is considered a first-round talent, and only Borland projects to the second round.

In free agency, the pickings aren't exactly rich, but guys like Donald Butler of San Diego and Brandon Spikes of New England might fit -- if they get to free agency. Both are young, solid players, though to get them to leave San Diego or New England for Cleveland might require overpaying.

One of the better inside guys who could hit the market is Karlos Dansby, who will be 33 during the season. That pretty much sums up the situation.

Pat McManamon

ESPN Cleveland Browns reporter

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