Heading into the season, Cleveland’s safety position is solid, but it could have been better.
One of the Browns biggest moves this offseason, if not the biggest, was bringing Donte Whitner, a Cleveland native and Ohio State grad, back over from San Francisco. Unfortunately, this coincided with the release of T.J. Ward, a better and cheaper option.
If we just take into account last season, Ward undoubtedly had the better year. By looking at the numbers, Ward’s 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and 112 total tackles are better than Whitner’s zero sacks, two interceptions and 82 total tackles. In fact, Whitner only has 1.5 sacks in his entire eight-year career.
Likewise, Ward has become one of, if not the best, run-stopping safeties in the NFL, earning him the honor of being a 2nd Team All-Pro last season.
With that being said, the biggest difference between the two players can be found in their contracts. While both safeties signed four-year deals, Whitner will be getting $5 million more from the Browns than Ward will be getting from the Broncos. Even if someone wants to argue that both players are relatively equal in skill, the money makes this a loss for the Browns.
Still, Whitner is a very good player, and he should be able to perform well over the next four seasons. When looking at the Browns roster, he is the least of their problems.
Opposite of Whitner, free safety Tashaun Gipson may be the most surprising member of the Browns defense. Undrafted out of Wyoming, the third year player has outperformed nearly every expectation.
In Gipson’s 15 starts last season, he amassed five interceptions, 11 passes defended, one touchdown and 94 total tackles. He had a fantastic year, and the only place to go is up.
The Browns could be considering drafting a safety in the third or fourth round of this year’s draft, but I don’t see it happening. They’ve obviously given a lot of money to Whitner, and it wouldn’t make much since to waste a pick to bring in strong safety competition.
If the Browns were to draft a safety, it would likely be a free safety, but that too would be unwise. Nobody knows exactly what Gipson will be able to offer next season, but he should be given every opportunity to solidify himself as Cleveland’s long-term answer at free safety.