CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Browns announced today the release of defensive end Frostee Rucker. Rucker, 29, had 48 tackles, four sacks, and a forced fumble while playing in all 16 games. The Browns reportedly paid Rucker $8 million in guaranteed salary in 2012 and were due to pay an additional $2 million next week for being on the roster.
It is unclear how much cap space the Browns will add after the move, but the new front office has deemed Rucker expendable. And despite production as a traditional 4-3 defensive end, it’s clear Rucker’s skill set does not match the needs of defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s new “attacking” system.
If there was one position group of strength heading into the off-season for the Browns, it was the defensive line. It took two years to acquire all the pieces for a deep and consistent rotation of players. But with new leadership steering the team under different philosophies, the Browns are signaling another overhaul in the type of athletes we will see on the field.
Rucker has been typecasted as a pass-rusher limited to the 4-3 alignment because he lacks the athleticism and speed to drop into coverage required in the 3-4 scheme. This evaluation has all but been confirmed and raises concern about the status of Rucker’s former linemate, Jabaal Sheard.
Horton has already declared his intent to to show multiple defensive fronts, often times with all linemen standing up at the line of scrimmage before executing the play. At 6’3″ and 255 lbs., Sheard is 30 pounds lighter than Rucker and only one inch shorter, but has played end with his hand in the ground for two years. Sheard also played defensive end for four years at the University of Pittsburgh before turning pro. Can he stand up and run with tight ends deep into the secondary? It’s a difficult question to answer. Two things Sheard has going for him are his age and contract. Only 23, Sheard has two years left on a four-year deal after being selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. So it’s apparently worth seeing if he can transition into the new defensive scheme.
Other players on the defensive line that could be affected by the overhaul include defensive tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and defensive ends Hall Davis and Juqua Parker. Kitchen and Davis signed with the Browns in September as late additions to the roster. Parker, 34, was a veteran signed in free agency. All were serviceable backups throughout the season. Rookie tackles Billy Winn and John Hughes may also be expendable depending on the versatility they provide Ray Horton.
Working against these players is the 2013 NFL Draft class – deep with defensive ends, tackles and outside linebackers. With the owner and CEO having already made clear the draft will be their primary tool for building the franchise, it will be interesting to see which players make the cut.