If you thought the Factory of Sadness in Cleveland couldn't get any worse, you were wrong. Today the Browns released starting strong safety Donte Whitner, who had signed with the team in 2014 after several great seasons as a key piece in San Francisco's monstrous defense that got them to three straight NFC Championships and a Super Bowl.
You'd think after losing star safety Tashaun Gipson to free agency (Jacksonville), the Browns would want to hold onto as many secondary pieces as possible. Not so, as they jettisoned Whitner who is now the second best safety on the market behind Reggie Nelson. Whitner was well-respected and his release has some shaking their heads.
Don't know that the Browns have had a better citizen, teammate, representative than @DonteWhitner these last two years. #stunned #moneyball— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) April 3, 2016
While Whitner is older than what the Browns want to go forward with, he wasn't that bad in Cleveland. If you listen to Browns fans today you will hear a lot of "Good riddance! Too many missed tackles!" but Whitner was second on the team in tackles with 81- that's second to Karlos Dansby who had 108 tackles. Dansby was also released because why not?
Hue Jackson is clearly calling the shots here and making moves to get younger and cheaper. The problem the Browns face is that Hue Jackson is the man who traded a first rounder and second rounder to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer and told everyone it was the Greatest Trade in Football. Those picks were turned by Cincinnati into Dre Kirkpatrick and Giovani Bernard. Is this what Cleveland wants the Browns to be? Because that's what they are.
The question posited in this article, though, is should the Raiders bring in Donte Whitner?
Whitner is 31 years old. He was never great at coverage and his reputation mostly stems from his bone-shattering hits as a 49er. On a team full of tough, smart defensive players, Whitner was the enforcer who punished any receiver foolish enough to come across the middle. Whitner laid people out. He struck genuine fear into the New Orleans Saints in the 2012 playoffs. He would fit very comfortably on a Raiders secondary from the mid 1970's.
But does he fit on this secondary today? The Raiders are clearly trying to go with a youth movement. Even their new free agent signings aren't your typical aging veterans- Sean Smith is only 28 years old and he's the oldest of the bunch. Whitner is three years older than that and he's not going to suddenly get more athletic. The main reason Charles Woodson was so valuable to Oakland over the last few years was his ridiculous athleticism that didn't seem to wane at all. I am certain Woodson could play tomorrow if he wanted to.
When your game revolves around hitting people very hard, you need to be as fast or faster than they are. Whitner may have been that in his younger days, but the real offensive weapons in the league right now can run circles around him. He's still dangerous WHEN he can actually get his hands on someone, but that doesn't always happen at this point.
What this Raider team does lack is veteran leadership on the defensive side of the ball. The offense has Donald Penn and Marcel Reece, but Dan Williams, Smith and Nate Allen are the oldest defensive players on the Raiders all at 28 years old. Woodson filled that role last season, but there really isn't anyone else like that now. Whitner would be able to step into that role.
There is little question that Oakland is going to draft safety help later this month, but at this point those new players would have to start immediately because the Raiders have little safety depth. Would it be better for the Raiders to bring in a guy like Whitner to mentor a young safety or two for a year or perhaps longer? Or would the potential drawbacks of having an older player like Whitner on the back end of this defense outweigh the benefits?