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Former teammates dissect Danny Shelton’s departure from Browns, value of ‘fit’ with Patriots

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The Danny Shelton trade – from the perspective of Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins.

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Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“So a bag of footballs, and Danny Shelton.”

That was Joe Thomas’ initial reaction to learning that the Cleveland Browns had traded his former teammate along with a 2018 fifth-round pick to the New England Patriots last Saturday in exchange for a 2019 third-rounder.

Thomas, the future Hall of Fame left tackle who announced his retirement this week after 11 seasons, 10 Pro Bowls, seven first-team All-Pros and 10,363 consecutive snaps, would expound from there during Uninterrupted’s emergency “ThomaHawk Show” with ex-Browns and Patriots wideout Andrew Hawkins.

“Now, to me, when I see a trade like that when you hear a team has swapped essentially mid-round picks, that means they really didn’t want that player hardly at all,” Thomas said on the March 10 podcast, “and they weren’t even able to get like a sixth- or a fifth-round pick [outright] … Overall, to me, that signals that they feel like Danny was not a very good fit for the Browns.”

At least not anymore.

The Patriots got Shelton – the No. 12 overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Washington – and No. 159 this April for that third next year. Such a return would indicate, as Thomas noted, that the move was more about scheme and regime than anything else.

“They didn’t feel like he fit well with Gregg Williams’ defense, which it’s hard to argue,” said Thomas. “You know, Danny is one of those traditional run-stoppers. He’s a big, stout guy. He doesn’t move laterally really well. He’s not an up-the-field, penetrating-type guy, which is what Gregg Williams wants with this 4-3 attacking defense.”

The 6-foot-2, 335-pound Shelton started 44 of his 46 games for Cleveland while playing 53 percent of the defensive snaps and collecting 128 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was the 35th-best interior defender in the league in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. And he was, in terms of run enforcement, no small part in why the Browns conceded 3.4 yards per attempt last season.

But the importance of a one-dimensional nose tackle ostensibly proved less so for new Browns general manager John Dorsey and Williams, who succeeded 3-4 minds in Ray Horton and Jim O’Neil.

“But he does fit in New England,” Thomas continued. “New England likes those big two-gappers that can put two hands into the chest of a center or a guard, read the football, shed and try to make a play down the line of scrimmage. I think that’s actually another good fit for Danny.”

Though not to be mistaken for Vince Wilfork nor an at-his-apex Alan Branch, the 24-year-old Shelton is in the mold of a zero- to one-technique with the strength and athleticism to back up that frame. That’s one way for New England – having drafted Malcom Brown in the same 2015 class, as well as drafting Vincent Valentine in 2016 and signing free agent Lawrence Guy and rookie Adam Butler last year – to fill out its depth chart.

A depth chart that Branch and fellow veteran Ricky Jean Francois no longer reside on.

“I think it’ll help his growth, his maturity,” Thomas said of Shelton’s new scenery. “And it’s probably good for Cleveland, because who knows, Danny might not have even been in the rotation this year based on the defense they’re trying to build there with an attacking, up-the-field, 4-3-style defense.”

The role Shelton plays in New England’s rotation doesn’t figure to consist of a lot of third-down passing situations. But it is expected to be one tailored to him. Hawkins opined similarly.

“Yeah, I agree. It’s all about fit,” said Hawkins, who caught 123 passes over three seasons in Cleveland and retired last July after a one-month stint with the Patriots. “Look, Danny never really quite fit into what the Browns were doing, and maybe that had something to do with the fact we could even figure out what we were doing half the time, right? New England is always a place that anybody can go to and be successful because they are just the kings of being able to say, ‘OK, you do this one thing really well. You do these two things really well, and that’s all we need you to do. We need you to just do those.’

“That’s just Danny stuffing the middle in certain situations, or whatever that looks like,” added Hawkins. “They’ll be able to extract that out and display it to where people look at the players and go, ‘Oh man, that guy is great.’ Or, ‘This guy does so much better here.’ No, it’s the fact that they’re able to kind of pull that out of guys a lot better than everybody else.”