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Saunders: Losing Brian Flores to Browns Would Sting for Steelers



Steelers SDA Brian Flores

Pittsburgh Steelers senior defensive assistant and inside linebackers coach Brian Flores is interviewing to be the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator on Thursday, and if the Browns aren’t idiots, they’ll offer him the position.

The Browns also interviewed Titans senior defensive assistant and former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz for the job.

They will probably interview more. They’re not going to find a better candidate than Flores. But it’s Cleveland, so who knows what they’ll do. JuJu Smith-Schuster may be gone, the Browns is still the Browns.

It’s not entirely clear if Flores will take the job if offered. He’s been linked to both the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans head coach openings, and it’s clear that’s what he really wants to get back to after being unfairly fired by the Miami Dolphins a year ago.

Becoming Cleveland’s coordinator would certainly be a step closer to where he wants to be, but would that be a step worth taking? That decision is up to Flores. But if he decides yes, that would certainly be a blow for the Steelers.

It’s been hard to parse out exactly what changes to the Pittsburgh defense have been directly Flores’ responsibility, because his hiring coincided with the promotion of Teryl Austin to defensive coordinator. But despite a lack of specific attributes to assign to Flores, it’s more than clear both in his time here and in Miami that he’s over-qualified to be the Steelers linebackers coach, and would be a loss for the Steelers and a boon to the Browns.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sure knew when he hired Flores that he wasn’t likely to be able to keep him in Pittsburgh in that role for very long. But Cleveland? That would probably have to sting a little bit.

The Browns have been blessed with one of the top pass rushers in all of football in Myles Garrett and more-than-competent surrounding pieces like Jadaveon Clowney, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Denzel Ward, Grant Delpit, Greedy Williams, Sione Takitaki, Martin Emerson and Greg Newsome II. And yet the Browns finished 2022 20th in scoring defense, 15th in total yards and yards per play.

The Steelers didn’t exactly do Flores a huge favor when they hired him last year. They got a very, very good coach out of the deal. Yes, he had a black mark against him for his lawsuit against the NFL, and yes Tomlin and Art Rooney II took a risk in deciding to offer him a job. But it was clear from the start that all parties expected this to be a short-term arrangement.

That’s fine, and good even, in any circumstance other than Flores immediately transitioning to a divisional rival and turning a talented defense loose on a young Pittsburgh offense.

The Steelers can’t stop Flores from taking any job that is a promotion. But there’s no question that losing Flores to Cleveland would be among the most painful possible outcomes.