Cleveland Browns must sign Jadeveon Clowney this time

Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (99) tackles Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) during the fourth quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.Titans Steelers 102520 An 034
Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (99) tackles Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) during the fourth quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020.Titans Steelers 102520 An 034 /

Jadeveon Clowney should be the Cleveland Browns top target

On Wednesday, The Cleveland Browns hosted free agent pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney on a visit, something they did not get to do last offseason. Clowney was reportedly offered a contract by the Browns in 2020, but chose to sign with the Tennessee Titans instead. Cleveland has a major hole at EDGE opposite of Myles Garrett, even after adding Takkarist McKinley. Clowney presents the best remaining option on the market, and likely the best option from the very beginning.

Clowney has developed a reputation as being an underachiever since he was the first overall pick back in 2014. If we look at basic stats, it’s easy to see what that viewpoint exists; Clowney has never logged more than 9.5 sacks in a season, and had zero in his eight games with the Titans in 2020. For a player with his level of hype entering the league, that could be considered disappointing, especially considering he had the benefit of playing opposite J.J. Watt for two-and-a-half years.

However, stats are a poor metric by which to judge a defender, because they aren’t predictive of a player’s true down-to-down impact. They are skewed by plenty of factors outside of that player’s control; whiffs by blockers, the design of the play, how deep the routes are, the level of pocket awareness the quarterback has, which way the quarterback shifts in the pocket, where the rusher’s teammates are and how their rush lanes affect the pocket composition…

See the point? Sacks are not a good metric (yet teams continue to overpay for them in free agency; this year was a perfect example), especially when compared to pressures. If we look at advanced stats that measure disruption, Clowney appears much more favorably:

Is he a Garrett-level pass-rusher? No. Hardly anyone is. Clowney can function as a team’s No.1 EDGE, but now at 28 years old and unable to secure a long-term contract, it may very well be in his best interest to sign another one-year prove-it deal as an EDGE2, put up quality numbers, and cash in next offseason.

Playing opposite the best rusher in the league on a defense with a revamped secondary would give him a great oppurtunity to do just that. He’s also a terrific run defender and his violent playstyle would be a new dynamic on Cleveland’s defensive line. Clowney logged 16, 21, and 16 tackles for loss in 2016, 2017, and 2018; Garrett’s career-high is 12. Oh, and he’s also one of the five most double-teamed EDGEs in the NFL:

With Clowney and Garrett on the same line, teams will have to pick their poison. Both cannot be doubled, and there are two other down lineman in the middle to worry about. That’s not including McKinley in a sub-package or a blitzing second-level player. Clowney provides essentially everything that Olivier Vernon did, but in a more explosive and disruptive package.

Nobody’s perfect, you live and you learn it

There are legitimate concerns with Clowney’s injury history. The list is long; sports hernia, concussion, torn menisus, microfracture surgery, ankle sprain, back sprain, Lisfranc sprain, elbow sprain, knee sprains that required surgery following both the 2016 and 2017 campaigns, another back sprain, patella sprain, hip injury, groin strain, and then another torn meniscus last year. From 2015 to 2019, Clowney missed a total of only nine games, but his injuries have taken their toll. He was never a super bendy player, and is now even less so.

That’s why the Browns are almost certainly interested in signing Clowney only to a one-year contract. This fills the gaping hole at EDGE for 2020 and would allow the team to bring along a Day 2 rookie slowly. Allowing an athletic prospect like Joe Tryon or Payton Turner to sit, learn, and play a situational role behind Clowney and McKinley before taking over in 2022 is the ideal scenario.

Clowney made $13 million last season, and will likely end up in the $8 million to $12 million range this season, with plenty of incentives involved and likely some void years, knowing Andrew Berry. That’d be a much better value than Bud Dupree, for example.

Melvin Ingram and Carlos Dunlap are two solid options still available, but both are older, and Ingram has an injury history of his own. Clowney’s health should be reflected in his price, which makes him the high-ceiling option. He’s the best run defender of the three, and would provide more speed than Dunlap, which is important when facing Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

Next. Report: Cleveland Browns meeting with free agent Jadeveon Clowney. dark

Don’t let his low sack totals fool you; Jadeveon Clowney is a very good football player, and would combine with Myles Garrett to give the Browns perhaps the most athletic and explosive pass-rush duo in NFL history. Clowney fits everything the team is looking for from a need, value, and fit perspective, and adding him would allow Cleveland to go into the 2021 NFL Draft with a pure best player available approach as they attempt to win a Super Bowl this season.