ESPN's Adam Schefter took the airwaves Wednesday in Cleveland and dropped one hell of a bombshell on the Browns' faithful.
Not only were the Browns in the running for the services of free-agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, but they had apparently made far and away the best financial offer to Clowney as he searches for his next NFL contract.
There's just one problem: Clowney isn't biting.
It’s curious, given Clowney's stated objective ahead of the offseason that he aspired to reset the market for defensive ends in free agency. That, obviously, will not happen — not after Clowney has gone unsigned this late into the game. More than anything, we're increasingly likely to see Clowney sign somewhere on a one-year deal to try to reignite his stock and look to test the market again in 2021; hopefully to a more appealing open market. Clowney's impact was felt for the Seahawks in 2019, but the production failed to follow the former No. 1 selection from Houston to the Pacific Northwest. Clowney, battling a hernia injury throughout the second half of the season, played just 605 snaps in 2019 — his fewest since his second NFL season (562) in 2015.
Yet as his market dwindles for 2020, Cleveland is reportedly going to remain suitors for his services, according to Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot.
Before he signs anywhere, Clowney is going to have to choose what is most important to him. He stated he both wants to play for a contender and to reset the market, but he won't get both at this juncture and if he's careful he won't get either one alone. If his appeal in Seattle dries up, Clowney may be left signing in Cleveland without a market-setting contract; his own personal worst-case scenario based on his own self-described objectives earlier this offseason.
Unless, of course, Clowney's addition to the Browns makes them a contender?
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Cleveland has a lot of new pieces and will need to ensure its talent gels accordingly in order to take the team beyond the great void from mediocre to a legitimate contender. But Clowney as a new component to a defensive front that already boasts Myles Garrett is a fun pairing to think about. Garrett will look to redeem himself this season for an ugly on-field incident that ended his season prematurely after just 10 games, but there is little to no question he's a star when he's on the field. Cleveland's high-priced second fiddle to Garrett, Olivier Vernon, also only suited up for 10 games last season — he's missed 15 games over the last three seasons combined — but he only recorded 3 1/2 sacks last season.
The Browns are a team likely to implement a lot of "big nickel" under defensive coordinator Joe Woods. Their linebackers suggest they won't be spending a lot of time in "base" personnel. Cleveland simply doesn’t have the horses. Its starring linebackers include Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki and 2020 rookie Jacob Phillips; so getting an additional safety (Andrew Sendejo) on the field makes sense, and in those scenarios, Clowney's versatility would allow him to take reps with his hand in the ground against teams who spread the field. Or when squaring off against teams who implement condensed packages on offense, Cleveland could stand to mix in some odd front looks that would feature Clowney and Garrett as the rush linebackers that provide some added fireworks to the defense.
Envision an odd front with Larry Ogunjobi, Andrew Billings and Sheldon Richardson as an interior trio with Clowney and Garrett aligned off each edge; the Browns can do some damage there. In turn, Cleveland only needs two traditional off-ball linebackers on the field in such a model.
Clowney starred in Houston with his reps both twisting or crashing off the edge and also by dropping into the B-gap to align with his hand in the dirt on some run downs. There's nothing stopping the Browns from featuring Garrett and Clowney next to one another, which would provide plenty of headaches for opposing coordinators and linemen. Except, of course, for Clowney himself.
Before Browns fans get too far ahead of themselves in fantasizing about what could be, they'll need Clowney to decide what moves the needle more in 2020: the money or the lure of chasing a ring. The longer he waits to decide, the more likely it is that his decision is made for him, and that might end up playing to Cleveland's favor before things are all said and done. Seattle is said to currently not have an offer on the table for Clowney.