If you’re handing out an offseason trophy for talent retention, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have locked up the title. If you’re awarding points for smart and patient bargain shopping for meaningful talent, the Cleveland Browns have edged everyone in the NFL, including the piggy-bank-breaking New England Patriots.
After adding a multitude of starting-level pieces for some reasonable contracts, the Browns plucked one more on Wednesday, signing talented-but-often-bewildering defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year contract for $8 million (with incentives that could push the deal to $10 million). It’s the culmination of a pursuit that failed last year, when the Browns offered Clowney a handful of different contract options, only to watch him take a one-year deal with the Tennessee Titans.
Despite missing out on Clowney last season and then watching him struggle through a knee injury, Browns general manager Andrew Berry didn’t sour on the defensive end, still believing that Cleveland represents the right fit to reset Clowney’s career.
Courtship, study of Clowney has been going on for years
A source familiar with the deal told Yahoo Sports that Berry has been watching Clowney closely going back to his days in the Philadelphia Eagles' personnel department. The Eagles briefly considered trading for Clowney in the summer of 2018, when the Houston Texans ultimately dealt him to the Seattle Seahawks. It was during that period of vetting — and then watching his tape again as the Browns' general manager — that Berry began to feel like Clowney would be an ideal fit opposite defensive end Myles Garrett. A Browns source said that’s ultimately what Berry had in mind when he pursued Clowney last offseason, believing that Garrett and Clowney would be an ideal pairing to push each other on the field and in the meeting room.
That ultimately never came to fruition, with Clowney signing in Tennessee. A source said Berry continued to keep tabs on him, knowing that he might be an economical free agency option following the 2020 pandemic season, particularly if Clowney would sign a one-year “prove it” deal. That’s precisely what this week’s signing represents: An opportunity for Clowney to revive his career and showcase his fit in a Browns defense that is continuing to add speed and scheme flexibility.
How good was Browns' offseason?
Clowney is the latest piece in an offseason run of free agent deals that have piped in a considerable amount of defensive talent, all while keeping in line with a low-risk salary structure that is expected to keep the franchise competitive in future free agent periods. The cornerstone moves of free agency aimed at boosting the secondary with the additions of safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill.
The Browns also added multiple free agents on one-year deals, in hopes of getting the best football out of players who will essentially be playing for extensions after 2021. Clowney will now lead that group, alongside defensive tackle Takk McKinley and linebacker Anthony Walker, as well as veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson.
Ultimately that group, along with the economical one-year deal with returning wideout Rashard Higgins, accounts for a very good haul of talent with low-risk salaries. That has given the Browns a lot of potential upside next season and perhaps beyond if one or more of the signings can get on track in Cleveland. That’s what makes this Browns class so impressive, the potential for a higher ceiling reboot at a lower risk price point.
It’s not the talent haul of free agents retained by the Buccaneers. And it’s also not the lavish spending of the Patriots, who blew out their free agency budget this offseason. But it’s a class with a lot of potential for relatively little money. Showcasing a smart, patient and impressive offseason that continues a new trend of the Browns looking like a franchise that suddenly knows what it’s doing.
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