Now that the J.J. Watt sweepstakes are over in anticlimactic fashion, it’s a good time to look at other, more reasonable, options for the Cleveland Browns. It’s no secret Andrew Berry & co have their work cut out for them this offseason to bolster the defense, but where do they start?
What position is most important? Can they count on the injured players of last year to bounce back 100% this year? Will available free agents be interested in Cleveland? Can the Browns afford them?
Who better to analyze and speculate than fans with no control over the situation?
That’s exactly what we’re going to do, folks. Starting with Defensive Ends.
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But before we get to that, here’s a comprehensive bullet point list (Kyle Shanahan style) of all the reasons the Browns were fortunate to not sign J.J. Watt, in case you need it today:
- They didn’t have to overpay for him.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, there were allegedly two big factors that J.J. Watt was considering while deciding where to sign: Super Bowl potential and money.
With all due respect to the 8-8 Arizona Cardinals, it seems money was the most important factor. While they were not mentioned in the top contenders, they landed the five-time Pro Bowler on a two-year, $31 million deal that includes $23 million guaranteed. That’s a big payday, and considering all the other holes the Browns need to fill—it’s a price they could not (and should not) match.
There is no doubt Watt still has serious potential to be dynamic, but given his history of injuries, is it worth the risk? (There is an actual website called sportsinjurypredictor.com and according to this very reliable source, his chance of injury in 2021 is 91%)
- He is injury prone.
But on a serious note, he has an incredibly high ceiling with a hefty history of injury. High risk, high reward, but it wasn’t a make-or-break deal with the Browns. They didn’t need him to be successful. (Read that sentence again because as a Browns fan, it’s a fun thing to say!)
While he did play in all 16 games of his first five seasons, his luck ran out in the 2015 season and has struggled to get back to normal since. Here is a history of his (major) injuries:
Nov 2015: Torn Abdomen July 2016: Herniated Disc – started the season, played three games September 2016: Herniated Disc – surgery – out for the rest of the year October 2017: Leg Fracture – surgery – missed the final 11 games October 2019: Pectoral Tear – surgery – missed 8 games
Watt did play in all 16 games during the 2018 and 2020 seasons, but it’s fair to say he missed significant time during his tenure with the Texans due to injuries.
He still has all the tools to be as dangerous as he once was, but the human body can only take so much wear-and-tear, and while 31 may not be old in normal human years, it’s OK to wonder how much more a 31-year old NFL player can physically endure (and it’s definitely OK to factor that into how much you are willing to pay him.)
- They can now put all their focus on other free agents (Defensive Ends & others)
And who’s to say they haven’t been doing that already? J.J. Watt certainly wasn’t the only DE on the Browns’ radar, and there are some solid options that could become available.
Who? Here is a list, in no particular order because we don’t play favorites.
Bud Dupree (27, Pittsburgh Steelers)
After suffering a season-ending torn ACL injury, the franchise-tagged Steelers edge rusher may have hurt his value, but it would be silly to say he’s not in the conversation. The former first-round pick was on a $15.828 million tender last season, and with the Steelers money woes, it is not likely they will bring him back, and he will enter the market as a free agent on March 17.
According to Spotrac, his market value is estimated at about four years, $72.8 million, which equals around $18 million/year. That is expensive.
Is it likely the Browns get him? No. Is it fun to dream about a former Steeler playing opposite of Myles Garrett in Cleveland? I can’t think of anything more fun.
(He recently joked with former Steelers guard Ramon Foster about playing in Tennessee)
Jadeveon Clowney (28, Tennessee Titans)
The Browns were contenders to sign Clowney last offseason, and they were even reported to be the team that offered him the most money. For whatever reason, he chose to take his talents to the Titans on a one-year deal for $15 million.
The 28-year-old played in 8 games last season, recording 19 combined tackles, four tackles for loss, and zero sacks. He missed the remainder of the season due to knee surgery.
Because of his lackluster performance and injury, he may be available at a discount. Spotrac estimates his current market value at one-year, $6.5 million.
But would the man who already turned down the Browns once consider Cleveland? We shall see.
Carl Lawson (25, Cincinnati Bengals)
Let’s make the AFC North even more interesting, shall we?
While it may not be as juicy as a former Steeler coming to Cleveland, the Browns would be blessed to have this Bengal alongside Myles Garrett, should he become a free agent.
The 25-year-old DE hinted at the possibility of free agency after the JJ Watt signing with this cryptic (albeit friendly!) tweet.
Lawson played in 16 games last season (started 11) and finished with 5.5 sacks, 36 combined tackles, 18 solo tackles, and 32 QB hits. His estimated market value is around 4 years, $35.46 million (averaging $8.865 annually.)
A fair price for a very good player.
Melvin Ingram (31, Los Angeles Chargers)
It’s unclear if the Chargers and Ingram will be able to reach an agreement, but if they don’t, the Browns could be contenders to sign the 31-year-old DE. After spending nine seasons with the Chargers, he may want to move on to a team that can contend for the Super Bowl right now—and it delights me to say that team could be the Cleveland Browns.
Last season, the three-time Pro Bowler only recorded 10 combined tackles, 5 solo tackles, and 5 QB hits in 7 games before ending his season with a knee injury.
His market value is currently estimated at around 3 years, $32.46 million with an annual salary of $11.42.
The Browns can afford him, and they may want to take a chance if and when he becomes available.
Yannick Ngakoue (25, Baltimore Ravens)
Do you see a theme forming here from AFC North teams? It sure would be nice to play with him rather than against him, wouldn’t it?
The 25-year-old would be a tremendous pairing with Myles Garrett, but at what cost? His market value is currently estimated at 4 years, $62.35 million with an annual salary of $15.58. But his body of work warrants him being one of the more costly options.
In his 5-year career, the one-time Pro-Bowler has recorded 145 combined tackles, 128 solo tackles, 96 QB hits, and 45.5 sacks.
If the Ravens aren’t interested in putting a tag on him, would it be worth the Browns to pay up to create a nightmare for opposing QBs? Time will tell.
Other possible DE Free Agents: Trey Hendrickson (26, New Orleans Saints) Trent Murphy (30, Buffalo Bills) Leonard Williams (27, New York Giants) Romeo Okwara (25, Detroit Lions)