CLEVELAND, Ohio — Jadeveon Clowney was set to land in Cleveland on Tuesday evening and take his Browns physical on Wednesday morning to ensure that his surgically-repaired torn meniscus is sufficiently healed. If he passes — and the expectation is that he will — he could sign his contract by the afternoon and join Myles Garrett as bookend No. 1 overall picks on the edges.
It’s not good news for Ben Roethlisberger, Lamar Jackson or Joe Burrow, but it could be a great move for the Browns, who also pursued the three-time Pro Bowler last offseason.
The Browns will get Clowney at a considerable bargain, given that he missed eight games last season with the knee injury and failed to notch a sack in eight starts. He’ll likely sign a one-year deal somewhere in the $9 million or $10 million range, which is considerably less than what other top free agent pass-rushers received this offseason.
Here are five reasons why it’s the right thing to do:
1. Clowney instantly upgrades the position
The Browns considered several free agents, including Yannick Ngakoue and Carl Lawson, but weren’t willing to pay the sky-high salaries they commanded this offseason. Instead, the Browns got two former first-rounders for the price of one in Clowney and 2017 Falcons No. 26 pick Takk McKinley, who signed a one-year, $4.25 million deal last month.
Clowney, 28, has notched only three sacks over the last two seasons, but brings elite run defense from the edge as well as good pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 19th out of 109 qualifying edge defenders last season. He’s also ranked in the 95th percentile in run defense since being selected No. 1 by the Texans in 2014, and in the 77th percentile in pass-rush ability.
Surprisingly, he’s never recorded double-digit sacks, but came close with 9.5 in 2017 and 9.0 in 2018 when he played with three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. But he consistently affects the quarterback, and sets the edge at an elite level. In each of the past three seasons, he’s been a top 20 edge defender.
For some teams, Clowney would be a No. 1 defensive end. For the Browns, he’ll be the No. 2 opposite Garrett, but he’s almost more like 1 1/2.
2. He’ll complement Garrett well
Teams will want to run away from Clowney, but will have to deal with Garrett. He’ll also relieve Garrett of some of the incessant double-teaming, especially if he’s healthy. Through the first 10 weeks of last season, before he succumbed to the torn meniscus, Clowney was tied for ninth in the NFL with 22 hurries, same as Bud Dupree, Joey Bosa and T.J. Watt. They were only two fewer than Garrett.
He was tied for 22nd with six QB hits, and 21st in run defense, 12 notches ahead of Garrett at that point.
Teams will have to account for both. Playing with Garrett, a first-team All-Pro who finished sixth with 12 sacks last season, will be like running it back with Watt again for Clowney. They can each rush from either side, enabling the Browns to get creative with matchups. They can also both rush inside, and both will move around the line. With the supportive environment in Cleveland under Kevin Stefanski, a player like Clowney can jumpstart his career.
3. He makes a good one-two punch with Takk McKinley
Like Clowney, McKinley has been sack-challenged the past few years, recording only seven in his last 30 games. But McKinley was off to a great start last season before tearing his groin muscle, hitting Russell Wilson five times in the first half of the Falcons’ opening-day loss to the Seahawks, six overall. Former Falcons coach Dan Quinn told cleveland.com that McKinley headed into last season poised to have a career year. He believes the Browns are getting the player who was miffed about not having his fifth-year option picked up. Clowney’s signing will light another fire under McKinley and possibly bring out the beast in him.
What’s more, they have different skillsets and can be interchanged depending on the down or matchup. McKinley excels at affecting the QB, Clowney is better against the run. Both players come with some risk, but they should push each other, and that should benefit the team.
4. He’ll help contain with Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes
Clowney, who beat all defensive linemen with a freakish 4.53 in the 40 in 2014 despite his 6-5, 255-pound frame, will be instrumental in containing mobile quarterbacks. Jackson, Mahomes and Murray will account for four of the Browns’ 17 games next season.
Clowney, who can leap and knock down passes at the line, has recorded 32 sacks, nine forced fumbles, eight recoveries, 75 tackles for a loss and 86 QB hits in his seven-year career. He makes gamechanging plays and can dominate when he’s on.
5. It frees the Browns for the draft
Clowney’s signing won’t preclude the Browns from drafting an edge-rusher at No. 26, but it allows them to take the most dominant player available. With Clowney and McKinley in tow, the Browns can feel comfortable drafting a cornerback such as Greg Newsome II or Caleb Farley, a receiver or whoever the best available player is at 26.
Still, they’ll keep their eye on edge rushers such as Tulsa’s Zaven Collins and Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari as their rushers of the future. Clowney and McKinley will both be on one-year deals, so the Browns can break in a new end and hit the ground running next year if they go that route. But they’ll have the luxury of letting the first round fall to them, knowing they’re set at most positions — especially edge.
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