Jadeveon Clowney is finally a member of the Cleveland Browns. After a lengthy courtship and mutual flirting, the Browns and Clowney cemented the relationship with a one-year contract worth at least $8 million, per Yahoo’s Charles Robinson.
From a football standpoint, the move makes all the sense in the world. Clowney is an instant upgrade as the starting defensive end opposite Myles Garrett. He’s a better player than Takk McKinley, Porter Gustin, Joe Jackson or anyone else the Browns would consider there for 2021. Clowney can play in various alignments and positions, lining up anywhere from a 3T to a Wide-9 in a 4-man front or a standing EDGE in an odd front.
The key will be to keep expectations in check. Clowney brings a number of question marks along with him to Cleveland. Foremost among those is his health.
The 28-year-old Clowney has had five separate knee surgeries since entering the league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. That includes a procedure last fall to repair a torn meniscus, an injury that ended his 2020 campaign with the Tennessee Titans after just eight games. He didn’t play particularly well in those games, either.
When I covered Clowney in Houston during his Texans heyday (2017-2018, Pro Bowl both years), eggshells were everywhere when talking about Clowney’s health. He didn’t practice often. Every play where he got cut-blocked or was slow to get up after the whistle had Texans fans clutching prayer beads that it wasn’t another horrible injury.
He hasn’t been healthy since he left Houston, first with Seattle in 2019 and then in Tennessee last season. Battling chronic knee issues, Clowney has played in just 21 games in those two seasons. In those games he has registered 50 total tackles and three sacks, and that’s the other caveat with expectations.
Clowney is a very good EDGE, when healthy. He creates pressure with power-to-speed very well. PFF perennially touts him as one of the top-grading run defenders on the edge. But he is not a sack artist. Never has been. His career-high is 9.5 in 2017, the last (and only) season he played all 16 games. If the Browns, or Browns fans, are counting on him equaling Olivier Vernon’s sack total in that role, they’re going to be disappointed. Vernon bagged nine in 2020 and 3.5 in 2019. The latter is much more in line with what Clowney figures to do in 2021.
Having McKinley and Gustin already in the fold as depth takes some of the edge off, no pun intended. The Browns don’t need Clowney to be a great player or to be counted upon for 16 games and 8.5 sacks, though that would certainly be quite nice. The price is a little steeper than hoped for but it’s not a paralyzing move and it’s for just one year. It’s a more calculated risk than the significantly bigger offer from the Browns that Clowney rejected last year.
Browns dodged an expensive bullet with Jadeveon Clowney
Signing Clowney should not change the Browns’ draft plans. The DE spot opposite Garrett remains a prominent long-term need, one that GM Andrew Berry and his staff must fill with some permanence. The position should remain very much in play for the Browns at No. 26 overall, or at least within the first three rounds.