Cleveland Browns sign Jadeveon Clowney: Impact on 2021 NFL Draft strategy

Jadeveon Clowney signed a one-year contract with the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday, which provides the team with tons of flexibility entering the NFL Draft.

The Cleveland Browns agreed to terms with Jadeveon Clowney on a one-year contract on Wednesday, as the former No. 1 overall pick joins a defense that’s vastly improved through free agency.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the news of Clowney’s deal with the Browns and that it’s worth up to $10 million:

Browns general manager Andrew Berry pursued Clowney heavily last offseason and even offered him a lucrative, multi-year contract. The star edge defender opted instead to decline, and signed a one-year deal with Tennessee, but was limited to eight games due to injury.

After another concerted effort to bring Clowney aboard, Berry and Cleveland have succeeded in pairing the 28-year-old veteran with another former top draft pick in Myles Garrett.

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What Jadeveon Clowney means to Cleveland Browns

When the Browns signed Takk McKinley earlier this offseason, he was expected to compete for the starting defensive end spot opposite Garrett. However, that was hardly the solution Cleveland was hoping for, as Berry made a determined effort to upgrade the defense that cost the Browns a shot at going deeper in last year’s playoffs.

After luring safety John Johnson III and slot cornerback Troy Hill away from the Los Angeles Rams’ No. 1 defense, Berry acquired McKinley and former Indianapolis linebacker Anthony Walker to bolster the front seven.

As it turns out, another splashy move was on the horizon. Clowney not only serves as a viable pass-rusher opposite Garrett, but more importantly, he’s an excellent edge-setter versus the run, something Cleveland has noticeably lacked, really, since it returned to the NFL in 1999.

Clowney is also strong and quick enough to slide inside and serve as an interior rusher. His versatility is a dream for defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who can get more creative with stunts and pressure than he could in 2020.

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How Jadeveon Clowney impacts Cleveland Browns’ draft

Cleveland Browns updated 7-round 2021 NFL mock draft
Oct 23, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) returns an interception for a touchdown in the second half against the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Many have thought the Browns would be in the market for a young, fresh edge defender in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and while that could still be the way Berry and Co. go, it’s far less of a priority now that Clowney is in the fold.

Suddenly, Cleveland actually has solid depth at the defensive end position, whereas before, Garrett was the only real viable player at the position.

What also helps the Browns is that they have an extra third-round pick to play with, which they could pair with their 26th overall pick to move up higher in the first-round order if there’s a blue-chip prospect they really like.

Woods deploys a base Cover 3 scheme and got by with solid play last season from stopgap veteran linebackers Malcolm Smith and B.J. Goodson. Although Smith re-signed and Walker just joined the team after being a tackling machine with the Colts, the heart of Cleveland’s defense still lacks a special athlete with elite coverage ability.

Thus, look for the Browns to aggressively pursue projected first-round ‘backers like Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, or Tulsa’s Zaven Collins.

Another route Cleveland could go is shoring up the interior of the defensive line. Clowney is good on the inside only in certain situations, and the depth chart behind Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle is uninspiring. Alabama’s Christian Barmore could still be on the board when the Browns go on the clock at No. 26, so expect him to get a hard look, too.

Finally, the fact that Berry put such a premium on the defense in free agency suggests a move for an offensive playmaker could be in the cards. Maybe Odell Beckham Jr. gets traded on draft night, and Berry targets a shifty, explosive receiver like Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, or a size-speed prospect like Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman or LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr.

Whatever the case may be, Clowney obviously gives Cleveland worlds of flexibility as it prepares to host the NFL Draft, and Browns fans have to be ecstatic about what seemed like a pipe dream acquisition finally coming to fruition.

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