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J.J. Watt reportedly smitten with Cleveland Browns as 2021 free-agent destination

NFL rumors: J.J. Watt reportedly smitten with Cleveland Browns as 2021 free-agent destination
Dec 2, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) reacts and Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks on after a play during the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt is apparently giving serious consideration to the Cleveland Browns as the team he could play for in 2021 and beyond.

Not long after being released by the Houston Texans, word has surfaced about why Cleveland is in the running for Watt’s services.

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J.J. Watt eyes big payday, Super Bowl-caliber roster on Cleveland Browns

Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot reported the latest buzz on Watt’s future plans on Tuesday, indicating “Money and a potential Super Bowl” are two factors that are driving Watt’s decision-making.

Cabot also cited a “positive environment” and the strong core of players the Browns have as other elements that are figuring into Watt’s thinking about diving into the Dawg Pound.

Watt is a passionate, hard-nosed player who’d fit into Cleveland’s blue-collar mentality and be embraced by the fanbase in a big way. But beyond those intangible elements, there are plenty of pure football-related reasons as to why Watt would want to join the Browns.

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Why it makes sense for Cleveland Browns, J.J. Watt to team up this offseason

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Dec 2, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) looks on during the game against the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Although every NFL franchise had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020 campaign, the Browns were a unique case among them. They were breaking in a new coach and general manager in Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry. They were trying to overcome years of failure in the organization and a losing culture. Thanks to Stefanski’s even-keeled demeanor and Berry’s personnel savvy, Cleveland got the right pieces in place to go 11-5 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

What’s more, the Browns beat T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh Steelers 48-37 in the AFC Wild Card Round without Stefanski, and came within five points of beating the eventual AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Cleveland got hit hard by injuries on the defensive side of the ball throughout 2020. Notably, defensive end Olivier Vernon tore his Achilles in Week 17, but even before then, second-year cornerback Greedy Williams got hurt in camp and missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. Rookie second-round pick Grant Delpit, thought to be a starter at safety, tore his Achilles in training camp and didn’t suit up all year.

With Williams and Delpit returning to the defensive backfield, the Browns’ defense should be better in that area by default. However, Vernon’s injury and pending free agent status makes for an obvious void at edge-rusher opposite Myles Garrett.

The thought of Garrett and J.J. Watt lining up opposite each other on Cleveland’s defensive front would strike fear into any opponent — and almost single-handedly make the Browns favorites for the AFC North title in 2021.

Thanks to the luxury of having more salary cap room than most teams, a Coach of the Year in Stefanski and a core of players clearly ready to take the next step, Cleveland has a lot of appeal to someone like Watt, who at this point just wants to win a championship to further his legacy.

Any move Watt makes is a calculated risk, because Super Bowl contention is hardly an annual guarantee no matter which team it is. Other suitors such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers who went deeper into the postseason than the Browns just did will no doubt have Watt’s ear as he assesses his best options.

But as long as Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield continues to grow in his second season in Stefanski’s offensive system, and the defense adds another piece or two to take a step forward on that side of the ball, there’s reason to believe Cleveland is primed for a deep playoff run next season.

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