BEREA, Ohio – Next season, the Cleveland Browns' defense will feature two former No. 1 overall picks off the edge. And they’re banking the All-Pro they drafted four years ago will help unlock the vast potential of the one they just signed.
Wednesday, Cleveland further bolstered its budding defense in free agency, inking Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal worth up to $10 million.
Unlike Myles Garrett, Clowney has yet to live up to the billing of being the No. 1 pick. But now healthy again, he sees playing in Cleveland alongside Garrett as an opportunity to finally do so in his eighth season in the league.
“I just want to show that I’m still an elite player,” Clowney said Wednesday. “And prove to other people that I’m still out here and can dominate.”
Clowney is coming off a season with Tennessee during which he did anything but dominate. He played eight games with the Titans without notching a single sack, before missing the rest of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Since becoming the first pick in the 2014 draft, injuries have continually hampered Clowney, beginning with his first career game, which ultimately led to a microfracture in his right knee. Clowney passed a physical in Cleveland on Wednesday on both knees, clearing the way for the Browns to finally sign him.
“I don’t think everybody [has gotten] to see the person they drafted yet,” said Clowney, who has still made three Pro Bowls. “I think I’m working back toward that -– I’m well on my way now.
“With my potential and the way I play the game –- if I can stay healthy -– I shouldn’t be far away from being Defensive Player of the Year. I think I have that potential, and I can do it.”
The Browns already boast a player who was in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation just last season in Garrett. Before contracting COVID-19 in late November, Garrett was leading the NFL with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Despite missing two games because of the virus and laboring with his breathing after returning, Garrett still was named a first-team All-Pro.
Clowney, himself, has commanded plenty of attention from opposing offenses in the past, even with his injury history and inconsistent production. In fact, since 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information, only Michael Bennett and Za'Darius Smith have been doubled-teamed more often.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Clowney, who, despite the constant double-teams, still owns one of the five best pass rush win rates since 2018. “You game plan all week to go against one person, watch him all week to get pass-rush reps -- and then you go into the game, and all of a sudden, it’s two people in front of you or somebody there to chip you the whole game.”
In Cleveland, however, Clowney could see the fewest double-teams of his career, lining up opposite Garrett, who faced the third-highest rate of double-teams last season.
“I’m looking forward to playing with somebody who is dominant on the opposite side like a Myles Garrett, who can draw a double team,” Clowney said. “Maybe I can go one-on-one more.”
Without a doubt, Clowney will see more one-on-one opportunities. And having already landed edge rusher Takkarist McKinley in free agency this offseason, Cleveland could deploy Clowney in the pass rush in a variety of creative ways.
“We love his relentless style of play,” general manager Andrew Berry said in a statement. “He's one of the more disruptive players in the game and we think he's going to add an element of ruggedness along our defensive line.
“The other thing we love about Jadeveon is his versatility, his ability to play all across the front and impact the game regardless of his alignment.”
Berry has been busy this offseason upgrading every level of a defense that ranked just 19th in efficiency in 2020 but for a team that still won 12 games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Last month, the Browns landed arguably the top safety available in free agency in John Johnson III from the Rams. Berry also added three other potential defensive starters in linebacker Anthony Walker, nickelback Troy Hill and defensive tackle Malik Jackson.
Clowney, however, has enough talent to elevate the Browns' defense to yet another level. Especially if he, in his own words, proves that he can be a dominant player once again.
“That is all I am here to prove this year,” he said. “We’re going to see this season.”