Browns In Mix To Sign J.J. Watt

Shortly after J.J. Watt became a free agent Friday, the Browns reached out about being the future Hall of Famer’s second NFL employer. They may be one of the finalists to sign the ex-Texan.

Watt is seriously considering a Browns agreement, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Browns’ salary cap situation and newfound status as a contender are helping in their pursuit of Watt, Cabot adds. Watt asked the Texans for a release that would allow him to land with a contending team.

The Browns joined the Steelers, Titans and Bills, along with several other teams, in expressing interest in the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Of Watt’s known suitors, Cleveland holds the most cap space. While the Browns do not possess a tremendous amount of space, at barely $20MM, only seven teams hold even north of $30MM in an offseason that is expected to feature a reduced cap.

Cleveland pursued longtime Watt teammate Jadeveon Clowney for months last year and has an even bigger need this year. Olivier Vernon is both set to be a free agent and coming off an Achilles tear. The Browns could benefit from Watt’s ability as an inside rusher as well, with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi also a free agent-to-be.

While giving the Browns a checkmark for roster quality would have been a laughable proposition in most 21st-century offseasons, team is coming off a road playoff win and stands to return most (if not all) of its starters on offense. The team has high-end defensive pieces in Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward but needs help on that side of the ball. Cleveland ranked 25th in defensive DVOA last season.

Although Watt finished a 16-game season as a non-first-team All-Pro for the first time since 2011, the five-time All-Pro still graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 7 overall edge defender. Set for his age-32 season, Watt signing with Cleveland would allow him to team with Garrett and see fewer double-teams than he did during his run with Houston. Watt finished with just five sacks in 2020 but registered 16, with seven forced fumbles, during his previous full season (2018).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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