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).
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