Andrew Berry has been relentless in chasing down certain edge defenders.
The Browns hope their new defensive ends will be as persistent in their pursuit of opposing quarterbacks.
Jadeveon Clowney signed a one-year contract with the Browns on Wednesday, when the three-time Pro Bowl selection visited team headquarters in Berea, Ohio, for the second time in a span of three weeks, a person familiar with the deal confirmed.
With the move, Berry secured another defensive end who eluded him last year in his first offseason as general manager of the Browns.
Berry signed defensive end Takk McKinley to a one-year, $4.25 million contract on March 18 after trying to acquire him four times in 2020.
Now the Browns have three defensive ends who were first-round draft picks, two of whom were selected first overall.
The Houston Texans picked Clowney at No. 1 out of the University of South Carolina in 2014. The Browns chose All-Pro Myles Garrett at No. 1 out of Texas A&M University in 2017, the same year the Atlanta Falcons took McKinley at No. 26 out of UCLA.
The Browns discussed trading for McKinley last year before the Atlanta Falcons released him. Then Berry submitted three waiver claims for McKinley, but he bounced from the Cincinnati Bengals to the San Francisco 49ers to the Las Vegas Raiders because the Browns were behind those teams in the waiver order.
Berry went after Clowney last year, too, and the Browns reportedly offered him more money than any other team in 2020. Their price point for a one-year deal reached $15 million, according to Sports Illustrated, and they also attempted to lure him with a three-year, $57 million contract, per NFL Network.
Instead of joining the Browns a year ago while they were coming off a record of 6-10, Clowney eventually signed a one-year, $13 million deal with the Tennessee Titans, reuniting with coach Mike Vrabel, who had previously worked with Clowney as a position coach and defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans.
Since then, the Browns have reversed their fortunes, going 11-5 last season under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski to earn their first playoff berth in 18 years, then capturing their first postseason victory in 26 years before being eliminated in the divisional round.
It wasn't nearly as good a season for Clowney, 28, because an injured left knee derailed his second run with Vrabel.
Clowney played just eight games last season, missing the final seven of the regular season and failing to register a sack all year. He landed on injured reserve Nov. 21 and had surgery Dec. 6 on torn meniscus cartilage, according to NFL Network. He finished with 19 tackles, including four for loss, six quarterback hits, four passes defensed and a forced fumble in half a season.
Despite Clowney's modest production last season, he maintained his status as a favorite of ProFootballFocus.com, ranking 19th among the 109 qualifying edge defenders the website graded in 2020. He ranked 19th of 104 in 2019 and 11th of 104 in 2018.
PFF ranked Clowney as the fourth-best edge defender in free agency this offseason, trailing only Shaquil Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, J.J. Watt of the Arizona Cardinals and Carl Lawson of the New York Jets. They have been off the market for a month or more. The Browns pursued Watt before he chose the Cardinals on March 1.
PFF's free-agency analysis of Clowney is as follows:
“Clowney has elite tools, but he's never been an elite pass-rusher, as he has posted a pass-rushing grade in the 70s in each of the last three years and a 69.6 mark in 2020. The sack totals will fluctuate from year to year, so don't let that change the narrative: Clowney is a good, not great, pass-rusher.
“He does his best work in the run game, using those elite tools and heavy hands to win at the point of attack. Since entering the league, Clowney is a 95th percentile run defender and a 77th percentile pass-rusher, so his future team should expect similar snap-to-snap production at this point.”
Olivier Vernon finished one spot behind Clowney in PFF's rankings, tying for 20th among edge defenders last season. Vernon started opposite Garrett the past two years and racked up nine sacks last season, second on the team to Garrett's 12. But Vernon also suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the Jan. 3 regular-season finale, became an unrestricted free agent March 17 and is not expected to return to the Browns.
The Browns also cut defensive end Adrian Clayborn and let defensive tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Vincent Taylor leave in free agency this offseason.
They have replaced those linemen with Clowney, McKinley and defensive tackle Malik Jackson, another free-agent pickup. They expect to have defensive tackle Andrew Billings back after he signed with them last year, but opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Clowney, listed as 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, made the Pro Bowl each season from 2016-2018 and was voted second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press in 2016. From 2016-2019, he was one of only three NFL players with at least 60 tackles for loss, eight forced fumbles and 150 quarterback pressures, according to Sportradar. His best pass-rushing production came in 2017, when he had a career-high 9 1/2 sacks and 21 quarterback hits, and 2018, when he had nine sacks and 21 QB hits.
He has started 74 of the 83 regular-season games in which he’s appeared and has compiled 255 tackles, including 32 sacks, 86 QB hits, nine forced fumbles, 18 passes defensed, an interception returned 27 yards for a touchdown and eight fumble recoveries, three of which resulted in touchdowns. He has 20 tackles, including 1 1/2 sacks, five QB hits and an interception in five playoff games.
The Browns are Clowney's fourth team in as many years. In 2019, the Texans franchised him on March 4, he signed his tender on Aug. 31 and the Texans traded him on Sept. 1 to the Seattle Seahawks for outside linebackers Barkevious Mingo, formerly of the Browns, and Jacob Martin and a 2020 third-round pick. He had three sacks in 13 regular-season games and another 1 1/2 in two playoff games with the Seahawks. Then he became an unrestricted free agent.
Clowney hasn't played a full season since 2017, and he has been injured at each of his past two stops. He suffered a core muscle injury with the Seahawks in Week 10 of the 2019 season, missing three games and choosing to delay surgery until the offseason. Then his most recent knee injury occurred while he played for the Titans. He had microfracture surgery on his other knee, the right one, as a rookie with the Texans.
Yet the Browns clearly believe a healthy Clowney could help them achieve their goal of reaching a Super Bowl for the first time.
Berry's mission this offseason has been to upgrade every level of the defense, and he'll continue the effort in the April 29-May 1 draft. Berry could still take a defensive end in the first round (No. 26 overall), but the addition of Clowney points to cornerback being the most likely route.
2021 NFL Mock Draft: Trades shake up first round
6. Miami from Philadelphia (4-11-1) — Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama, Jr.
It's scary that a 10-win team with such a good coach and plenty of young talent also has four picks in the top 50. The Dolphins are desperate for wide receivers who can get open and it's clear that will be the target here (or they wouldn't have made this deal with the Eagles). Miami mimics Cincinnati by reuniting a top receiving prospect with his old college quarterback. A healthy Waddle is the most explosive all-around athlete at receiver in this class and his addition will only expedite former Crimson Tide teammate Tua Tagovailoa's development. Top needs: WR, RB, LB
7. Detroit (5-11) — Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon, Jr.
In most drafts, Sewell would be the consensus No. 1 overall pick and he'd pair nicely with Taylor Decker, giving the Lions bookend tackles. The 2019 Outland Trophy winner — he opted out last season due to the threat of COVID-19 — isn't flawless, but his ceiling is as high as they come (he'll only be 21 in October). Top needs: WR, LB, DB
9. Denver (5-11) — Micah Parsons, LB, Penn St., Jr.
A classic Vic Fangio defense usually features a playmaking linebacker at its core. Parsons is another elite prospect who opted out of the 2020 season, citing "the potential risk to the health and well-being" of his young son due to COVID. He recently dazzled scouts with a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day. This would be the first time in my lifetime the first defensive player off the board lasts this long. Top needs: Edge, OT, LB
11. N.Y. Giants (6-10) — Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan, Sr.
The Giants are in need of another pass rushing threat to go opposite Leonard Williams. Paye is already an impressive run defender against the spread offense, which is becoming increasingly important in the NFL, and there are athletic indicators he will continue to improve as a pass rusher. Top needs: OL, Edge, LB
12. Philadelphia from Miami through San Francisco (6-10) — DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama, Sr.
Is it me or does it seem like the Eagles are always in need of help at receiver? The Heisman winner took his game to another level after Waddle was sidelined in 2020 — he had 1,300 yards on 72 receptions and 19 touchdowns in his last eight games. The only blemish is his size. Top needs: WR, CB, LB
13. L.A. Chargers (7-9) — Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern, Sr.
Signing All-Pro center Corey Linsley is a step in the right direction for a very bad offensive line. Slater opted out this season due to COVID, but handled the mighty Chase Young as a junior while playing left tackle and didn't allow a single sack his last season. He's versatile and talented enough to play all five offensive line positions. He did nothing during his pro day to hurt himself. Top needs: OL, CB, DL
14. Minnesota (7-9) — Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech, Sr.
Coach Mike Zimmer didn't hold back when he called his defense the "worst one I've ever had," but the offensive line is priority here considering the Vikings don't have a pick in the second round. Darrisaw would be the first Hokie offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round since 2008 ( Duane Brown). Top needs: OL, S, Edge
16. Arizona (8-8) — Najee Harris, RB, Alabama, Sr.
If you're a fantasy player who is excited about Chase Edmonds' potential as a featured back now that Kenyan Drake has moved on, don't get your hopes up. Harris has evolved into an all-around threat. Of course, he's a powerful runner with his size (6-foot-2, 230 pounds), but he's also developed into a great receiver out of the backfield and he's improved significantly in pass-protection. Top needs: CB, RB, OL
17. Las Vegas (8-8) — Trevon Moehrig-Woodard, S, TCU, Jr.
The Raiders must address their atrocious secondary. Moehrig-Woodard's skillset is scheme-proof. He's a hard hitter who led all safeties in pass breakups in each of the past two seasons. Top needs: OT, S, LB
18. Miami (10-6) — Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson, Sr.
One way to alleviate the pressure off of a young quarterback is to give him a dynamic running back who is a three-down threat and capable of scoring every time the ball is in his hands. Etienne, a three-time All-American and the ACC's career rushing leader, fits the bill perfectly. Top needs: WR, RB, LB
19. Washington (7-9) — Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame, Sr.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Taylor Heinicke isn't the quarterback of the future for the Football Team — or Ryan Fitzpatrick for that matter — but there's not a QB on the board worthy of this pick. Owusu-Koramoah is an explosive athlete who can make plays from sideline-to-sideline. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year also won the Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) and was a consensus All-American. Top needs: QB, LB, Edge
21. Indianapolis (11-5) — Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia, So.
I expected the Colts to be aggressive seeking their next quarterback in the trade market and they didn't disappoint. The next biggest priority is to continue building their pass rush. Ojulari was a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award (the nation's top defensive player) with 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and 25 quarterback hurries. He's only scratching the surface of his talent. Top needs: Edge, OT, CB
22. Tennessee (11-5) — Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina, Jr.
The Titans will need to address their secondary (after releasing Kenny Vaccaro and Malcolm Butler) in a major way. Horn — his father Joe was a Pro Bowl wide receiver — is a very talented, uber-aggressive press corner with elite speed, good size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) and can make plays in run support. Top needs: WR, CB, DT
23. N.Y. Jets from Seattle (12-4) — Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami, Jr.
If past is prologue, once head coach Robert Saleh has his quarterback situation figured out, he'll focus on building a pass rush. Phillips stepped up in Gregory Rousseau's absence after transferring from UCLA. The former highly-touted recruit is a relentless pass rusher who produced eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 10 games as a Hurricane. Top needs: QB, OT, LB
24. Pittsburgh (12-4) — Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL, USC, Jr.
The Steelers are facing difficult decisions at almost every major position after this season, but it's clear the offensive line has to be a priority. Vera-Tucker was one of the best offensive tackles in the country, but could also shine on the interior in the NFL. Top needs: OT, RB, LB
26. Cleveland (11-5) — Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa, Jr.
The Browns need to upgrade their pass rush outside of Myles Garrett, but they also need to improve their linebacker corps. Collins has the size (6-4, 260), athleticism and positional flexibility that will cause most defensive coordinators to drool. He received the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded by the Football Writers Association of America to the top defensive player in college football. Top needs: LB, Edge, DL
27. Baltimore (11-5) — Gregory Rousseau, Edge, Miami, So.
Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon are gone. It's been almost two decades since a Hurricane defensive end was taken in the first round ( Jerome McDougle in 2003). Rousseau finished with 15.5 sacks in 13 games as a redshirt freshman, but opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Top needs: Edge, C, LB
28. New Orleans (12-4) — Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue, So.
Emmanuel Sanders' release and no money for free agency might necessitate this move. Moore would be a nice fit opposite a healthy Michael Thomas. An impressive pro day should boost him into the back-end of the first round. Top needs: QB, DB, WR
30. Buffalo (13-3) — Jaylen Mayfield, OL, Michigan, Jr.
Offensive tackle Daryl Williams was resigned, but the Bills still need to address the interior. Mayfield features the versatility and athleticism to thrive in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's system. Top needs: DL, G, CB
31. Kansas City (14-2) — Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas, Jr.
The greatness of Patrick Mahomes has made up for the mediocrity of his offensive line since he became the starter. Joe Thuney was a nice addition at guard. Cosmi is capable of starting at right tackle day one, but has the ability to protect Mahomes' blindside eventually. Top needs: OT, LB, WR