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Speculation still simmering around Browns and Jadeveon Clowney

Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports still believes Browns are the front runners to land free agent defensive end.

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The NFL has hit the annual dead period for free agents, but there are still a few big names who remain unsigned.

One of the biggest is defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has yet to find a team willing to meet his reported asking price of between $15 million and $17 million a year.

Clowney will play somewhere this season, naturally, and the Cleveland Browns continue to be at the center of speculation when talk turns to Clowney’s next team.

Such was the case on Monday, when Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports joined The Pat McAfee Show and opined that the Browns remain the front runners to sign Clowney:

The Browns not only have the cap space - a league-leading $37 million-plus (per Over the Cap) - to sign Clowney, but also the players to maximize his skills, according to Robinson:

“The Cleveland Browns are a team with a ton of cap space. ... You want to put Jadaveon Clowney with a set of guys who can be force multipliers. You have Myles Garrett at one end, Jadeveon Clowney on the other, and something has to happen as one of them will have to be doubled. It will change the matrix up front for offensive teams.

“I think the Browns are a team that are very interested but are slow playing the process. The bottom line is that Clowney is not in a hurry, because there is nothing going on right now. He is not worried about the virtual offseason. Clowney is training and will be ready to step in and be ready to play right away.

“The Browns have expressed interest (but) it is not as if they have all of a sudden closed the door. Clowney’s camp has known for a while that the Browns are interested. You are on Clowney’s schedule … and he is still in a situation where he may need to sign a one-year, prove-it deal. But I think the Browns are interested in him longer term than that.”

This is nothing particularly new, of course, as the Browns have been linked to Clowney since the start of free agency in March.

Still, the idea of Clowney joining Cleveland’s defensive line is intriguing, even more so depending on how they might want to go about it.

The easiest path would be to release defensive end Olivier Vernon, which would open up the $15 million that Vernon is owed in the final year of his contract. That money would only be good for one season, however, and if the Browns are thinking longterm as Robinson believes, that would put a bite into the available cap space the team will need for upcoming extensions.

Of course, just because Clowney may want $15 million or more does not mean the Browns have to pay him that. If the market continues to be uninterested in Clowney at his asking price and he is forced to sign a one-year deal, Cleveland could get him on a more friendly priace and then talk with Vernon about returning for one more season under a pay cut.

Vernon would not like that, obviously, but it is highly doubtful that any team is willing to pay him $15 million for the upcoming season. Sign Clowney to pair with Garrett as the starters, and find a way to keep Vernon as a backup with Adrian Clayborn, and suddenly the Browns have defensive end rotation that can actually get something done.

That scenario may be beyond even general manager Andrew Berry’s analytical powers, but since we are in the speculation season, it is fun to think about.