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Are the Browns and J.J. Watt a match?

Cleveland needs help on defense, Watt needs a new team. Are the Browns the answer?

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Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns need reinforcements for the defense in 2021.

While general manager Andrew Berry’s focus will likely be on the secondary and adding speed (and tackling ability) at linebacker, he can’t afford to ignore the defensive line - most notably the defensive end position.

The Browns are obviously set on one side with Myles Garrett, but the other side is in need of help after Olivier Vernon, who was in the final year of his contract, ruptured his Achilles tendon during the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With a recovery period of nine months to a year with that injury, it is probably safe to say that Vernon is not in the Browns plans this fall.

Enter J.J. Watt, who was released on Friday after playing 10 seasons with the Houston Texans.

Even though he will turn 32 next month, Watt is sure to be one of the hottest free agents on the market as he has 101 sacks and three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards on his résumé.

The Browns are one of the teams that will be linked to Watt in the coming days, so is he the answer to Cleveland’s problems on defense?

The pros of signing Watt is that it won’t cost the Browns anything but money since they will not have to trade for him. And with Vernon’s $11 million salary coming off the books, Berry might have some spare change lying around the office that he could toss at Watt.

And with Garrett taking on the attention of opposing offenses, that would conceivably free up Watt to wreak some havoc as the team’s second pass rusher.

The downside of signing Watt is that, as we pointed out at the top, he will turn 32 next month, and injuries have limited him to playing a full 16-game season just twice since 2015. Although, to be fair, those two seasons came in 2018 and 2020.

There is also the question, unknown at this point, if Watt will be willing to be a team’s No. 2 pass rusher rather than being the focal point, which he would clearly be with the Browns, and how much he is willing to accept in salary after missing out on $17.5 million in base salary for 2021.

If he is (relatively) healthy and willing to play at a reasonable price, Watt can still be a productive player, as Brad Spielberger and Ben Linsey at Pro Football Focu highlight:

Injuries and age have kept Watt from dominating at the almost unequaled level he once did, but a small step down from that pedestal still puts him among the NFL’s elite defensive linemen. He is the third-most valuable edge defender in the league over the last three seasons, per PFF’s wins above replacement (WAR) metric, behind only Khalil Mack and T.J. Watt. J.J. Watt earned that rank despite missing roughly half of the 2019 season with injury.

Looking at just this past season, Watt was a clear strength on a defense that had very little outside of the 10-year veteran. His 85.5 PFF grade ranked seventh at the position behind a strong list of names that includes Mack, T.J. Watt, Joey Bosa, Demarcus Lawrence, Chase Young and Myles Garrett.

There is a lot to like about the idea of Watt on the Browns, but given his injury history and the need to preserve some salary cap space for other players, also some valid reasons for Berry to proceed cautiously if he is interested.

One thing is certain, however, and that is that until he signs with a new team, Watt and the Browns will be linked by fans and media speculation.

Poll

Should the Browns sign J.J. Watt?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Yes!
    (433 votes)
  • 7%
    No!
    (81 votes)
  • 50%
    Depends on the cost!
    (514 votes)
1028 votes total Vote Now