The Cleveland Browns need a defensive end to pair with Myles Garrett and help a defense that came up short at times during the 2020 season.
And they may have just the right combination to land one of the biggest available free agents in defensive end J.J. Watt, according to Mary Kay Cabot at cleveland.com.
Citing unnamed sources, Cabot says that the Browns have the perfect combination of salary cap space, a winning team, a good supporting cast and a quality team environment to bring Watt to Cleveland.
Three of those four items are easy enough to check off, with the only one in question being how much Watt believes he can get in salary. He was due to make $17.5 million this upcoming season from the Houston Texans prior to his release, and the Browns have around $21.7 million in available cap space, according to Over the Cap.
General manager Andrew Berry clearly can’t use off his available space on one player, but having defensive end Olivier Vernon’s $11 million coming off the books makes for a good starting point in negotiations.
Every season J.J. Watt has qualified, he has finished as a top-10 player at his position:— PFF (@PFF) February 12, 2021
2011 - 75.1 (8th)
2012 - 92.3 (2nd)
2013 - 93.2 (1st)
2014 - 92.7 (1st)
2015 - 91.6 (2nd)
2018 - 90.5 (3rd)
2019 - 87.0 (9th)
2020 - 85.5 (7th) pic.twitter.com/1OIbLqsqtR
While he will be 32 when the season starts this fall and has dealt with some serious injuries - a herniated disc in his back, a fractured leg and a torn pectoral muscle - Watt is still a productive player who can offer a defense some flexibility along the line, as Pro Football Focus points out:
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.
Given that he has played both inside and outside at a high level over his career, Watt would also give any potential suitors some positional flexibility. In total, 76% of Watt’s snaps have come lined up outside of the offensive tackle since switching over to an edge role in 2018, but a move back to the interior may make sense as his career winds down and he loses some explosiveness.
The Browns are not going to be the only team interested in Watt, of course, as the Green Bay Packers, Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers, among others, have all been linked as possible destinations for Watt.
But if Watt is serious about winning, and is open to working out a contract that does not squeeze out every last penny, then Berry will have a strong case to make if he decides to start courting Watt to come to Cleveland.