Not that free agency is in full swing and appears to be winding down, the Browns still have holes to plug.
GM Andrew Berry has not been a primary player in free agency as he has been his first two seasons. So, Cleveland has inked DT Taven Bryan (6’-5”, 295 pounds) who was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 29th pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft and KR Jakeem Grant (5’-7”, 171 pounds) who was chosen in Round 6 in 2016 by the Miami Dolphins and has subsequently been named Second Team All-Pro twice and selected to the Pro Bowl last season.
In addition, Berry has made several trades. Of course the mega news was getting QB Deshaun Watson from Houston, plus WR Amari Cooper formerly of Dallas, QB Jacoby Brissett from Miami along with trading LB Mack Wilson straight up for LB/DE Chase Winovich with New England.
And after all this activity, there are positions that need starting material as well as quality depth.
Wide receiver and defensive end are two that fall into this category.
In a span of six months Cleveland has lost receivers Odell Beckham, Jr. (waived), Jarvis Landry (waived) and Rashard Higgins (UFA, signed with Carolina). On the D-line, gone are Malik McDowell (UFA, arrested in Florida) and unsigned as free agents are Takk McKinley, Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Saturday a report surfaced that Cleveland is attempting to get Landry back as well as Clowney. Both are certainly “need” positions and with players that not only have Pro Bowl hardware, but are very good players who the coaching staff is certainly used to.
The report came from cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot which explained that GM Berry has re-structured Cooper’s new contract in order to open up roughly $15 million in cap space in order to attempt to re-sign both players.
Since being cut by the Browns on March 14, Landry has had visits or interest from Kansas City, Buffalo, Green Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans.
Landry is beloved by Browns fans - that is a fact. But Berry wants to bring him back at the right price as he was scheduled to make $16.6 million on the final year of his contract.
This all changed when the club landed Watson. Cleveland, built for the run, may suddenly change the dynamics of the offense if they were to feature Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and now Landry. That would be a stretch because even though the Browns own one of the three best offensive lines in the league, each player was hired for their run blocking skills with pass blocking an afterthought.
There is no doubt that the Browns have offensive weapons. With the trade for Cooper, DPJ is a very good deep threat while last year’s third round pick Anthony Schwartz is expected to make positive strides, then add the shifty Demetric Felton and TE David Njoku. The question has been raised: Is that enough for an offense headed by Deshaun Watson?
Clowney will be a different story. For one, he operates on his own timeline.
Last season in mid-April, the Browns pulled the trigger on the talented defensive end. In that deal, it was for one-year worth $8 million with up to $2 million in incentives, $7 million of which was guaranteed. Berry continued to include voidable years in the deal to save cap space for the 2021 season and subsequently spread the burden out over future years.
As of right now, Clowney’s agent Kennard McGuire is in talks with Berry.
Clowney, age 29, is a three-time Pro Bowler. Last season, he started 14 games and had 37 total tackles, 19 QB hits, 32 pressures, nine sacks, 10 knockdowns, 12 hurries, 11 tackles for loss, two batted passes and two forced fumbles. As always, his forte is run defense.
As much as Berry would like to re-sign Landry, Clowney seems to be a more focused player to add to the 2022 roster. Estimates are that Clowney is seeking a long-term deal, probably in the neighborhood of three-years for perhaps $10 million per season. This would end Cleveland’s search for another compliment defensive end opposite Myles Garrett and may allow them to concentrate on other positions of need in the upcoming NFL draft instead of a pass rusher.
Clowney’s nine sacks were the second-highest of his career. Known for his run defense, in the second half of the season he was seen regularly chasing down a quarterback. An interesting note is that Clowney and Watson were once teammates at Houston and both played college football in the state of South Carolina.
This deal appears to be a daily work in progress but has not been official as of yet. It also appears that getting Clowney in-house for the long haul is a priority and apparently the athlete wants to return to the Browns.
And then the focus can be dealt to the defensive tackle position where numerous bodies are needed despite the Bryan signing. Jordan Elliott has regressed, Jackson and McDowell are both free agents and are not expected to return, while last year’s rookie Tommy Togiai played extensively in the second half of the 2021 season.
Now, there are rumblings the Browns may look to sign Chicago DT Akiem Hicks.
The #Browns have expressed interest in signing free agent DT Akiem Hicks, per source.— Evan Massey (@massey_evan) March 20, 2022
Hicks (6’-4”, 335 pounds) is very talented and is huge in the run stoppage game. Signing a talent like Hicks would protect the linebackers more and provide a huge body to clog up the middle of the defense. On a list of the Top 100 free agents, Hicks was Number 17. He made the Pro Bowl in 2018.
Which was a huge problem with Cleveland’s defense last year as numerous clubs simply gashed the interior of the defensive line at will. If the Browns can solve this, which Hicks would certainly help, perhaps this defense can become one of the better units in the league.
Hicks did have a reoccurring groin injury in 2021 but still maintained a high ceiling as a run defender. He has significant power and is a bull rusher. He is not going to chase anybody down on the outside lanes, but can blow up the rushing attack.
His signing projection is a two-year deal for $17 million.