CLEVELAND — More than a month before the Cleveland Browns signed Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year contract on Wednesday, Andrew Berry discussed his team's apparent need at defensive end.
"I do not know that I would necessarily single that position out among others across the defense," the Browns vice president of football operations and general manager said. "I think that it is great to have two bookends along the defensive line -- very few teams do.
"I think there are a number of different configurations that can make us successful on the defensive line. We will look to add talent at that spot, no different than we would all across the defense and up and down the roster, but I would not necessarily get zeroed in there."
At the time, Berry's comments seemed like GM-speak -- perhaps an attempt to throw other defensive end-needy teams off of Cleveland's scent. But as the first two weeks of free agency played out, Berry's comments proved prophetic.
While free agent edge defenders like Carl Lawson, Bud Dupree and Trey Hendrickson signed for high-figure salaries elsewhere, the Browns zeroed in on improving the rest of their defense.
In order to bolster Cleveland's secondary, Berry signed arguably the top safety on the market in John Johnson III, with his former Los Angeles Rams teammate, Troy Hill, giving the Browns flexibility at cornerback/nickel. Meanwhile, at linebacker, the Browns added Anthony Walker Jr. from the Indianapolis Colts, while former Philadelphia Eagle Malik Jackson added depth at defensive tackle.
As for defensive end, Cleveland did sign Takkarist McKinley -- although the former first-round pick's 1-year, $4.25 million contract could hardly be considered a significant investment. As recently as last week, it appeared the Browns' plan would be to use the combination of McKinley and the No. 26 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to fill the void opposite Myles Garrett left by Olivier Vernon.
That thinking, however, changed this week with the news that Clowney was returning to Cleveland for his second visit of free agency with a deal likely to come to fruition. And while there are some obvious questions about the 28-year-old at this point in his career -- more on those in a second -- that doesn't change the reality that the Browns now lay claim to the bookend defensive ends that Berry referenced last month.
The No. 1 pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, Clowney began his career as one of the most highly touted defensive players in league history. Although injuries have limited his availability, the former 5-star prospect has shown flashes of living up to the hype, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 2016-18 and second-team All-Pro honors in 2016.
As far as his future in Cleveland is concerned, it's worth noting that in lining up alongside Garrett -- who earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2020 -- Clowney will no longer find himself the focal point of opposing offenses' game plans.
"I have been getting double-teamed an awful lot in this league and in my career," Clowney said after signing with Cleveland on Wednesday. "I am looking forward to playing with somebody who is dominant on the opposite side like a Myles Garrett, who can draw a double team. Maybe I can go one on one more."
Of course, there was a reason Clowney was still available nearly one month into free agency and only signed a one-year, $10 million contract ($7 million of which is guaranteed). After only totaling 3.5 sacks as a member of the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, the South Carolina product failed to register a single sack for the Tennessee Titans in 2020, playing in just eight games before suffering a season-ending meniscus injury.
But while injuries have been a constant in Clowney's career, his contract hardly indicates that the Browns are relying on him to return to All-Pro form. Last month's signing of McKinley provides Cleveland insurance -- and versatility -- and the addition of Clowney hardly precludes the Browns from adding another edge defender in the first few rounds of the draft.
All things considered, the signing of Clowney is a high-upside, low-risk move that fills a void at what was Cleveland's biggest position of need. One month into free agency, Berry has improved the Browns' situations at safety, cornerback, defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker with the entire 2021 NFL Draft still ahead.
Speaking of the draft, the signing of Clowney gives Cleveland even more flexibility than it previously possessed. That's been a theme of Berry's tenure with the Browns. And as his comments last month showed, it doesn't appear that's a trend that will be changing anytime soon.