Jadeveon Clowney waited until the completion of training camp to make his decision on where he would sign for 2021, accepting a one-year offer worth up to $15 million from the Tennessee Titans. The New Orleans Saints were also pursuing Clowney, but couldn't offer as much money.
The Cleveland Browns were linked to Clowney for months and reportedly offered various deals for one, two and three years in length worth up to $17 million per year. Beyond simply avoiding training camp like the plague, Clowney reportedly favored teams that were in position to compete immediately.
The Titans were in the playoffs last year and have a loaded defense with Clowney in the mix. The offense has some questions, but they stand out as one of the teams likely to be able to return to the playoffs.
The Browns certainly have playoff expectations, but they have to prove it. Another first year operation with a new general manager and head coach, taking over in a unique season with an abridged offseason is daunting. If the Browns can have successful season, getting stronger as the year progresses and making the playoffs, they can make a strong case they are a contender next year.
The other obvious issue for the Browns was the presence of Olivier Vernon. They were simply unwilling to wait out Clowney only to potentially lose him when Vernon was already on the roster. They would be humiliating Vernon, who has been a benefit in the locker room and a true professional, which would've been a terrible message to send to their locker room.
If Vernon were not in the picture, it's not clear if the Browns would've waited until the week before the season to see if Clowney would take their offer. For now, a team trying to maximize their options has another one for 2021 when the biggest question facing this team in the future is who will play defensive end opposite Myles Garrett.
Clowney is accepting a high amount of risk with his decision. If he plays great, he could reinvigorate his market and get the high money offers he was hoping for, but did not receive this offseason. If he gets hurt or has a mediocre season, he may find himself with less interest after the season, especially if the salary cap were to go down due to a decrease in league revenue.
The Browns were aggressive in courting Clowney this past offseason. It stands to reason they will still be interested in him next year, but he becomes one avenue to address the position. He may not be as high a priority, but clearly the Browns saw something in Clowney they valued.
The Browns could simply re-sign Vernon if he has the type of year he's capable. The NFL Draft becomes a viable option, even if it's going to be a weird year to evaluate potential collegiate talent. Yannick Ngakoue, for the moment, is an option, because he's only signed for one year with the Minnesota Vikings.
Presumably, the two sides will work out some kind of extension at some point this year, but until that happens, he's theoretically on the table. The Titans and Clowney could reach an extension of their own. The potential exists for there to be a more crowded marketplace for pass rushers in addition to the draft when the Browns won't be pigeonholed into one particular position.
If the Browns do pursue Clowney in free agency next year and make the decision they are willing to wait him out, they will fortify the position in case they are unable to land him. The makeup of this organization won't allow them to put all their eggs in any basket and they would not allow Clowney to hold the team hostage. Rather, they would position themselves so that Clowney becomes a luxury option.
Although the team would've been comfortable signing Clowney to a longer term deal, they do benefit financially by waiting a year. They save between $4 to $6 million they can rollover into 2021, giving them additional operating room to acquire talent.
The team can get an accurate assessment of where they stand this year and if they do have a successful season, have more justification to bring in a talent like Clowney. Likewise, Clowney may be more receptive to what the Browns have to offer if he is indeed set on playing for a team that is poised to be a contender.
The Browns do face the Tennessee Titans in the regular season this year. The teams are scheduled to play on December 6th of this year, at which point the team can make its pitch for why a player like Clowney should want to play for them Browns.