The signing of Jadeveon Clowney provides a sigh of relief almost as much as it improves their talent. It means the Cleveland Browns have someone credible opposite Myles Garrett coming out of the starting gate and allows Takkarist McKinley to be in that designated pass rusher role, the best position for him to succeed. It doesn't change what the Browns still need to address with their roster.
Clowney helps them on two fronts. First, he can win at the point of attack, which is critical to what the Browns want to do defensively. Where Olivier Vernon won with exceptional technique and mastery of the position, Clowney can win with more brute force.
As the defense intends to utilize more defensive backs, getting both faster and more equipped to cover opposing teams that are employing more excellent receiving threats with speed, Clowney helps to protect them when teams want to run the ball. He's difficult to move off the line of scrimmage, which enables the players behind him to fly around and make tackles.
Second, Clowney's not a flashy pass rusher. He's not someone who puts up a ton of sacks, having a career high of 9.5 in a season. On the edge, he can squeeze the pocket and eliminate escape routes for the opposing quarterback. Inside, where he's been more disruptive, he can walk opponents back and limit their ability to step up in the pocket, limiting field vision.
In a division and an AFC conference where so many quarterbacks are able to either extend or create plays with their legs, shrinking the pocket and staying disciplined in rushing lanes is more important than just being able to rush the quarterback. Clowney and McKinley can both be valuable cogs in that attack along with Malik Jackson beyond what the Browns already have in Myles Garrett and Sheldon Richardson.
It'll be interesting to see how much the Browns want to stunt with Clowney, because he can be a creator for teammates as a pass rusher as well. Lined up at the end, if he pinches with the intent to drive the guard's hip, he can create a path for a defensive tackle like Jackson or Richardson, both athletic enough to loop around and create a quick pressure on the quarterback.
In terms of the overall roster, it means they don't need as much help at defensive end, but it's still a need as well as an opportunity to create a massive advantage. The Browns could stand pat with Myles Garrett, Clowney and Takk with someone like Joe Jackson or Porter Gustin stepping in at the fourth end. Maybe Curtis Weaver can contribute.
However, the Browns could add another edge rusher early in the draft, which could make them four deep, boasting a ton of talent. It's fun to think about, but it's also practical. Both McKinley and Clowney are on one-year deals. The Browns could decide to keep one, perhaps both of them longer, but they need to be able to give themselves options, particularly as decisions get more difficult pertaining to the salary cap.
If neither is back next year for any reason, the Browns can't then be caught flat footed trying to address the position. They don't want to be chasing running mates for Myles Garrett like the Cleveland Cavaliers were for LeBron James in his first stint.
They need to at least get someone going with the idea that they could step in and contribute on a major basis by 2022. Ideally, capable of starting across Garrett, they have to at least be a third option. That would require an early investment.
Meanwhile, the biggest need for the Browns remains corner. Denzel Ward is a good corner, but he has yet to play more than 13 games in a regular season. Even if he is healthy for the full year, the status of the position across him is completely up in the air.
Greedy Williams has value, since he still has two years left on his rookie deal. He has length and talent, but he has yet to prove anything and missed all of last year with a shoulder injury.
He's going to get every opportunity to prove he's the starter in training camp, but even if he were to win, there is nothing behind him currently. The Browns should take multiple corners early in the draft not only to try to improve the room, but because they lost their depth in Terrance Mitchell in the offseason.
This offseason has been focused on Joe Woods transforming the defense into his vision and nowhere is that more true than the secondary. Adding John Johnson III and Troy Hill in free agency were major acquisitions. Now, he can hand pick the type of boundary corners he wants in the draft and teams can never have enough of them.
Something that should hit close to home for the Browns, who were forced to start Robert Jackson, the team's backup gunner at corner for a playoff game. Earlier in the year, the starting corner, Tavierre Thomas, had to contribute in the slot. The Browns cannot be in the same situation if they hope to win the Super Bowl.
This doesn't minimize the signing or the impact that Clowney can bring to the Browns. Defensive end and corner were the two biggest needs entering the offseason and they remain the two biggest needs with a few weeks until the 2021 NFL Draft. They are also two positions that are incredibly valuable, so if the Browns can get them on a rookie deal, it helps them financially both in the present as well for the future as they are poised to compete for the Super Bowl.