In his column for TheMMQB Monday, Albert Breer noted that the Cleveland Browns were willing to give Jadeveon Clowney a one-year deal for $15 million.
Jadeveon Clowney’s situation continues to be complicated. And I think it’s of note that the Browns are willing to pay a good rate (I’ve heard they’d be O.K. going to the $15 million range on a one-year deal) to get him, and he remains unsigned. That tells me a couple things. One, that Clowney’s financial desires are still a barrier to getting a deal done. And two, that those desires may come on a sliding scale, based on destination.
This is a questionable approach by the Browns for several reasons, some of which Breer gets to later in his column. Trying to get Clowney to sign a long term deal makes a lot of sense. Olivier Vernon is on the last year of his deal and along with trying to get Myles Garrett's extension done, they would have secured his running mate opposite him for the foreseeable future.
A one-year deal is a questionable strategic move and the juice isn't worth the squeeze. In essence, the Browns would simply be replacing Vernon with Clowney and while he's younger, there's little meaningful difference in terms of the impact Clowney provides as opposed to Vernon.
Clowney offers more versatility as he can easily slide inside and attack from the three-technique, which is an attractive option, but basically hoping that Clowney would love Cleveland enough to then want to sign an extension or consider using a tag to keep him would be a risky move.
Clowney, talented as he is, doesn’t come without strings attached. There have been questions about how dedicated he’s been to the mental side of the game, which contributed to how he fell out of favor in Houston, and that’s reflected on tape that still shows a guy relying on his physical ability above all else. That said, one coach who has evaluated Clowney as a potential player to sign this offseason told me Saturday, “He’s still fast and big and long, and can change direction and track people down whenever he wants to.”
Vernon isn't a problem in the locker room. Coaches have praised him for his attitude and the working relationship they are developing. So the trade off would be going from a player that is not a problem to a guy who has the potential to be.
When he and Garrett were healthy, Vernon shined in terms of technique and understanding his role in the defense, which proved a major factor when the Browns went on the road and dismantled the Baltimore Ravens. The two of them were also fantastic against the Seattle Seahawks and did more than enough against Russell Wilson for the Browns to win.
The other natural question that arises from this is the impact it has on the locker room. Vernon is a good player with a good reputation as a professional. There's always a desire to improve the roster, but this seems unnecessarily cut throat and could send a poor message to other players on this team about how much they are truly valued.
Even if Vernon is perfectly content to get moved, it's still a questionable precedent to set for everyone else. The goal is to get the best out of players and there can be value in having players fear they might get replaced, but having it play out over the course of weeks and months on an almost daily basis as if the team is hanging the Sword of Damacles over a player's head isn't productive.
If the Browns can get Clowney on a multiple year deal, it's not without risk, but it's an entirely defensible move that could pay off handsomely. The other potential wildcard is the salary cap and suggestions that it won't go up next year or even potentially drop due to potentially lost revenue because of COVID-19 concerns. The Browns are in fantastic shape with their ability to rollover unused cap into next year, but that would potentially change their outlook on valuing a player like Clowney to a longer term deal with that as an unknown.
On the other hand, it might also make Clowney more likely want to get a longer term deal, because so many players were counting on a spike in the salary cap for 2021, which would mean more money to premium free agents. That potentially gone, getting guaranteed money now would be the prudent move.
It's also possible the talks of a one-year deal worth $15 million are coming from Clowney's camp in order to induce another team to match that offer to get him for a one-year deal.
It remains to be seen which course of action the Browns take, but it seems as though they are negotiating from a position of weakness if they are indeed trying to induce Clowney to sign a one-year deal if they can't get him a longer deal. They have Vernon and the upside of keeping him relative to the locker room seems higher than whatever Clowney might offer, unless they can somehow guarantee they get the best out of him for all 16 games, which would be the first time in his career.