Sports

Browns offseason hints at something big coming at defensive end

Something big is coming to the Cleveland Browns at defensive end. I can feel it. GM Andrew Berry and the Browns brass typically do a masterful job of concealing their hand, but on this front, it sure feels like they’ve shown they want to make a splash with the starting DE spot opposite Myles Garrett.

Maybe I’m just drinking in too many of the tea leaves, but it’s hard to not read all the signs from Berry & Co.

And it even goes back to last offseason. Remember the repeated courtship of Jadeveon Clowney? The Browns got lucky in avoiding that disappointment, but it wasn’t for lack of trying to sign the big-ticket DE.

They tried again–allegedly–with J.J. Watt. While no exact details ever have been confirmed, numerous reputable outlets had the Browns as one of the primary teams trying to lure the ex-Texans star. He settled on going to Arizona instead, with a bigger contract than expected, too.

On Tuesday, they let Adrian Clayborn go. The No. 3 DE last year is 32 and didn’t make a great impact on the Browns in his one season in Cleveland, but he was penciled in as the starter opposite Garrett. With Olivier Vernon a pending free agent and also in the early stages of recovering from a torn Achilles, dumping Clayborn leaves just Porter Gustin and Joe Jackson in that spot.

Nothing against Gustin or Jackson, but it’s difficult to envision either of them being more than situational subs on the defense of a legit contender. Clearing Clayborn off the books frees up $3 million more to spend on someone who can be an impact performer for a Browns team that has legitimate contender status.

The big question now is, what’s the move?

Is it a prominent veteran free agent, someone like Cincinnati’s Carl Lawson or Tampa Bay’s Shaq Barrett? The Browns have the cap room to make it happen and the appeal of being a worthy landing spot for a ring-chaser.

Or will it be a draft pick? The pass-rush class doesn’t have any elite standouts, none who project as much above the 11-20 overall range. The Browns currently pick at No. 26. Players like Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, versatile Tulsa standout Zaven Collins or freakish Penn State athlete Jayson Oweh should all be in consideration. Berry and the Browns have the ammo to trade up if they have a specific target in mind, too.

It’s going to be fun to see how it plays out and who winds up being the new starting defensive end. Expect it to be a significant move, no matter which direction the Browns turn. They’ve laid out too many bread crumbs for that trail to not result in a big feast.

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