In wake of Monday’s announcement that JJ Watt would be signing with the Arizona Cardinals over the Cleveland Browns among other teams that were in the running, many wonder what the Browns’ plan is to find a pass rusher to go opposite Myles Garrett in 2021 and beyond.
General manager Andrew Berry likely has many scenarios and plans laid out as he looks to upgrade the pass rush that had 38 sacks and 75 quarterback hits as a team in 2020 according to Pro Football Reference.
The Browns currently have $20.1 million in cap space according to Over The Cap so they’re limited to realistic options of who is available on the free-agent market. Here’s a list of some of the realistic targets the team could consider when free agency opens in a few weeks.
Not included is names like Shaquill Barrett (Buccaneers) and Carl Lawson (Bengals) because those names will either be out of the Browns’ price range or will be staying put with their current teams via a new deal or the franchise tag.
Yannick Ngakoue (Baltimore Ravens)
The Browns were linked to the 26-year-old last offseason after he was franchised by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Reports said Ngakoue wanted to play for Cleveland and was willing to lower his franchise salary in order to play for them but the team opted to not pay the price tag Minnesota eventually did in a trade to acquire him last August.
Ngakoue was eventually moved to Baltimore mid-season and performed well with seven sacks and four forced fumbles. PFF graded him with a 70 overall which ranked 35th among edge rushers who played at least 20% of the snaps in 2020.
PFF predicts he’ll garner a deal averaging $17.5 million per year which could be too much for the Browns to pursue because Ngakoue has been good, but not great in terms of a pass rusher. If the Browns could get him to come down a bit if that’s the asking price, he would be a solid running mate with Garrett that could cause havoc for opposing offensive lines.
Jadeveon Clowney (Tennessee Titans)
The former #1 overall pick has certainly been a mystery during his seven-year career. He hasn’t produced the sexy numbers casual fans look at (32 career sacks) but when you dive deeper you see he does make an impact when he’s on the field (78 combined pressures during 2018 and 2019 seasons).
The biggest problem with Clowney has been his health and the best ability is availability when you’re a professional athlete. Clowney missed 12 games his rookie seasons and was limited to eight games with the Titans last season. He’s also had microfracture surgery to his knee already which is definitely something to keep in mind.
The Browns pursued him much like Ngakoue the last offseason and reportedly offered him the most money of any team but he eventually signed with the Titans prior to the start of the regular season. Cleveland may pursue Clowney once again but has his opinion of the team changed, only time will tell.
Romeo Okwara (Detroit Lions)
This is a name that gets overlooked when talking about potential free agent options because he played for the Detroit Lions who were just a terrible defense as a whole in 2020.
Okwara was the bright spot though leading the team with ten sacks and three forced fumbles. PFF graded him with a 68.8 overall which ranked him 41st among edge rushers who played 20% of the snaps.
He’s not the sexy name but he also put up these numbers with guys like Trey Flowers and Jamie Collins around him upfront so was it a flash in the pan season? Maybe but he also had 7.5 sacks back in 2018 and has had at least ten quarterback hits in each of the last three seasons so the talent is there.
Cleveland should be all over him once free agency opens and Jack Duffin has written about how this is the guy he wants the Browns to pursue in free agency to put opposite Garrett and would also leave the window open for the team to still draft someone early in April’s draft and could be a cost-effective move compared to other names on the market.
Melvin Ingram (Los Angeles Chargers)
It’s unclear if the veteran would even want to move on from the team that drafted him 18th overall back in 2012 but this could be an intriguing option on a potential one-year deal.
Ingram was limited to seven games last season with a patella strain and has also had knee injuries throughout his career but the nine-year veteran has been effective making three-straight Pro Bowls from 2017-2019 and having 49 career sacks including a career high 10.5 in 2017.
He’s been able to lean on Joey Bosa these last several seasons so playing Robin to Myles Garrett’s Batman wouldn’t be a new role for Ingram and the Browns seem closer to contention than the Chargers are currently so if Ingram wants to pursue a Super Bowl, the Browns could be a suitor for him when free agency opens.
Ryan Kerrigan (Washington Football Team)
Now this one seems more unrealistic because Kerrigan has traditionally played in a 3-4 base where he’s an outside linebacker but he does have the size to play as a defensive end much like a JJ Watt would have had he signed with the Browns.
This makes sense though if Kerrigan chose to go pursue a championship because he’s been with Washington his entire career and they don’t seem to be close to contention anytime soon although they were a playoff team in 2020 and if they can find the quarterback, the defense is strong enough to get them back to the postseason.
Kerrigan has been solid throughout his entire career (95.5 sacks, 26 forced fumbles) and has been a solid leader in the locker room even stepping back into a reserve role with as many talented players Washington has on their defensive front.
If he wants to go for the Super Bowl before he hangs it up, Cleveland would be an option for him and while he’s trending downward, he can still command attention as a pass rusher and would still leave the door open to the Browns bringing in other help to complement Myles Garrett this offseason via free agency or the draft.