Adding the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft would be good. But the Browns could do better.
It was a breakout season for a team that has been nothing short of miserable since retraining to the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1999. From that season until 2019, the Cleveland Browns amassed a dismal 101-234-1 record in 21 seasons. There were winning campaigns in 2002 and 2017 and only the former resulted in a playoff appearance.
That all changed in 2020 when the club finished 11-5 and were one of three teams in the AFC North to reach the postseasons. They shocked the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 48-37, in the wild card round before succumbing to the Super Bowl-bound Chiefs, 22-17, a week later. In that game, Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was knocked out of the game in the third quarter. Despite that, the Chiefs finished wirh 438 total yards.
Ah, the Cleveland defense. While Kevin Stefanski’s team featured efficient play from quarterback Baker Mayfield, the league’s fourth-ranked running attack and an improved offensive line, the other side of the football remained suspect. The Browns finished 17th in the NFL in total yards per game allowed – ninth vs. the run and 22nd vs. the pass. Coordinator Joe Woods’ unit finished with 38 sacks but also allowed 47 offensive TDs – 31 through the air.
It’s a big reason that general manager Andrew Berry secured the services of safety John Johnson III and opportunistic cornerback Troy Hill during free agency. The Browns also signed inside linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., defensive tackle Malik Jackson and former Falcons’ first-round pick Takkarist McKinley. But the latter hardly seems like an answer when it comes to putting more heat on opposing quarterbacks via 17.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 49 regular-season games.
The Browns need a pass-rusher, not a run-stopper
Likewise the idea of signing free agent Jadeveon Clowney, who played in eight games with the Titans in 2020. The first overall pick in ’14 has played only one full season in seven years. He’s been more of a factor as a run stopper than a pure pass rusher to pair opposite Myles Garrett, the first overall pick in 2017. Clowney has 32 sacks and nine forced fumbles with three teams in 83 regular-season contests. Garrett has 42.5 QB traps and 10 forced fumbles in 51 regular-season outings.
What this Browns’ defense needs is an impact player that can get to the quarterback on a reliable basis. And you can look no further than Justin Houston. Forget the career numbers for the 10-year veteran. The past two seasons, he started all 32 games for the Indianapolis Colts. He was a 3-4 outside linebacker in Kansas City and made the switch to end in Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 scheme. He totaled 19 sacks and three forced fumbles in his stint with the Colts.
On Tuesday, the Baltimore Ravens are scheduled to meet with Houston (via Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk). If he doesn’t sign with the Browns’ divisional rival, perhaps the Browns could bring in the veteran defender. And he may fill a bigger need than Jadeveon Clowney.