The Browns’ success in 2020 did not result in a Lombardi Trophy, but it could play a role in them acquiring a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Cleveland’s success last season is one of the reasons J.J. Watt is seriously considering the Browns as one of his options, according to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
Cleveland’s success last season, its salary cap space, and the culture that Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski has brought to the organization are among the things that have reportedly caught Watt’s attention. Though he is not looking to break the bank, Watt does want to get properly compensated. The Browns can (and are willing to) do that; they have just under $22 million in cap space to work with.
In Cleveland, Watt — who was released by the Texans on Friday after a decade in Houston — would join forces with fellow star defensive end Myles Garrett, who earned All-Pro honors in 2020 after recording a team-high 12 sacks, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 14 games. Watt could be signed to replace soon-to-be free agent Olivier Vernon, whose nine sacks last season was the second-highest total on the team. The Browns finished 16th in the NFL in sacks last season, a number that would surely rise with Watt and Garett playing opposite of each other.
“The guy’s a hell of a player,” Watt said of Garrett prior to Houston’s Week 10 loss to Cleveland. “He’s got speed. He’s got quickness and power. He’s got all the tools you need, and he’s obviously playing at an extremely high level.”
Watt wants to play for a successful organization that has a strong culture. The Browns check both of those boxes, as Cleveland is coming off of an 11-5 regular season and the franchise’s first playoff win since 1994. The Browns have a powerful rushing attack, a still-improving young quarterback in Baker Mayfield, and a defense that allowed just one touchdown in their 22-17 divisional round playoff loss to the Chiefs.
Stefanski clearly played a significant role in the Browns’ 2020 success. While his offensive background helped the Browns’ offense take considerable steps forward, his leadership has been praised by some of the Browns’ team leaders.
“People don’t follow fake leaders,” Mayfield said during the 2020 season, via The Washington Post. “When you have a group of men that are doing this and everybody’s counting on you, you can sniff somebody that’s fake out extremely quickly. That’s not the case here.”
Will all of this be enough to lure Watt to Cleveland? The Steelers, after all, currently employ his two younger brothers: outside linebacker T.J. Watt and fullback Derek Watt. The Packers would give him the opportunity to play for a contender that also happens to play in his home state. In Tennessee, Watt would be reunited with his former defensive coordinator, Mike Vrabel, who in 2019 led the Titans to within one game of the Super Bowl.
Watt will have his options but, based on what the Browns have to offer, it’s clear that Cleveland should be mentioned among the frontrunners to land the veteran pass rusher.