Browns Signing Clowney Shows Cleveland’s Rise around the NFL
Written by Sean Fitzgerald on April 14, 2021
Photo Credit: The Athletic
During the 2020 offseason, the Cleveland Browns braintrust of general manager Andrew Berry, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and head coach Kevin Stefanski focused heavily on improving the talent the team had on the offensive side of the ball.
They spent big dollars adding All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin, nabbing tight end Austin Hooper, getting Case Keenum as a mentor and capable back-up quarterback familiar with Stefanski’s scheme and re-upping Kareem Hunt on an RFA tender.
The team also drafted tackle Jedrick Wills at No. 10 overall last year to upgrade the other tackle spot.
All of these moves were made to give quarterback Baker Mayfield everything he needed to succeed in his third offense in as many seasons and on his fourth head coach.
2020 was when Mayfield would show the team that invested it’s 2018 No. 1 overall pick in him that he could be the franchise quarterback that long eluded the laughingstock of the league for so many years.
Berry, Stefanski and company were rewarded for their efforts, snapping the longest postseason-less streak that dated back to 2002 and their first playoff win since the 1994 Wild Card round. Mayfield played like a star over the second half of the season, and rated out as a top ten quarterback during that stretch.
While the offense earned all the praise, it became evidently clear through either injuries, performance or a mix of both, the defense needed revamped.
When the 2021 league year opened, he addressed some of the uncertainty in the secondary, signing two members of a dominant Los Angeles Rams secondary in slot corner Troy Hill on a four-year deal and safety John Johnson III, arguably the best safety on the open market this year, to a three-year pact.
Johnson said he didn’t take the largest offer he received because he wanted to win. That was an eye-opening statement for many around town and the league.
Still, it wasn’t going to be enough. While Johnson brought the team another leader and showed how much of a turnaround had been made by an organization previously mired in a miasma of dysfunction, the team needed to add a bookend on the defensive line to free up Myles Garrett on the pass rush.
Olivier Vernon came on strong in the second half of 2020 before injuring his achilles in the regular season finale against Pittsburgh. He was mostly injured during 2019 under Freddie Kitchens and Steve Wilks, and the Browns weren’t likely to re-sign him.
The former No. 1 overall pick from the 2014 NFL draft, Clowney only played in eight games during the 2020 season before going under the knife to repair a meniscus injury. It was two seasons in a row that Clowney had underperformed, but the talent he possesses has always been undeniable.
Conventional wisdom had it that pairing a healthy Clowney with Garrett and armed with their No. 26 pick in a deep draft just over two weeks from now meant the Browns, THE BROWNS OF ALL TEAMS, could vault into true Super Bowl contender status.
Well, they did just that. Clowney is now a Cleveland Brown, the move made official at 1:11 p.m. ET and the freshly signed edge rusher introduced to the Cleveland media less than an hour later.
When asked what was different about this year when he decided on coming to Cleveland versus his decision to sign with Tennessee a year ago, Clowney went straight to the point.
“They’re winning. They’ve got a great team.”
Read those first two words again: They’re winning.
The Cleveland Browns are now seen as legitimate winners, a team that can compete and win a Lombardi Trophy.
It’s the end result of a change in the locker room culture that started with the arrival of wideout Jarvis Landry and others in 2018 that finally blossomed into winning and stability during 2020 with Jimmy and Dee Haslam finally finding the right people to run their football team.
And what have we seen when the Browns landed not only Johnson and now bringing in a guy like Clowney heading into 2021?
What we’ve seen by NFL players and executives around the league is that the Browns are to be taken seriously. It’s a rise in stature and a far shift away from the “Same Old Browns” narrative.
There’s no more “next year” either. It’s all about this year.
The Browns are back, and they’re finally here to stay.
Sean Fitzgerald is the Black Squirrel Radio Sports Director and co-hosts Pass the Mic Sports Talk. Follow him on Twitter @fitzonsportsbsr for insights and occasional livestreams.