The Cleveland Browns have been one of the many teams linked to free agent defensive lineman JJ Watt. The former Houston Texan played in all 16 games this past season after suffering through multiple injury ridden years. While the Browns certainly need another pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett, Watt’s fit in Cleveland’s defense might be on the inside of their defensive line, as the the former First Team All-Pro lineman’s explosiveness has certainly taken a hit over the years.
Cleveland needs to be aggressive in adding talent to their defense this offseason. While it can be assumed that Watt’s high sack totals are a thing of the past, he certainly still possesses the leadership qualities that would help permeate through not only the Browns defense, but the entire locker room as a whole. If the Browns are able to sign Watt, they could line him up all over the defensive front, including next to Myles Garrett. Opposing offensive lines would have to make a choice on who they would want to double team on that particular play, leaving a one on one matchup for the other player.
Pro Football Focus graded Watt with a rating of 85.5 this season, which was good enough for 49th on their list of top 100 players. Watt’s PFF rating was also good enough for number seven in the league in terms of pass rushers. These rankings are extremely impressive given the fact that Watt was the only player up front that opposing offensives had to game plan for.
Now that J.J. Watt is a free agent, what does he still have to offer?
Last year he finished with the No. 7 @PFF grade among edge defenders.
He’s taken a step back, but still very good.
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) February 12, 2021
Cleveland is certainly not the only suitor for Watt, as nearly a dozen teams have been in contact with the veteran since he was released according to ESPN. The Browns will receive competition from division rival Pittsburgh for Watt’s services, as his two younger brothers, T.J. and Derek both play for the Steelers. Despite that, the Browns showed in their playoff matchup with Pittsburgh that the tides are beginning to turn in that rivalry. Quarterback play is starting to become a question mark for Pittsburgh, just as Cleveland seemingly found their guy at that position for the future. Additionally, the Browns can offer Watt more money as the Steelers’ salary cap situation is in a state of flux. Do the Steelers want to invest in another veteran at a position where they already have plenty of talent? Time will tell.
In the end, Watt’s decision will most likely come down to where he thinks he has the best chance to win at a high level. For the first time since coming back to Cleveland, the Browns can offer that chance to free agents like JJ Watt. Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry and majority owner Jimmy Haslam have shown they are not afraid to spend money in free agency, as evident by their signing of Jack Conklin last offseason. While Watt might not be the player he once was, he still offers an immense amount of value to a young Browns defense that is hungry for a veteran presence.