A former No. 1 overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney has had a solid, if not underwhelming career with the Texans, Seahawks, Titans, and Browns. Set to turn 30 years old on Valentine’s Day, Clowney still has several years of NFL football in front of him. Although, it seems the Cleveland Browns won’t be part of that future.
On Thursday, Clowney told Mary Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he was “95 percent sure” he won’t return to the Browns in 2023, with the remaining five percent being pinned on the chance that numerous changes are made to the organization. “There’s supposed to be a lot of changes around here next year,” Clowney stated. “So they might not be back — and I might.” When pushed for further clarification, Clowney said “I just feel like I need to be around somebody that believes in me and my ability.”
Interesting. So, Clowney believes the Browns no longer have faith in him. I can understand both sides in that case. Clowney had just two sacks in 12 games — will be 13 following the team’s Week 18 game against Pittsburgh — this season after recording nine sacks in 14 games during his first year with the team. The team may be disenfranchised with their pass rusher and likely don’t want to pay him the same salary in 2023 that he earned this year. Meanwhile, Clowney still believes he has a lot to offer and wants to go to a team that will appreciate his talents. If that was as far as the disagreement went, I’d totally understand.
Too bad that’s not where it ends.
What Clowney is really upset about
The root cause of Clowney’s displeasure is how the Browns have consistently attempted to give fellow pass-rusher Myles Garrett the most favorable matchups. Clowney believes the team is trying to make a superstar out of Garrett, getting him into the national spotlight in order to build their brand. “You’re all trying to get somebody into the Hall of Fame when all that matters is winning,” said Clowney. “Everybody got here for a reason, and we can all make plays. I know I am.”
Just to be clear, Clowney isn’t upset with Garrett himself, although he did say that he doubts Garrett has even noticed how unhappy he’s been. Rather, he believes the Browns are so focused on giving Garrett the best matchups that winning has become second priority. That’s just dumb, though.
News flash: Football is all about matchups. It’s all about scheming so that your best players are often paired up against your opponent’s worst players so there’s a better chance of creating disruption. Is it unfair to Allen Robinson when Sean McVay puts Cooper Kupp in motion across the formation in order to get him lined up across from a slow linebacker, or is that just good game planning? Is it unfair to Klay Thompson when the Golden State Warriors run a series of pick and rolls in order to get Steph Curry matched up with their opponent’s big man? My oh my, how devastating it must be for all the other players on those teams, to see their organization favor padding a certain player’s stats over winning! Please.
Garrett is one of the best pass-rushers in the league, and pairing him up against weaker opponents would theoretically be the best chance for the pass rush to hit the quarterback. Sure, Clowney is playing second fiddle, and perhaps that’s annoying for him after doing so in Houston behind JJ Watt for the first five years of his career. However, that doesn’t diminish his role. Clowney’s role is to provide a fearsome presence on the other side of the defensive line, preventing the offensive line from shifting all of their focus to Garrett and opening up more opportunities for Garrett. In turn, Garrett’s elite talent should theoretically open up more opportunities for Clowney as well, even if Clowney is forced to play across from tougher competition more frequently.
Where does Clowney go from here?
Could Clowney be an elite pass rusher on another team? Sure. Why not? He did say he would’ve “easily” had double-digit sacks this year if the team wasn’t constantly putting Garrett in the spotlight. He also said he’d get there next year with whatever team he winds up playing for. “I feel better this year than I did last year at this point,” he explained. That said, Clowney has never reached 10 sacks in a season. At 30 years old, the clock is ticking.
When asked whether or not JJ Watt would line up against weaker offensive linemen often, Clowney claimed that due to his youth and Watt’s established reputation at the time, he wasn’t in a position to choose where he lined up. “I was [21 years old] at the time,” he said. “It was all right for him to be deciding where I line up. He had already been two-time Defensive Player of the Year.” I mean, by that logic, shouldn’t Garrett have the right to call his own shots too?
By the time Clowney arrived in Cleveland, Garrett was coming off his first All-Pro season, and third consecutive season with double-digit sacks. Sure, Garrett (26) was younger than Clowney (28), but Garrett’s reputation was elevating. I mean, for goodness sake, Garrett recorded 10 sacks in 2019 in just ten games in 2019. He could’ve won Defensive Player of the Year that season if not for a certain helmet incident with a rather famous reindeer. He was turning into one of, if not the best first overall pick of the 2010’s. Clowney’s time to prove he could also earn that distinction had already come and gone by that point.
Look, I understand that Clowney wants more of an opportunity to prove himself, but saying the Browns don’t want to win because they employ the same practice as literally every team (because it gives them the best shot at winning) is downright ridiculous. That doesn’t mean Clowney’s role on the Browns was any less important. I’m sure the Browns would love to have him back next year, but if he’s unhappy with the team putting their best foot forward, that seems like a Clowney problem, not a problem with the Browns.
And in case you’re wondering how the Browns felt about Clowney’s comments: He was sent home early from practice on Friday.