The Browns remain interested in Clowney, the talented defensive end — and the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014 — who remains unsigned and the top current target on the free agent market. During a Zoom meeting with reporters on Thursday, Woods praised Clowney but deferred any questions about the Browns' pursuit of the speedy edge rusher to general manager Andrew Berry.
“Obviously, he has been a really good player in this league, a great pass rusher when he was in Houston, in Seattle," Woods said. "Just really affects the game. To be honest with you, that is really a question you have to ask Andrew. I read the articles, too. I see him linked to us, Tennessee and see all these teams. Really, right now, I am really focused on coaching the guys we have.”
Clowney spent last year with Seattle, which acquired him in a stunning trade from Houston before the season. It's possible the 27-year-old, who had a career-high 9 1/2 sacks with the Texans in 2017, could stay in the Pacific Northwest and re-sign with the Seahawks.
However, the possibility of him as a bookend on a Cleveland line opposite Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, has caused some of the Browns' barking fans to salivate. Berry has been consistent in saying he'll stay aggressive to bolster Cleveland's roster.
It's just fantasy football at this point. But until Clowney, who reportedly turned down an offer from the Browns already, decides what he wants to do, it's still in play. Woods knows something about dominant defensive lines. The 49ers had one of the league's best last season as Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and Co. wreaked havoc on opposing lines and quarterbacks. The group had 48 sacks.
Woods said it took time for the unit to jell. But once the players figured out they were better collectively, egos were put aside and they never looked back. “You have a bunch of alpha dogs out there and they all want to be the guy," Woods said. “What they learned in San Francisco, and I think the guys here will learn, is that if you all work together, everybody is going to eat. That is what you want. You do not want anybody going hungry, right? You want everybody to eat.”
Cleveland's defensive front under-performed last season, and that was even before Garrett was suspended for the final six games for his helmet-swinging attack on Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. Berry addressed the line in free agency by signing former Bengals tackle Andrew Billings and ex-Falcons end Adrian Clayborn. In the draft, Cleveland added Missouri standout Jordan Elliott, who will provide some needed inside depth.
If the Browns sign Clowney, it could mean they'd move on from Olivier Vernon, a Pro Bowler in 2018 with the Giants whose first season with Cleveland was slowed by a knee injury. Vernon seemed to be settling in when he got hurt, and now the Browns have to gauge his long-term value with the 29-year-old scheduled to make $15 million this season.
His future has been a constant source of speculation this offseason, but Woods said he's been impressed by Vernon's dedication. “All of my conversations have been good with him,” Woods said. "I get on the phone and talk to him personally. He is ready to go. We just had an honest conversation, and he has been great. He is 100 percent attendance, In all the meetings, he has been there and he is speaking up. I just think for him, he really wants to just come back this year, play healthy and just show everybody what he is capable of doing. So far, he has been great.”
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