The Browns Are A Destination

You're telling me free agents....want to be in Cleveland?

On Wednesday, the Browns multi-year courtship of Jadeveon Clowney finally ended in marriage. The edge rusher signed a one-year deal with the Browns, an incentive-laden contract that could reach up to $10 million in value, to play opposite Myles Garrett on Cleveland’s defensive line. It is just the third time in NFL history that three former no. 1 picks reside on the same team with the trio of Clowney, Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield.

At his introductory press conference, a beaming Clowney was asked why he finally decided to join the team that had pursued him hotly last offseason.

“They’re winning!” he replied with a laugh.

No matter how normal the Browns franchise has become, how devoid of texts from general managers or self-serving head coaches Berea now is, statements like Clowney’s will need to be heard multiple time to be believed. We are still only a few years removed from 0-16, from a quarterback room featuring Brock Osweisler, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, from Freddie Kitchens. We are just a few more years than that removed from Johnny Manziel, from Brian Robiskie and Mohamad Massaquoi as your starting wide receivers, from Brandon Weeden and Pat Shurmur. Each of these names is a trauma that lingers long after its inflicter is gone.

“They’re winning!”

With the signings of Clowney, John Johnson and Troy Hill, among others, the Browns and general manager Andrew Berry have put together perhaps their most impressive free agency class since the team’s return in 1999. Clowney still has a lot left in the tank, and should thrive alongside the blocking relief Garrett will provide him on the other side of the line. Hill was one of the best slot corners in the NFL last season. And Johnson, the crown jewel of this class, will fly around the secondary as a hybrid DB.

But as seamless a fit each of those players should be on the field, it’s the quotes that, at least for now, feel more impactful. Johnson called signing with the Browns an “opportunity of a lifetime.” An opportunity of a lifetime! Playing for the Browns! Hill briefly lost his mind when asked what message he had for Browns fan upon signing.

I know the Browns are *good* now. I know they won 11 games last season, then smashed their division rival in the playoffs. I know they have a really smart and forward-thinking head coach that aligns with the general manager. And I know that the ever elusive “culture” they’ve talked about building is more reality than buzzword, for once. But I still can’t get over the Cleveland Browns: a football destination. —Jordan Zirm