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Is J.J. Watt a free agent fit for the Cleveland Browns?

The Houston Texans announced on Friday that they will be releasing star defensive lineman J.J. Watt.

CLEVELAND — Editor's note: Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry's press conference in the video above is from Jan. 20, 2021. 

On Friday, J.J. Watt made headlines when he announced that he had requested -- and received -- his release from the Houston Texans.

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And while the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a lock to land in Canton five years after he chooses to retire, is it possible that Watt could wind up in Northeast Ohio even earlier than that?

After news of Watt's release first became public on Friday morning, it didn't take long for Browns fans to take to social media to express their desire to sign the five-time Pro Bowl selection. As of Friday night ESPN's Ed Werder also reports Cleveland is one of roughly a dozen clubs showing interest in the five-time All-Pro.

For the team, however, it will likely be a complex conversation, with Watt's own wishes being perhaps the biggest wild card. With that in mind, let's take a look at the cases for and against Cleveland signing Watt and the possibility that it will actually happen.

The case for signing Watt

Entering the 2021 offseason, it would be tough to find a bigger need for the Browns than defensive end. While Myles Garrett has already established himself as one of the best in the league at the position, Olivier Vernon is not only set to hit free agency, but is still recovering from the torn Achilles injury he suffered in Cleveland's regular-season finale.

Enter Watt, who is one of the best players in the history of football to ever play the position. A five-time first-team and three-time second-team All-Pro selection, the Wisconsin product already possesses the fourth-highest Pro Football Reference Hall of Fame score of any defensive end.

While the 31-year-old Watt is now on the backside of his career, he remains a productive player. Last season, he scored as Pro Football Focus' No. 7 overall edge defender and No. 7 in run defense at the position.

While it remains unclear what type of deal Watt will be looking for as he hits free agency for the first time in his career, it's worth noting that the Browns possess the 10th most practical cap space entering the 2021 offseason, according to OverTheCap.com. In other words, if money is one of the primary motivating factors in Watt's free agency, Cleveland should be able to make a competitive offer.

The case against signing Watt

While the mere addition of Watt would provide an undeniable upgrade to the Browns' roster, the more pertinent question is at what cost? While Cleveland's current space situation is relatively clean, it could soon become crowded with Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb currently eligible for extensions.

If Watt is looking for a short-term deal on a team poised to take the next step as a contender in the AFC, the Browns might make for an intriguing fit. But if the unanimous selection to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s is looking for a contract more reflective of his resume, it might be tough for Cleveland's analytically-driven front office to pull off, especially considering Watt will be 32-years-old by the time the 2021 season starts.


While there are compelling cases to be made for and against the Browns signing Watt, perhaps the most important aspect of his free agency is whether he'd come to Cleveland in the first place. That seems especially pertinent considering that he's already been linked to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he could join his brothers, T.J. Watt and Derek Watt.

While the Steelers currently have their own salary cap issues to deal with if they want to make a run at adding a third Watt, the presence of the two other Watt brothers in Pittsburgh could make J.J. signing in Cleveland a tough sell. It would be one thing for J.J. to choose to sign with a team other than the Steelers. It would be another for him to pick one of Pittsburgh's chief rivals.

That's not to say that Watt might not embrace the opportunity to play his brothers twice a year, especially considering that the Browns appear to be at the beginning of their contention window. But as currently constructed, it appears there are several significant hurdles standing in the way of Cleveland landing one of this offseason's most high profile free agents.

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