The offseason has arrived, and it figures to be a busy one in Cleveland as the Browns evaluate the highs and lows of the 2021 season. We're doing some evaluations, too, by taking a thorough look at how each position fared throughout the year.
Next up: the defensive line
The Raw Numbers
Sacks: 43 (9th in NFL)
Rush defense: 109.2 yards allowed per game (12th in NFL)
Pressure percentage: 24.3 percent (17th in NFL)
DE Myles Garrett: 51 tackles, 16 sacks (17 TFLs), 33 QB hits (team leader), 1 forced fumble, 3 pass breakups
DE Jadeveon Clowney: 37 tackles, 9 sacks (11 TFLs), 19 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles
DE Takkarist McKinley: 18 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 8 QB hits, 1 forced fumble
DT Malik Jackson: 25 tackles, 0.5 sack (2 TFLs), 4 pass breakups
DT Malik McDowell: 33 tackles, 3 sacks (7 TFLs), 1 pass breakup
DT Sheldon Day: 21 tackles, 1 sack, 2 pass breakups
DT Tommy Togiai: 16 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 pass breakup
DT Jordan Elliott: 26 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 pass breakup
DE Porter Gustin: 9 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Analysis in 150 Words or Less
The defensive line was arguably the most stable, consistent position group on the Browns this season, and that was largely due to the two-man wrecking squad of Garrett and Clowney. The two first overall picks combined for 25 sacks and created the kind of damage and matchup issues the Browns envisioned when they signed Clowney last offseason. Garrett, in particular, had one of the greatest seasons ever by a Browns defender and set the franchise single-season sack record and single-game sack record (4.5 sacks), earning him Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors for the second consecutive year. McKinley, Jackson and McDowell — all players who were brought to Cleveland on one-year deals — carried heavy roles in their respective rotations and solidified the interior.
Number of Significance
1984 - Garrett and Clowney were statistically the best pass rush duo the Browns have had since 1984, when Reggie Camp (14) and Clay Matthews (12) combined for 26 sacks. Garrett and Clowney's 25 sacks are right behind them in second, and the Browns were one of five in the NFL this season to have two players record at least nine sacks.
Check out the best photos from the 2021 season by the Browns photo team
How could it not be Week 3? The defensive line absolutely feasted on the Bears' offense, holding it to just six points from two field goals and completely shutting down its passing game. That's not hyperbole, either — the Bears mustered 1 net yard on passing plays because the Browns kept sacking rookie QB Justin Fields. Garrett broke the franchise single-game record with 4.5 sacks, while Clowney (two sacks) and Jackson and McKinley (0.5 sack each) all made life in the pocket dreadful for Fields, who was sacked nine times for a loss of 67 yards. The Browns won 26-6 in one of their top games of the year.
Week 10. We've used this game before as the low point for the safeties, but it was probably the low point for the D-line, too. QB Mac Jones enjoyed clean pockets for nearly the entire game — he was sacked twice — and passed for three touchdowns. He only recorded 198 yards through the air, but that's because rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson carried the rest of the load on the ground and rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Everything was out of sync for the defense, and the defensive line was no exception.
What They Said
"Take us to the Super Bowl. That's the one goal that means everything to me. Everything else can go by the wayside. Of course, individual honors are nice and something I can put up in my house and display for my family and for my kids one day, but that Super Bowl means everything, not only to me but to this team and to the city. That is who I play for and who we do it for." Garrett on his 2022 goals after his record-breaking season
"I had a couple years that I've been hurt, but I always thought I was playing well. I've just been injured. I just want to make it through a year healthy and show people I can play at a high level and stay healthy. That was my goal this year was to be in a healthier place than I have been the last few years. I think I reached that. Going into the offseason, I'm already ahead of the curve. I don't have anything to get fixed and no injuries right now. Just trying to take care of myself and get ready for next season." - Clowney after the final game of the season
"We have a lot of young guys and a lot of new guys. That cohesion takes time, not only among players but between players and coaches. I think we are really trying to find what our strengths are, and through the year, we have gotten close to it and tapped into it a couple of times. I think by next year, we should have all of the kinks out, and we should really be rocking and rolling." - Garrett on the defense continuing its success into 2022
Who's Back for 2022?
Garrett, Elliott and Togiai are the only D-line players currently under contract through 2022. DE Curtis Weaver was signed to a reserve/futures contract at the beginning of the offseason.
Who's a Potential Free Agent
Clowney, McKinley, Jackson, Odenigbo and Day are all unrestricted free agents. Gustin is a restricted free agent, and McDowell is an exclusive rights free agent.
The Browns will always have one of the best D-line groups in the league as long as Garrett is rostered, but he's the only starter from the group who isn't heading into free agency, so the DT and DE positions will both be top priorities to address for the front office. Both positions could be targeted in the earlier rounds of the draft depending on how the Browns navigate free agency — and whether they're able to re-sign Clowney — but depth will still be needed, particularly in the interior, where Cleveland could be in need of two new starters for 2022.