Browns Ideal Fit for ‘Underrated’ $15 Million Pass Rusher

The Cleveland Browns could be active shoppers in free agency, but the franchise is going to be looking for bargains wherever they can be had.

Derek Barnett, Joe Flacco

One such opportunity will present itself via the free agency of pass-rusher Derek Barnett, a former first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles who finished last season as a member of the Houston Texans.

Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report suggested on Sunday, February 18, that Cleveland is a top fit for Barnett, who Ballentine described as an “underrated veteran.”

Barnett went on a heater to close out the season as the Texans earned a trip to the playoffs and won a [Wildcard] game. From Week 15 on, he had [2.5] sacks, eight quarterback knockdowns and [11] total pressures.

The late-season push helped him finish with a pressure rate of 16.0. Texans edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr., the Defensive Rookie of the Year, had a pressure rate was 16.1, and Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones had a pressure rate of 15.7 percent, for context.

The Cleveland Browns are facing a tight cap situation and might lose Za’Darius Smith in free agency, so they could make sense as a landing spot for Barnett.

Derek Barnett Can Offer Cleveland Browns Decent Value at Premium Position

Derek Barnett

Philadelphia selected Barnett with the No. 14 overall pick in 2017. He had solid seasons of 5.0 sacks or more in three of his first four years in the NFL but never accomplished enough to truly make good on his draft position.

Barnett missed all but six games in 2018 and all but one regular-season contest in 2022 after sustaining a torn ACL. By the time he returned healthy, younger and newer players had usurped his role as a primary edge-rusher, which ultimately led to his release in November.

Ballentine noted Barnett’s effectiveness as a run defender. That attribute combined with the pass-rushing ability he displayed down the stretch in 2023 and his age (27) should make him a candidate for a team like the Browns who need a solid edge defender on an affordable contract.

Barnett signed a three-year, $15.2 million contract in Philly in March 2022. Following his release, he signed on with the Texans for a base salary of 1.08 million. Spotrac lists no projected market value for Barnett, but he should come at a reasonable annual cost over a short-term deal that provides a low risk/high ceiling scenario for whichever franchise ultimately signs him.

Playing Alongside Myles Garrett May Help Revitalize Derek Barnett’s Caree

Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett expressed his frustration after Saturday's blowout loss to the Houston Texans.

Barnett won’t need to put up monster numbers to adequately replace Smith, should Smith end up leaving Cleveland in free agency. The three-time Pro Bowler produced 5.5 sacks in Cleveland in 2023 after nearly doubling that tally the season prior.

Barnett would also be the beneficiary of playing alongside reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and star Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. Garrett drew more double-teams than almost any defender in the league last season and still finished the year with 14.0 sacks, giving him a total of 48 over the past three years (49 games played).

There is no guarantee Barnett would excel in Cleveland, but he isn’t likely to find a better opportunity elsewhere given Garrett’s presence on the NFL’s top-rated defense in 2023. As such, the notion of Barnett in a Browns uniform on an affordable contract in 2024 reads like a win-win for all parties involved.

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