It’s been a reasonably quiet start to free agency for the Cleveland Browns. For fans that want instant gratification and star signings, especially after Deshaun Watson restructured his contract, it’s a tough pill to swallow. The fear of missing out on potential stars, even if the fit isn’t seamless, can make anyone antsy. But, that’s just not how Cleveland’s front office approaches things.
Similarly to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Browns are typically patient and pragmatic in building this team. There’s a clear vision of how Cleveland wants to play on either side of the ball and they’re also aware that they’re somewhat limited financially after signing Watson for more money than God last offseason. The Browns must remain realistic in their options all while maintaining flexibility and stability to lead to wins.
That said, it’s why you see a similar approach a few days into free agency for Cleveland. None of the moves are the sexiest. But, when breaking them down, it makes a ton of sense overall how the Browns are going about things. Again, it might not be as exhilarating as some may want. But, it’s better to continue building on a solid foundation and let the market work through the always early volatility.
A few key faces are still joining the Dawg Pound this fall. Right Down Euclid will give out an early free agency report card today since Cleveland has already addressed a few key needs. Their first splash is arguably the best signing for the team in Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.
As Cleveland lets Jadeveon Clowney walk this offseason following his tumultuous departure from the team, the Browns now have their running mate opposite Myles Garrett in Okoronkwo. While Okoronkwo only managed five sacks this past season with the Houston Texans, he also hit opposing quarterbacks 11 times. To give further context, Okoronkwo racked up pressures at the same rate as Garrett and Micah Parsons of the Dallas Cowboys. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Browns now have 2 of the top 5 pressure rate leaders from 2022 with Garrett and Okoronkwo now paired together.
That’s wonderful news since Cleveland had no production rushing the passer outside of Garrett in 2022, so they decided to correct that by adding Okoronkwo. Dialing up pressure is how new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz loves to operate and Okoronkwo can shoulder the load while Garrett shines opposite of him. It also helps that, unlike Clowney, Okoronkwo is often available to allow Schwartz and Garrett to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Okoronkwo has not missed a game since Week 4 of the 2021 season, appearing in 30 straight for the Los Angeles Rams and the Texans.
The availability and idea of what Okoronkwo brings make this a stellar signing to start things for the Browns in free agency. It is hard to find a player who gets after opposing quarterbacks as much as Okoronkwo does, especially at the price point the Browns were able to sign him (a 3-year, $19 million deal with a chance to make $22 million. He Also gets $12.5 million guaranteed.) at. Okoronkwo doesn’t fix all the issues with Cleveland’s pass rush. But, it’s a start to improving things long-term.
Okoronkwo signing: A
According to Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot, the Browns were also able to come to terms with in-house free agent Ethan Pocic. A while back, Right Down Euclid advocated for Cleveland to bring back Pocic since he was a breakout star last year. This keeps the Browns from needing to sign another backup to take a shot on Nick Harris off of an ACL injury and could be a cost-controlled option down the line.
Again, Pocic was elite at his position and will likely continue to grow under offensive line guru Bill Callahan. The deal would keep Pocic signed through the 2025 season, which aligns with what the Browns have done with three other starters along their offensive front. Guards Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, and right tackle Jack Conklin are all signed through at least that season. The only odd one out is left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who remains on his rookie deal. Cleveland still has until May 2 to pick up Wills’ fifth-year option. But, with Pocic now under contract for the foreseeable future, Wills could become expendable down the line.
There isn’t much else to say about this signing other than it’s a great deal for both Pocic and the Browns. Cleveland is trying to win right now and keeping Pocic allows them to do that.
Pocic signing grade: A
To close out the first day of “legal tampering”, the Browns made a huge addition to their roster, both figuratively and literally, in Dalvin Tomlinson. The former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle excels as a run defender that can put pressure on the quarterback from time to time. Tomlinson finished with a 77.1 overall grade last year from PFF to go with his 24 stop tackles, 29 quarterback pressures, and two-and-a-half sacks. Sure, you aren’t signing Tomlinson to be a dominant rusher but he’s still one of the better run stuffers at the position.
Since he was hired in January, much has been said about Cleveland needing to find a strong run stuffer for Jim Schwartz. He thrives on his ability to move guys around on the defensive line to exploit offensive lines. But the biggest thing is his need for a stud defensive tackle you can count on to push the pocket and stop the run, and that’s exactly what they get with Tomlinson. Tomlinson had one of his better pass-rushing seasons last year with 29 pressures, 2.5 sacks, and a pass-rush grade of 79.1 from PFF in 2022.
When you pair that with Clowney and the newly-signed Okoronkwo, Cleveland will make life hell on opposing offenses next year. Sure, Tomlinson wasn’t the best defensive tackle on the market but he was the best-run defender and is a massive upgrade to a historically bad run defense. Also, like Okoronkwo, Tominlinson is a consistent player and that’s something the Browns need more than anything to maximize things around Garrett. The only true issue with the signing is how Tomlinson fits age-wise with the rest of the Browns. Nevertheless, like signing Okoronkwo, this is a step in the right direction for Cleveland in free agency.
Tomlinson signing grade: A-
The final move the Browns made before this post was scheduled was coming to terms with in-house free agent Sione Takitaki. Although Takitaki’s ACL tear affected his value, the Browns will allow him to recover and re-establish himself next season. Cleveland signed the veteran linebacker to a one-year deal, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot first reported the sides were expected to agree to another contract.
The Browns ran into several injury issues at linebacker last season and struggled consistently against the run. Takitaki’s setback came after the team lost Anthony Walker and Jacob Phillips, but the former third-round pick was progressing toward a possible Browns extension before his knee tear. Pro Football Focus has viewed Takitaki as one of the NFL’s more consistent linebackers in recent years, rating him just inside the top 30 at the position last season.
For now, Takitaki will need to work his way back. He is expected to be ready to go just before the season, per Fowler, but will be depth looking for a way to keep his NFL career alive All in all, he is not a bad low risk possible high reward signing for the Browns. Hopefully, Takitaki can stay healthy.
Takitaki signing grade: B
Overall grade, so far: A–
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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