It was an active first six days of free agency for the Browns. All of the holes on the roster are filled, and it’s just a matter of biding time until the season starts.
Clearly that’s not the case for general manager Andrew Berry.
There remain several moves for him to make between now and the start of training camp, if not after it starts as well.
There’s still a need for a speed threat at receiver and a backup quarterback, plus probably another offensive lineman. As has been shown, you can never have enough defensive linemen, and there’s still a definite need for linebacker help.
All of the Browns’ offseason moves:Cleveland Browns free agency/trade tracker
That said, there’s still time for those to moves to be made through more signings, trades or next month’s draft. There’s also time to take a moment and look back on what Berry and the Browns did over the opening week of free agency.
The biggest overall takeaway from the initial salvo is that Berry targeted specific needs and, at least on paper, seemed to do well to address those. Let’s look at specific takeaways from those moves.
Dalvin Tomlinson provides big-ticket answer at defensive tackle
You remember that one big present you got as a child, the one that just seemed to dwarf all the other ones you got, mostly likely because it was also the big-ticket one. Meet the Browns’ 2023 free-agency version of that in Dalvin Tomlinson. That’s exactly what they wanted, though. The first three years of Berry’s time at general manager, defensive tackle was an area where they both went relatively cheap and relatively small. Tomlinson, at 6-foot-3 and 325 pounds, is certainly not small. Nor was he cheap, as evidenced by his four-year, $57-million — $27.5 million guaranteed — contract. The defensive tackle position was an empty space a year ago, which is why it rose to priority No. 1 overall in the offseason. It wasn’t just about signing players, but signing at least one of the kind of talented, big-ticket players like Tomlinson. Now, it’s about him coming in and not just plugging up the hole in the interior of the defensive line, but also helping create opportunities for new All-Pro teammate Myles Garrett to get to the quarterback.
Dalvin Tomlinson signs with Browns:Cleveland Browns announce deal with former Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson
Meet new Browns DT Davin Tomlinson:Dalvin Tomlinson sees ‘great friendship blossoming’ with Myles Garrett
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo provides up-and-comer opposite Myles Garrett
The Browns rode the Jadeveon Clowney Experience the last two seasons to provide a counterpunch on the opposite side from Garrett. The first year provided plenty of glimpses of just what it could look like with a dominant edge rushers off each side. The second year, well, jealousy can be a bad thing for both a player and a team. The Browns have a couple of intriguing young defensive end prospects in Alex Wright and Isaiah Thomas, but both were rookies last year who combined for one sack. What the Browns needed wasn’t just an edge rusher with some experience and talent, but also with still some room to grow. It can be a tough needle to thread, but the Browns may have done just that by signing the former Houston Texan Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who is still a fairly young player, having been drafted in 2019 by the Los Angeles Rams. He shifted from outside linebacker to more of a defensive end last season in Houston, and put together his best season yet. Even there, though, it was just a scratching of the surface for Okoronkwo, who had five sacks in 2022. Putting him opposite a player like Garrett may just be the key to unlock it all.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo signs with Browns:Cleveland Browns announce deal with former Texans defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
Juan Thornhill provides answer at deep safety, and rings in the room
Shortly after the new league year began at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Browns made the move, expected for weeks, to release safety John Johnson III with a post-June 1 designation. That left a hole, both in the back end of the secondary as well as among the leaders in the locker room. It took about an hour after that move for the Browns to go out and find who they believe can be the player to fill both those roles in two-time Super Bowl champion Juan Thornhill from the Kansas City Chiefs. Thornhill arrives with the gravitas that comes with having been a key contributor to multiple teams to play in, and win, Super Bowls. More than that, though, is what he provides on the field. With Thornhill in to provide a consistent presence at the free safety spot, it allows Grant Delpit — coming to the end of his rookie deal — to likely settle in more as the in-the-box safety, which plays more to his strengths.
Juan Thornhill signs with Browns:Cleveland Browns announce three-year deal with former Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill
Juan Thornhill sees talent on Browns:Two-time Super Bowl champion Juan Thornhill sees ‘all the pieces’ with new Browns team
Maurice Hurst Jr., Trysten Hill provide low-risk defensive tackle depth
The key to developing quality depth is sometimes you have to hit on a gamble. Sometimes the gambles can be big, but even small gambles can provide big payoffs if the right one hits. Some of Berry’s better free-agent signings with the Browns have been gambles like that, especially along the defensive line with players such as Malik McDowell, Adrian Clayborn, Malik Jackson and Takk McKinley. That’s what the Browns hope they’ve landed with a couple of young players who have had to battle through injuries and sporadic playing time in Maurice Hurst Jr. and Tyrsten Hill. If just one of the two hits, the roll of the dice is worth it. If both of them do, Berry should run to his nearest casino.
Maurice Hurst Jr. signs with Browns:Cleveland Browns announce one-year deal with defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr.
Trysten Hill agrees to deal with Browns:Cleveland Browns adding to defensive line depth with former Cowboys DT Trysten Hill
Jordan Akins provides Deshaun Watson with a familiar face to target
Getting more weapons for Deshaun Watson was the No. 1 offensive offseason priority. There remains a need to add to the receiving corps, which figures to get done, although it could come through trade or the draft. However, the Browns did add to the tight end room by bringing in someone with whom Watson has a prior relationship. Akins, who’s spent his entire five-year career with the Houston Texans, caught 90 passes — on 129 targets — from Watson for 1,094 yards and three touchdowns between 2018-20. For context, Watson completed 99 of 170 passes for 1,102 yards and seven touchdowns over his six starts with the Browns last season. One way to help him increase those numbers, beyond actually getting to play a full season, is to get him comfortable with who he’s throwing to on a given play. Akins helps with that issue.
Jordan Akins signs with Browns:Cleveland Browns announce signing Jordan Akins, Deshaun Watson’s former Texans teammate
Ethan Pocic, Sione Takitaki provide some more continuity
A sixth takeaway is simply to point out that not all of the important moves made in free agency involve other teams’ players. While the Browns have already lost their share of unrestricted free agents over the last seven days, they also managed to re-sign two critical players: center Ethan Pocic and linebacker Sione Takitaki. Pocic, who played at a high level in his 13 games, continues the organization’s commitment to investing big in the offensive line. Takitaki, who is coming off a torn ACL last December, gives the Browns a veteran and a leader at linebacker, a position where they’re thin in quality experience.
Ethan Pocic re-signs with Browns:Cleveland Browns announce free-agent center Ethan Pocic has signed new three-year contract
Sione Takitaki re-signs with Browns:Cleveland Browns announce deal to bring back linebacker Sione Takitaki on one-year deal
Contact Chris at [email protected]
On Twitter: @ceasterlingABJ
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Browns bolstered in areas of need over start of free agency