Improving the defensive line was a focus for the Browns even before the end of last season.
That didn’t change on the first day of free agency either.
The Browns agreed to a three-year deal with Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. They failed to land Javon Hargrave, who agreed to a monster deal with the 49ers.
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The free hand began Monday midday with the start of a two-day negotiation period. The league year begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m., when the contracts agreed on Monday and Tuesday can be officially signed.
The Browns’ most pressing need remained defensive tackle after Hargrave picked San Francisco and a four-year, $84 million deal, including $40 million guaranteed. He was considered the top tackle and perhaps the #1 free agent on the market.
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The Browns have options including Denver’s Dre’Mont Jones, a graduate of St. Ignatius and Ohio State. New Orleans’ David Onyemata agreed to a deal with the Falcons, but Minnesota’s Dalvin Tomlinson, the Jets’ Sheldon Rankins, Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox and Seattle’s Poona Ford are other possibilities.
General Manager Andrew Berry will continue to negotiate with free agents and scout the trade market to land a #1 tackle.
Berry found a No. 2 finish to play Pro Bowler Myles Garrett, another key need.
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Okoronkwo has agreed to a three-year deal, a league source confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram. The deal is valued at $19 million with a chance of reaching $22 million, including $12.5 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports.
The Browns needed someone to replace Jadeveon Clowney, who is a free agent and will not return after registering two sacks and publicly criticizing the front office and coaching staff. Okoronkwo, who turns 28 in April, is one player the Browns believe has plenty of untapped potential.
Okoronkwo (6-foot-1, 253 pounds) was a fifth-round pick by Oklahoma in 2018. He has 9.5 sacks in 50 career games but is coming off his best season.
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After three years as an outside linebacker in the Rams’ 3-4 system, he played in the Houston 4-3 system in 2022. He played all 17 games and made the first eight starts of his career — the last eight games — and compiled five sacks, nine tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, two passes defended and one forced fumble. He played 518 defensive snaps, nearly half his career total, 1,046.
DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to the #Brown…
Pass Rush upside – Plays across from Myles Garrett in CLE. Quicks for the first step. Counter. There are disruptive capabilities here on the tape. pic.twitter.com/Ok4udve2t4
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 13, 2023
After entering the starting lineup, he was strong, with his 88.5 pass rushing score after Week 7, the sixth-best grade among edge defenders, according to Pro Football Focus. The Browns saw his improvement firsthand when he had a sack and four tackles in Cleveland’s win in Houston on December 4 when quarterback Deshaun Watson returned from his suspension.
Okoronkwo signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Texans for 2022 and recorded the third-highest press rate (16.4 percent) among defenders with at least 200 pas rushes, according to next-gen stats, and posted with 39 presses a career high. PFF ranked him 29th among edge rushers with an overall score of 75.1, 81.9 as a pass rusher, and 61.5 as a run defender.
Okoronkwo’s career got off to a rocky start when he missed his rookie season after foot surgery. He was sidelined for six games midway through the 2020 season following elbow surgery.
After the 2021 season, he won a Super Bowl with the Rams and played in all four playoff games. He played 10 snaps on defense with one tackle and 13 on special teams in the Super Bowl win over the Bengals.
Cleveland’s defensive line will look very different from 2022. Alongside Okoronkwo and at least one notable tackle to add, backup end Chase will join Winovich Clowney and likely attack Taven Bryan to go elsewhere.
According to Houston reporter Aaron Wilson, Winovich will sign a one-year contract with the Texans worth up to $2.75 million.
Winovich, 27, was acquired by the Patriots in a trade for linebacker Mack Wilson last offseason. Winovich suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason and throughout the year, limiting him to eight games including two starts. He had 20 tackles, a sack, a pass defended, a tackle for loss, and three quarterback hits.
“I owe my Twitter family and supporters nothing but the truth — I loved Cleveland and my teammates there with all my heart,” Winovich tweeted. “Thank you to the whole @Browns organization – the Haslam family, management and all the coaches for believing in me and for all the love and opportunities!
“As well as all the support staff! From top to bottom the entire org is filled with people who are interested in seeing their players succeed and I am so so so grateful
“Zeus and I will always cherish our time here in Cleveland and all the amazing relationships we’ve formed! THANK YOU CLEVELAND!”