Improving the defensive line has been a focus of the Browns since before last season was finished.
That didn’t change on the first day of free agency.
The Browns agreed to a three-year deal with end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. They were unable to land tackle Javon Hargrave, who agreed to a monster deal with the 49ers.
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Free agency began Monday at noon with the start of a two-day negotiating period. The league year begins Wednesday at 4 p.m., when the contracts agreed upon 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 No. 1 overall free agent on the market.
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The Browns have options, including Denver’s Dre’Mont Jones, a St. Ignatius and Ohio State alum. 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 explore the trade market to land a No. 1 tackle.
Berry found a No. 2 end to play opposite Pro Bowler Myles Garrett, another significant need.
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Okoronkwo agreed to a three-year deal, a league source confirmed to The Chronicle-Telegram. The deal is worth $19 million with the chance to reach $22 million, including $12.5 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports.
The Browns needed someone to replace Jadeveon Clowney, who’s a free agent and won’t return after registering two sacks and publicly criticizing the front office and coaching staff. Okoronkwo, who will turn 28 in April, is a player the Browns believe has a lot of untapped potential.
Okoronkwo (6-foot-1, 253 pounds) was a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2018. He has 9.5 sacks in 50 career games but is coming off his best season.
After three years as an outside linebacker in the Rams’ 3-4 scheme, he played end in Houston’s 4-3 system in 2022. He played all 17 games and made the first eight starts of his career — the final eight games — compiling five sacks, nine tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. He played 518 defensive snaps, nearly half his career total of 1,046.
DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to the #Browns…
Pass rush upside — playing opposite of Myles Garrett in CLE. First-step quicks. Counters. There’s disruptive ability here on the tape. pic.twitter.com/Ok4udve2t4
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 13, 2023
He came on strong after entering the starting lineup, with his 88.5 pass rushing grade after Week 7 the sixth-best mark among edge defenders, according to Pro Football Focus. The Browns saw his improvement firsthand, as he had a sack and four tackles in Cleveland’s victory in Houston on Dec. 4 in quarterback Deshaun Watson’s return from suspension.
Okoronkwo signed a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Texans for 2022 and recorded the third-highest pressure rate (16.4 precent) among defenders with at least 200 pas rushes, per Next Gen Stats, and set a career high with 39 pressures. PFF graded him 29th among edge rushers with a 75.1 overall grade, 81.9 as a pass rusher and 61.5 as a run defender.
Okoronkwo’s career got off to a rough start as he missed his rookie season following foot surgery. He was sidelined for six games in the middle of the 2020 season following elbow surgery.
He won a Super Bowl with the Rams after the 2021 season, playing 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 a lot different from 2022. Besides Okoronkwo and at least one big-name tackle to be added, backup end Chase Winovich will join Clowney and likely tackle Taven Bryan to go elsewhere.
Winovich will sign with the Texans on a one-year deal worth up to $2.75 million, according to Houston reporter Aaron Wilson.
Winovich, 27, was acquired from the Patriots last offseason in a trade for linebacker Mack Wilson. Winovich suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason and another during the year, limiting him to eight games, including two starts. He had 20 tackles, a sack, a pass defensed, a tackle for loss and three quarterback hits.
“I don’t owe my twitter family and supporters anything but the truth – I whole heartedly loved Cleveland and my teammates there so much.” Winovich tweeted. “Thank you to whole @Browns org – the Haslam family, management, and all the coaches for believing me and for all the love and opportunities!
“As well as all the support staff! Top to bottom the whole org is filled with ppl that are invested 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 that we’ve made! THANK YOU CLEVELAND!”