The Browns, for the most part, have gotten what they've wanted in the first month of free agency — with significant additions and re-signings at each level of the defense, the front office feels confident the group is poised for improvement in 2023.
Fixing the defense was always going to be the top priority for the Browns in the first stages of the offseason, but Assistant GM and VP of Player Personnel Glenn Cook said the team's approach was more about grabbing the best players for the right price rather than focusing on a specific player at a specific spot.
"It looks like we're intentional about fixing the defense in some ways, but honestly, we were just trying to acquire really good guys," he said on a recent episode of Best Podcast Available. "You don't want to overthink and be too myopic in the sense that 'we need this position' and 'we need this player.' Sometimes, you want to be as talented as you can as well. That's how it played out."
The Browns didn't start the free agency period by grabbing one of the top-ranked players on the market, but they did sign a player who they believe is ready to become a massive contributor.
DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was the first addition the Browns completed and is a strong candidate for a breakout season after grabbing five sacks in his last eight games last season, which were all the first starts of his career. Injuries prevented Okoronkwo, a fifth-round pick in 2018, from becoming a starter prior to last year, but he's a year removed from playing in all 17 games and showing how destructive he can be when given a starting opportunity.
"'O,' he's probably a little underrated," Cook said. "We're excited about him. We'll see. We're excited about what he can do. He probably had one of, if not the best year of his career. We're going to continue to put him in a spot to do what he does well. The dude gets after the quarterback."
The biggest need, perhaps, was addressed in the Browns' next move with the signing of DT Dalvin Tomlinson.
Patching the interior defensive line with a starting-caliber veteran was crucial for the Browns to take a step toward significantly improving a defense that struggled in stopping the run and generating pressure last season, and Tomlinson should help the D-Line be more consistent in both areas.
At 6-foot-4 and 324 pounds, Tomlinson takes up plenty of space in the interior and has proven to be steady in swallowing running backs. He has over 40 tackles accrued in all but one his six seasons in the NFL, and he's begun to find more success in reaching the passer, too, with 10 QB hits in two of the last three seasons and 8.5 sacks the last three years.
"Dalvin was big — literally and figuratively," Cook said. "He's a big man. He controls the interior part of the line of scrimmage. We wanted to really make sure we solidified the front and supported Myles and some of our younger guys who are still growing and developing. Dalvin fit that.
"To have him be the cornerstone of the free-agent process this year is a pretty good sign. You want guys like him, so he was a really good get and important for us."
With the release of S John Johnson III, the Browns also needed to find a new starter at safety, preferably one who could patrol the deep-third part of the defense and protect against deep passes.
Juan Thornhill, a two-time Super Bowl champion, was the answer. He snagged three interceptions and built a career-best season en route to winning a second Super Bowl last year with the Chiefs, and the Browns believe his talents will elevate the secondary.
"He kind of ended up just being a fit — he wanted to be here, and we wanted him here," Cook said. "We figured it out … He fits the skillset we want. The dude has range, he makes plays on the ball and he can run. He brings energy. He has a lot of personality and brings juice in that way."
Not all the big moves of the offseason so far have been on the defense, of course. The Browns checked off their top offensive need, too, by trading for third-year veteran WR Elijah Moore, whose speed should help expand what the Browns are able to do in their pass game and give QB Deshaun Watson a reliable downfield receiver.
Cook acknowledged the Browns have had interest in Moore since he entered the league and wanted to trade for him, if the Jets made him available.
"We were prepared to jump on an opportunity like that," Cook said. "We liked him coming out (of college). He's been productive and fits what we're looking for as far as guys in that position group. It wasn't a scramble for us. It was, 'OK, this is how we view it, this is how we value the move and this is the impact it would make on our team' and some of the other ancillary considerations like the cap and financially.
"We were prepared to jump, and sometimes you do have to be because other teams were interested and other teams are making offers. It's fun, and those types of transactions are fun to be a part of."