When the Browns hired defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in January, head coach Kevin Stefanski didn't want to walk far around the offices in Berea to speak with him.
Stefanski wanted Schwartz, who's coached defenses for three decades in the NFL, to take the office next to his, and since Schwartz arrived, the two coaches have followed the same daily routine consisting of morning chats to discuss all things related to the defense.
"Jim is great," Stefanski said. "Spent a ton of time with him. "His office is right next door, so we spend some early time together in the morning. Jim is sharp. Very pleased with what he's doing. I think he's back in the saddle again in that chair where he's able to put his scheme together. I think he does an unbelievable job with coaches, just listening to the coaches and listening to him talk about his scheme and the things we're going to do."
A large amount of time in those conversations has been spent discussing ways the Browns can bolster their defense in coming weeks. The new league year begins March 15 at 4 p.m., which is when teams will be able to officially announce new free-agent acquisitions, trades and other transactions in what is one of the busiest periods on the NFL calendar.
Check out behind the scenes photos of Browns coaches and executives watching combine workouts
The Browns will likely be active on that day as they attempt to give Schwartz the players he needs to build his defense. A strong defensive line has been a staple of Schwartz's previous defenses with the Titans, Lions, Bills and Eagles, which all saw improvement under his schemes and featured some of the best sack numbers and run defenses in the league.
The Browns were far from the top in those categories last season and will likely be in the hunt for some of the top defensive linemen on the market — DTs Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Dalvin Tomlinson and DEs Marcus Davenport, Dre'Mont Jones and Brandon Graham are among the best players who could be available. Hargrave, Cox and Graham all also previously played for Schwartz when he was their defensive coordinator with the Eagles from 2016-20.
"Jim believes in a way of playing," Stefanski said. "He believes in things that he needs to do to be able to do that, but Jim also realizes that good coaches can move players around and make the most out of players, so he's not limiting anybody in terms of, 'This player doesn't meet this criteria.' He's very open-minded, and I think ultimately it's our job as an organization to give him pieces to go succeed."
Who the Browns sign will ultimately fall on the desk of Executive VP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry, who has kept the Browns active in the early portion of the free agency period since he became GM in 2020.
Berry was with the Eagles as their VP of Football Ops in 2019 when Schwartz was there as a defensive coordinator and said he's in-tune with what type of players Schwartz needs in his defense.
"At the end of the day, we want to make sure we are able to map personnel strengths and skillsets to the offensive, defensive or our kicking game philosophy," Berry said at the combine. "That will be no different with Jim. It certainly does help having worked with Jim before and have some level of familiarity. I have a pretty good sense of what he wants in different parts of the defense. That will always be the case with our coaching staff."
The Browns need to find players who can sack the quarterback after Myles Garrett, who matched his single-season franchise record with 16 sacks, was the only Browns defender to total more than three sacks last year. Schwartz has previously said he believes he can help Garrett discover even more production, and that task will certainly be easier if the Browns are able to land another quality edge rusher that forces opposing offenses to make difficult decisions on who to double-team each play.
Berry was confident the Browns will find a player who fits that need at some point this offseason — and he and Stefanski's conversations with Schwartz have likely only highlighted that need even more.
"I think as you guys hear Jim talk, he'll talk about being an attack-style front," Berry said. "So guys that really do get up the field, penetrate, really use either quickness or power to create disruption behind the line of scrimmage. So that's the general picture that you'll get from our defense."