The Browns agreed to terms with Vikings defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson after top choices Javon Hargrave and Dre'Mont Jones signed elsewhere.
Browns finally land a defensive tackle deep into the first night of free agency
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
The first day of free agency dragged into the night time before the Browns finally snatched a much-needed defensive tackle.
They came to terms with Minnesota Vikings free agent Dalvin Tomlinson after top choice Javon Hargrave agreed with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland native Dre’Mont Jones agreed with the Seattle Seahawks.
With the best tackles off the board, the Browns worked hard to secure a tackle to fill new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s top priority. They came to terms with Tomlinson, 29, on a four-year deal reportedly worth $57 million, with $27.5 million guaranteed.
That deal falls below the ones given Hargrave (four years, $84 million) and Jones (three years, $51 million). But Tomlinson isn’t the interior penetrator comparable to the top of the defensive tackle free-agent list.
Tomlinson, 6-3 and 325 pounds, has 13 sacks in four seasons with the New York Giants and two with the Vikings. Hargrave had 27 sacks the last four seasons; Jones had 22.
The Vikings had moved back the date that Tomlinson’s contract voided until Wednesday in hopes of re-signing him.
“Look we love Dalvin,” Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said at the NFL Combine last month. “Same thing whenever you have good players in your building and good people, you want to do everything you can to keep them. He's a great guy, great player and we love him.”
The Browns whiffed on Hargrave, their presumed top choice, despite having inside connections. Schwartz coached him in Philadelphia in 2020 and GM Andrew Berry and assistant GM Catherine Raiche worked under Eagles GM Howie Roseman when he acquired Hargrave. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Browns finished second to the 49ers in the pursuit for Hargrave.
The Browns also lost out on Jones despite having an inside track because of his desire to play for his hometown team.
Tomlinson will join a defensive tackle depth chart that includes Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai and Perrion Winfrey. It’s possible the Browns will pursue another tackle in free agency, such as Fletcher Cox of the Eagles or Johnathan Hankins of the Dallas Cowboys.
The Browns also agreed on a deal with a defensive end on Monday. Here is a rundown of the business done on Day 1
Agreed to terms with defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.
The deal is reportedly for $19 million over three years, with $12.5 million guaranteed. That’s relatively modest for a pass rusher expected to replace Jadeveon Clowney as Myles Garrett’s defensive end complement.
The reason is Okoronkwo, while ascending, is still proving himself and figures to be part of a rotation at left end with second-year Alex Wright.
Okoronkwo, 27, broke out last year with five sacks in his last six games for the Houston Texans, beginning with the game against the Browns. Linebacker-sized at 6-1 and 253 pounds, Okoronkwo battled injuries his first three seasons lining up as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense of the Los Angeles Rams.
Re-signed center Ethan Pocic.
Considered the best center in free agency, Pocic agreed to a three-year deal to stay with the Browns, per reports. Details were still to come.
Pocic was outstanding in 2022 replacing projected starter Nick Harris, who suffered a knee injury on the second play of preseason. When Pocic missed four games with a knee injury, the running game slowed and the offense plummeted as the Browns were forced to play Hjalte Froholdt as an emergency center.
When the season ended, it appeared Pocic would be difficult for the Browns to retain. After re-signing guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, and right tackle Jack Conklin, the Browns already ranked seventh in the NFL in spending on the offensive line.
But they found the room to retain Pocic and solidify their center position.
Closed in on re-signing linebacker Sione Takitaki.
Berry tipped his hand at the NFL Combine on bringing back Takitaki, who ended the season on injured reserve after tearing an ACL against the Texans on December 4.
A core special teams player for four seasons with the Browns, Takitaki took advantage of play time at middle linebacker last year after injuries to Anthony Walker, Jacob Phillips and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The run defense improved with Takitaki in the middle. He posted a career-high 71 tackles in 12 games before the injury.
The injury hurt Takitaki’s marketability in free agency, but steered him back to the Browns. He may not be ready to play until October. Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone must be pleased with this move.
Created cap room by re-doing Deshaun Watson’s contract.
As expected, the Browns re-did Watson’s huge contract to get under the salary cap. What was a surprise is the extent to which the Browns did it.
They created about $36 million in cap space this season by reducing Watson’s $46 million base salary to the NFL minimum of $1.165 million and turning the difference into a cash signing bonus. For accounting purposes, the $44.92 million in bonus money will be pro-rated over the remaining four years on Watson's deal plus a void year that was added.
The maneuver reduced Watson’s salary cap charge in 2023 to $19.125 million, but increased his charges in 2024, 2025 and 2026 to $63.96 million each year, plus $8.967 million in the 2027 void year, per Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com.
What it means is the Browns will have to kick the can down the road again on Watson’s deal until eventually paying the piper in full.