The Cleveland Browns had an underwhelming season in 2022. Right now, it’s just difficult to know what to think of them as we enter the 2023 offseason. Star QB Deshaun Watson didn’t make his debut with the Browns until December, and the team finished with a 7-10 record. In fact, they finished last in the AFC North. This is a key summer for the Browns as they seek to build around Watson in his first full season with them. Here we’ll look at the four best players that the Browns have to target during 2023 NFL Free Agency right now, especially after they just added Dalvin Tomlinson.
Looking ahead to the next season, there is some uncertainty surrounding Watson and it is worrying considering the franchise’s investment in him. To address this, the Browns should consider improving their wide receiver options.
If Watson performs well, the offense should be fine. However, if the Browns are still confident in him, they should also focus on improving the defense. In particular, the defensive line needs to get better in terms of defending against the run. Additionally, the team could add some depth at the linebacker position due to injuries.
As such, it’s not surprising that the Browns wasted no time in making a major acquisition at defensive tackle. They just added Dalvin Tomlinson, a free agent from the Vikings. They gave him a four-year deal worth $57 million, with $27.5 million guaranteed.
This move, along with the acquisition of edge rusher Ogbo Okoronkwo, means that the Browns have significantly improved their defensive line. They no longer have to rely on finding a top defensive lineman in the upcoming draft. Of course, this will also provide much-needed support to star rusher Myles Garrett.
Tomlinson was a second-round pick from Alabama in 2017. He was also ranked No. 16 among qualifying tackles by Pro Football Focus in 2022. He spent two years with the Vikings and in 2022, he had 42 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and a forced fumble.
Let’s look at the four best players that the Cleveland Browns have to target during 2023 NFL free agency.
1. Azeez Al-Shaair
The Browns could consider taking a chance on a younger linebacker like Azeez Al-Shaair. He played inside linebacker for the 49ers in 2022 but also had two successful starts as a middle linebacker in 2021. Sure, giving Al-Shaair the responsibility of leading the defense in the middle comes with risk. Still, it also has the potential for big rewards, especially with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah already on the roster.
In 2021, Azeez Al-Shaair enjoyed a breakout season. Al-Shaair made advantage of his opportunity as a stand-in for Dre Greenlaw. Stats show that he had 102 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five passes defensed, an interception, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Regrettably, Al-Shaair missed five games in 2022 due to a knee injury suffered in Week 3 versus Denver.
2. Foster Moreau
Sure, Harrison Bryant is a solid third tight end who can also play as a fullback. However, he is not a suitable option as the team’s second tight end. The team is therefore expected to search for an upgrade behind David Njoku. Enter Foster Moreau, who fits the Browns’ desired profile in terms of athleticism and potential. As Moreau is unlikely to demand a large contract, he is definitely an intriguing option for the Browns to consider.
Foster Moreau's first TD of the season @fhmoreau
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— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2022
3. Andre Dillard
The Browns are known for always having impressive depth on their offensive line. This should not change this season. They also have a history of bringing in former first-round draft picks to revitalize their careers. Offensive tackle Andre Dillard is a perfect fit for this. While Jedrick Wills will continue to start at left tackle, having Dillard as a versatile option will provide solid competition and depth.
Now yes, James Hudson has shown promise. However, he has also had some concerning moments that could lead to injuries. Dillard and Hudson can compete for the swing tackle position, allowing the Browns to maintain their strong offensive line depth.
4. Mecole Hardman
In an effort to add more explosiveness to their offense, the Browns may consider signing a receiver with speed. They need a guy who can make plays both downfield and in the open field. This is where Mecole Hardman barges through the doors. Despite being plagued with injuries, Hardman has shown he is capable of providing an electrifying spark when he has the ball. This is a quality that no other receiver on the Browns’ roster possesses. Last season, the 24-year-old caught 25 catches for 297 yards and four touchdowns in eight games. Keep in mind that his career best in yards is 693 yards, which he achieved in 2021. With Watson throwing him darts, maybe Hardman can hit that threshold again.