NFL Free Agency is a long, twisting road with many bumps between now and the start of training camp. There are certainly a few more bends after that until the start of the season. One team that really needs good pick-ups this offseason is the Cleveland Browns. After placing 20th in points allowed and having difficulty stopping the run in 2022, the Browns have made a series of defensive free agent additions. Most have been well-received, and one could be a really very massive game-changer. Here we’ll look at the absolute sneakiest signing of the Browns during the first wave of 2023 NFL free agency.

The Browns have made significant additions to their team through the retention of projected starters and the acquisition of several key players. General Manager Andrew Berry’s moves have received high praise, despite not landing the biggest names in the market. They managed to keep center Ethan Pocic while adding free safety Juan Thornhill, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, and wide receiver Elijah Moore.

To add depth to their tight end position, the Browns also signed Jordan Akins. Recall that he has played with quarterback Deshaun Watson as a member of the Houston Texans. To improve their rushing defense, the team brought in Tomlinson, who was considered one of the best defensive tackles available in free agency this year. In 2022, Tomlinson registered 2.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and 42 combined tackles (20 solos) while playing for the Minnesota Vikings.

The Browns also added Thornhill, a safety who played on two Super Bowl-winning teams with the Kansas City Chiefs in his four pro seasons. We assume he will start alongside Grant Delpit. Additionally, to address the need for another legitimate threat at wide receiver, they acquired Moore from the New York Jets. This move is seen as a valuable addition to the team. Many feel the Browns still need more support for four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and the emerging Donovan Peoples-Jones.

As we said earlier, though, the Browns’ 2023 free agency also included a sneaky signing that could really turn out to be a huge positive for the squad this coming season.

Ogbo Okoronkwo

Yes, Browns general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski have not made any ultra big-name signings in free agency. Still, they have been praised for his solid work. However, the signing of defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has garnered almost universal attention and acclaim. Cleveland acquired him via a three-year contract worth $12.5 million in guaranteed money.

Live and breathe the NFL?

🚨 Get viral NFL graphics, memes, rumors and trending news delivered right to your inbox with the Clutch Newsletter.

The Browns signed Okoronkwo to replace outgoing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and give Pro Bowl pass rusher Myles Garrett some much-needed support on the front line. Okoronkwo is no stranger to winning, of course. Remember that he played with the Los Angeles Rams in 2021 when they won the Super Bowl.

In his four-year career, Okoronkwo has played 50 games and had a breakout year with the Houston Texans last season. He played 518 defensive snaps and finished with 44 tackles and 5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, he had a pass-rush grade of 88.5 over the final 11 games of the season. That ranked sixth among edge rushers. In addition, he had a pass-rush win rate of 22.9 percent (seventh-best) and a pressure percentage of 17.5 percent (eighth-best) during that closing stretch.

We definitely believe that Okoronkwo has the potential to follow a similar career path as Shaquil Barrett. Remember that he broke out with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019. Of course, nobody is expecting Okoronkwo to tally 19.5 sacks, especially with Garrett on the d-line as well. Still, we think that Okoronkwo could have a breakout year with the Browns after recording five sacks with the Texans while playing just 44 percent of snaps due to limited opportunities. On a play-by-play basis, Okoronkwo was productive with a 19 percent pass-rush win rate and a 31 percent run-stop win rate. Those ranked 13th and fourth at his position, respectively.

The reality was that the Browns needed help generating pressure on the front line. Okoronkwo absolutely fills that void opposite Garrett. We have little doubt that this under-the-radar signing could prove to be a steal this season and perhaps beyond. Take note that Okoronkwo’s production increased significantly after settling into a 4-3 defensive front in Houston. The Browns are betting that Okoronkwo will replicate his Houston performance. Remember also that Cleveland has new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on board. This should make Browns fans optimistic that this signing will age well throughout the season.

Overall, Cleveland has been on the lookout for a pass rusher to complement Garrett. Now they have that guy, at least on paper. Again, their time with Clowney just didn’t pan out and didn’t end well. With Okoronkwo’s impressive performance last year, he is set to take on the role. With him, the Browns have a high-motor pass rusher with excellent first-step quickness. That makes him a suitable candidate to pair with Garrett. The Browns hope this acquisition will help them improve in a conference where premier quarterback talent is abundant. We think they’ve done just that.