The Cleveland Browns will have a new defense this year. Good. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will do a lot of things differently than Joe Woods. Very good.
One thing about Schwartz’s defense is that he expects the front four to provide the pass rush and will only blitz occasionally. This means that both the defensive tackles and the defensive ends have to be premier guys.
Well, we know Cleveland has Myles Garrett. That’s one to mark down as elite. What about the other three spots? Defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey came on strong in the second half of last season. And Jadeveon Clowney will find other employment, so that leaves the other defensive end position wide open for the taking.
Chase Winovich, Ben Stille, and Stephen Weatherly are unrestricted free agents and can sign with any team, but Browns general manager Andrew Berry may re-sign them. Alex Wright took great strides in his rookie year and just might be the man to become the starter. Don’t count out Isaiah Thomas, another former rookie who played well as the games fell off the calendar. Sam Kamara was on the practice squad and signed a reserve/futures contract in January.
So, as a Browns fan, does this make the defensive end position set? No? Maybe?
Well, why not sign a veteran EDGE guy during free agency and be certain?
Here are three possibilities for the Browns.
Samson Ebukam – San Francisco 49ers
6’-3”, 245 pounds
NFL Draft: 2017 Round 4, pick No. 125 (Los Angeles Rams)
Career Pro Bowls: 0
40 time: 4.45
2022 season: 15 games, 15 starts, 36 tackles, 13 QB hits, 5 sacks, 43 pressures, 30 hurries, 17 knockdowns, 7 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 missed tackle
Thomas Moore: After spending the first four seasons of his career as an outside linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams, Samson Ebukam moved to defensive end after singing with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent in 2021.
The move paid off as Ebukam had 77 combined quarterback pressures in his two seasons with the 49ers and posted a career-best 11.8 percent pressure rate last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Ebukam can play in any front and has been on the field for more than 550 defensive snaps four times in his six-year career. He might not be starter material, but he could be a solid rotational option for the Browns as they look to rebuild their defensive line this offseason.
Contract Projection: Three years, $30.75 million ($10.25M per year); $20 million total guaranteed
Arden Key – Jacksonville Jaguars
6’-5”, 240 pounds
NFL Draft: 2018 Round 3, pick No. 87 (Raiders)
Career Pro Bowls: 0
40 time: 4.89
2022 season: 3 starts, 27 tackles, 15 QB hits, 4.5 sacks, 20 pressures, 5 hurries, 10 knockdowns, 12 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 missed tackle, 2 pass defenses
Barry Shuck: While at LSU, Key broke the school’s single-season sack record by netting 12 in his junior year. He was a Freshman All-American and named First Team All-SEC his sophomore and junior years.
Cleveland needs a dedicated pass rusher. Key has speed, a non-stop motor is a sure tackler. He is also a very vocal player. Key has an explosive first step and shoots off the line with the snap. He can rush with power and use his speed to get into the backfield.
By adding Key to the defensive line rotation, this would work well with the current cap situation as he would be a cost-effective signing and could become that compliment to Garrett while competing with Wright and Thomas for the starting position.
Contract Projection: Two years, $18.5 million ($9.25M per year); $11.5 million total guaranteed
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo – Houston Texans
6’-1”, 253 pounds
NFL Draft: 2018 Round 5, pick No. 160 (Los Angeles Rams)
Career Pro Bowls: 0
40 time: 4.77
2022 season: 17 games, 8 starts, 44 tackles, 11 QB hits, 5 sacks, 36 pressures, 25 hurries, 6 knockdowns, 9 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 0 missed tackles
Thomas Moore: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo did not have much of an opportunity in his three seasons with the Rams, playing just a total of 528 snaps on defense, totaling just 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
After moving to the Texans in free agency on a one-year deal, he matched his three-year totals by playing 518 defensive snaps, finishing with 44 tackles and 5 sacks. He came into his own starting in Week 7 as his pass-rush grade of 88.5 from that point forward was the league’s sixth-best among edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus. Those final 11 games also saw him post a pass-rush win rate of 22.9 percent (seventh-best) and his 17.5 pressure percentage was eighth-best, per PFF.
Okoronkwo’s overall grade of 75.1 in 2022 was better than every Cleveland defensive lineman not named Myles Garrett and was just a tick behind Jadeveon Clowney’s grade of 75.8. When it comes to rushing the passer, Okoronkwo posted a pass-rush grade of 81.9 for the season, which would have been second on the Browns by a far margin.
The question facing teams when it comes to Okoronkwo is whether those final 11 games of last season are a true reflection of his talents, or is he more the player that struggled to find playing time during his three seasons with the Rams.
Contract Projection: Two years, $11 million ($5.5M per year); $6.75 million total guaranteed
Put on your GM hat. Which of these players profiled would you sign?