Free agency officially begins for the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the teams in the NFL at 4:00 PM ET on Wednesday — but the real news typically breaks when the legal tampering period starts. That period begins today at 12:00 PM ET.
We will have all of the Browns-related coverage on free agency here at Dawgs By Nature throughout the day. We will have individual posts about each free agent signing that Cleveland makes, or any other relevant news. To see how these moves will impact Super Bowl odds, check out DraftKings Sportsbook.
This thread will act as a “live blog” of sorts, with brief but important updates about the latest rumors, signings, or trades involving Cleveland or other NFL teams. You should also use the comments section as your free agency open thread! (Newest updates will be at the top of the live blog below)
2023 Browns Free Agency Live Blog - Day 1
11:30 PM: Cleveland gets their big DT/NT in the form of Dalvin Tomlinson.
9:39 PM: Browns lose out on DT Dre’Mont Jones as Seattle gives a short, big deal with lots of guaranteed money:
Full terms for the #Seahawks and DT Dre'Mont Jones:— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 14, 2023
-- 3 years, $51.53M
-- $23.5M in Year 1
-- $35.02M over two years.
According to a report out of Denver, Cleveland offered the biggest contract but the early money and contract structure won out with the Seahawks:
Browns offered more APY, Seahawks offered him better contract structure— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) March 14, 2023
4:45 PM: Browns big move might be incoming with a report out of Denver about Dre’Mont Jones:
It appears Cleveland is the leader in the clubhouse https://t.co/VlwHwHyWav— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) March 13, 2023
4:36 PM: Cleveland target S Jessie Bates III signs a huge deal with the Atlanta Falcons:
It's a 4-year deal for$16.005M per year. Wow.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2023
4th highest paid in NFL history https://t.co/mbZH0ze3QE
Jessie Bates gets $36 million fully guaranteed with $23 million in Year 1 from the #Falcons— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 13, 2023
4:10 PM: The Browns obviously liked what they saw last season as they have reportedly re-signed center Ethan Pocic.
3:15 PM: The Browns have expressed interest in re-signing center Ethan Pocic, but just in case they are reportedly keeping tabs on veteran center Jake Brendel, according to NFL reporter Aaron Wilson:
Brendel spent the past two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and was a full-time starter in 2022.
2:45 PM: The first Browns signing is in, reportedly, as the club is bringing back linebacker Sione Takitaki.
2:30 PM: As the day rolls along and the Browns have been quiet, the angst level among fans is slowly rising as wait - sometimes patiently, sometimes not, for general manager Andrew Berry to “do something” to improve the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
But it is worth remembering that the biggest move the team made to improve the defense was bringing in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, according to Tom Withers of The Associated Press:
Browns have sights on some defensive linemen, and will likely add a couple in FA. Feeling inside the building is that Schwartz getting defense to play more soundly will make biggest difference.— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) March 13, 2023
It is not always about signing the biggest name or “winning” in the opening hours of free agency, but rather targeting and acquiring players that fit what you want to do as a team.
2:18 PM: It appears that the Browns have lost their first free agent: Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that the Houston Texans are signing DE Chase Winovich.
1:21 PM: The big name in the defensive tackle market is now off the market as Hargrave signs a massive deal with San Francisco:
Former Eagles’ DT Javon Hargrave has reached agreement on a four-year, $84 million deal that includes $40m guaranteed at signing with the SF 49ers, per sources. Deal negotiated and confirmed by Drew Rosenhaus and Ryan Matha. pic.twitter.com/9ez66A8ymq— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2023
1:00 PM: One potential defensive tackle target is off the market:
#Falcons have agreed to terms with DT David Onyemata, source says. Reunites with defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 13, 2023
Onyemata was considered on the second tier of free agents at the position and gets $12 million a year. Provides some perspective on what deals Hargrave and Jones might get. - Jared
12:55 PM: I don’t know what level of interest the Browns would have in acquiring a wide receiver, since my mind is focused mostly on the defensive side of the ball. However, even if it’s just for general NFL news, it’s noteworthy that the Denver Broncos seem willing to trade one of their talented receivers for the right price. -cjp
Sources with multiple teams believe the Broncos could trade a WR. Denver has had talks with teams about Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. Teams say the Broncos are asking high prices, not just dumping, but it's not out of the question one gets moved.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) March 13, 2023
12:39 PM: AFC North news: The Baltimore Ravens are releasing DL Calais Campbell. The Browns should have interest in bringing the veteran in as a part of the rotation on the defensive line: -Jared
We have released DE Calais Campbell. pic.twitter.com/75X15Vr5x1— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) March 13, 2023
12:34 PM: According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, the Chargers are interested in S John Johnson after the Browns release him this week. It would seem to be a good fit for Johnson, who played under Brandon Staley with the Rams. Former Browns coach Jeff Howard is also with the Chargers. -cjp
12:30 PM: The Browns have been linked to several free agents in the past few weeks, but one name that has consistently come up in recent days is Denver Broncos defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones. (You can check out his free agent profile here.)
If Cleveland is interested in bringing Jones, who played high school ball at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland and college ball at Ohio State, back home, they may have to outbid not only the Chicago Bears but some unnamed “mystery teams” according to NFL writer Chad Forbes: -TM
Dre'Mont Jones has a bidding war for his services with hometown #Browns / #Bears & proverbial mystery teams involved. Will command a huge pay day. $18M per yr isn't outrageous for the ascending interior disruptor.— Chad Forbes (@NFLDraftBites) March 13, 2023
12:22 PM: Not that RB Kareem Hunt or RB D’Ernest Johnson will draw the same type of attention as RB Austin Ekeler, but you could look at this as one of two ways: either Ekeler could take a suitor away from Hunt or Johnson, or it could be a sign that running backs in general (Hunt in particular) will look for a bigger contract. On the flip side, you could argue that a guy like Hunt becomes more attractive (to other teams) if he’s willing to take a bargain deal. -cjp
Chargers’ RB Austin Ekeler is requesting permission to speak with other teams about a potential trade after preliminary talks with the team aimed at a contract extension did not progress, his agent Cameron Weiss told ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2023
12:05 PM: Former Browns QB and soon-to-be former Browns QB are the focus for Tampa Bay:
The Tampa Bay Bucs have shown interest in both QB Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett, per sources.— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) March 13, 2023
Looks like it will be Mayfield and not Brissett, perhaps the latter has a higher price tag than the former?
The #Bucs are pursuing QB Baker Mayfield, but several other teams also have expressed interest in the former No. 1 overall pick, per sources. A lot of moving parts in the QB market an hour into the negotiating window.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 13, 2023
12:00 PM: It’s noon! Now, we wait...
11:35 AM: Something that is a good annual reminder is that some teams are more attractive to free agents if the state they are in has no income tax — like Florida, Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, and Washington. That probably won’t play a factor in the level of free agents that Cleveland is trying to sign, but it, along with the weather in some of those states, surely has an influence on the market too. -cjp
NFL teams that are based in a state with no income tax.— Robert Raiola, CPA (@SportsTaxMan) March 13, 2023
Buccaneers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Jaguars, Raiders, Seahawks, Texans, Titans. #NFLFreeAgency
11:21 AM: The texts and DMs are popping off right now but nothing can officially be reported, however, the theme is the same: Browns are very much in on Javon Hargrave and Dre’Mont Jones. At this point, I’d be slightly surprised if they don’t sign one of them. Hard to believe they will pay the high price for either but the private noise is getting louder. - Jared
11:20 AM: Keeping watching that clock — just like that, we’re already only 40 minutes away until noon, which is when the legal tampering period can commence.
10:58 AM: According to SI’s Albert Breer, Cleveland could still be one of the team’s in on free agent safety Jessie Bates: -cjp
I know teams see a guy such as Bates making it to the market as a rare opportunity to get a guy you can really build around on the free-agent market. Accordingly, I think he’ll have plenty of suitors (Cleveland and San Francisco could be in it) and could land a deal somewhere around $17 million per year or so.
10:05 AM: With free agency kicking off this week, here are a couple of items to keep in mind as teams look to sign players from Greg Auman of Fox Sports.
The first is the veteran salary benefit, which gives teams a bit of an incentive to sign veteran players.
Another term you'll see this week is a "veteran salary benefit" or VSB deal, which gives teams a break for signing veteran players. They get the minimum (either $1.08m or $1.165m) and can get a $152,500 bonus, but only count $1.092m against the cap (as if they had $940k salary).— Greg Auman (@gregauman) March 13, 2023
The second is the league has set the minimum salary for veterans with four to six years of experience at $1.08 million, while veterans with seven or more years of experience will receive a minimum salary of $1.165 million.
Key numbers for the frugal NFL teams -- league minimum 2023 salary for a player with 4-6 years of experience is $1.08 million, league minimum for anyone with 7+ years is $1.165 million. Compare that to rookies, whose base salary is still $750,000 this year.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) March 13, 2023
9:56 AM: The article itself is behind a paywall, but according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland is “close to agreeing on a 1-year deal” with LB Sione Takitaki. The bigger news is that C Ethan Pocic is “likely to re-sign soon,” which would be a pleasant surprise given that it previously sounded like the team was willing to lean on OL Nick Harris instead. In addition, Cabot believes the Browns will “land a big-name defender or two early in free agency.” -cjp
Who's in & who's out for the #Browns as free agency kicks off Mon, including Sione Takitaki close to agreeing on 1-year deal, Ethan Pocic likely to re-sign here soon, Browns likely to land big-name defender or two early https://t.co/qCRvtd6QHB— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) March 13, 2023
9:42 AM: It’s definitely a unique year as a Browns fan when it comes to monitoring cap space. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a free agency where Cleveland was in the hole in cap space. When I saw that the Browns were in that position a month or so ago, I was taken aback at first, until I looked and remembered, “Oh yeah — the big difference is that we’re allocating $50+ million a year in cap space to our quarterback.”
The #Browns have restructured QB Deshaun Watson’s contract, creating nearly $36M in cap space, source said. The cap conversion gives plenty of room for Cleveland to work in free agency.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2023
But in today’s NFL, we weren’t even bothered by the team’s cap situation because they can just move numbers around. As Jared mentioned a little bit ago, the team restructured QB Deshaun Watson’s deal to create about $36 million in cap space. I assume that means “free up” $36 million, which means if we were about -$14 million before, now we’d have about 22 million in cap space. And more restructures can be done to free additional room, as necessary. -cjp
9:15 AM: The necessary cap space has been created in the form of a restructured contract for Deshaun Watson.
8:35 AM: We interrupt these rumors to provide you with our final mock free agency a few hours before legal tampering opens. A different direction today due to the price of some of the big-name free agents expected to be higher than previously thought:
8:00 AM: That does the Browns’ cap space situation look like heading into the legal tampering period? Let’s go into one of my old school breakdowns that I haven’t done for awhile:
Carryover Space and Adjustments
NFL 2023 Salary Cap: $224.80 million
Browns’ Adjustments from 2022: $26.97 million
Browns’ 2023 Adjusted Salary Cap: $224.80 million + $26.97 million = $251.77 million
The “adjustments” from 2022 are a combination of incentives, roster bonuses, carryover cap space, and more. For example, any likely-to-be-earned escalators vs. not likely to be earned ones may have swung the adjustments up or down. Some teams might get negative adjustments overall. In the Browns’ case, they benefited.
Estimated by Over the Cap / DBN
Browns’ Top 51 Cap Total: $257.21 million
Browns’ Dead Money for 2023: $7.76 million
Browns’ Total Cap Spent for 2023: $257.21 million + $7.76 million = $264.97 million
When you subtract the two subtotals above ($251.77 million - $264.97 million), you can see that the Browns are actually in the hole with a negative $13.2 million in cap space. That number will fluctuate a bit — for example, we are not accounting for CB A.J. Green re-signing yet, which would probably make that number closer to $14.2 million in the hole.
How do you escape such a mess? As Jack Duffin of The OBR has been explaining, you just restructure some contracts, like Cleveland can do with the guys below. It may cause some headaches down the road, but you keep deferring things to open up more opportunities to win now. -cjp
#Browns restructure options for $93,864,800— Jack Duffin (@JackDuffin) March 10, 2023
How restructures work & the knock on impact in future years https://t.co/pEIno3OxBX pic.twitter.com/DYCwjphOPu
7:10 AM: As a small tidbit, I had been debating as to whether CB A.J. Green was an ERFA or a RFA for the Browns. Normally, he would have only had two accrued seasons, which would make him an ERFA. You need 6 games or more on the active roster or IR to have an accrued season, and he only played 2 games in 2020. However, I came across this reminder this morning, which says that during the 2020 COVID season, the games needed for an accrued season was changed from 6 games to 1 game. Therefore, Green would have been a RFA.
Yesterday, the Browns apparently did not end up tendering him for what would’ve been around $2.5 million. Instead, they signed him to a 1-year extension, presumably for something less than that amount. -cjp
6:57 AM: The Browns are happy with their punter, but nonetheless, congrats to former Browns P Jamie Gillan, who just received a two-year extension from the Giants. The Scottish Hammer lives on in the Big Apple. -cjp
Another big extension for the #Giants: They’ve agreed to terms with punter Jamie Gillan on a two-year, $4 million deal that’s worth up to $5M with incentives, per source. The Scottish Hammer stays in the Big Apple. pic.twitter.com/iUypfsje3O— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 13, 2023
6:52 AM: Also of note from Stainbrook is that LB Nicholas Morrow, who played for the Bears this past season and has plenty of starting experience, is on their radar. -cjp
Source: #Browns have linebacker Nicholas Morrow on their radar as the free agency tampering period opens up tomorrow.— Brad Stainbrook (@StainbrookNFL) March 13, 2023
6:40 AM: Last night, Brad Stainbrook of ESPN Cleveland reported that the Browns are in communication with LB Sione Takitaki, and that the two sides could reach a deal. However, this is the worst time for him to have become a free agent, having torn his ACL this past December. Therefore, you may not see a team in a particular rush to sign him. -cjp
Source: #Browns and LB Sione Takitaki are still in touch and a deal is “definitely open” to being reached. Browns will be in the market for a linebacker, and this isn’t expected to change anything.— Brad Stainbrook (@StainbrookNFL) March 12, 2023
Takitaki suffered a torn ACL in December.
6:00 AM: Good morning, Browns fans, and welcome to free agency! Technically, free agency does not start until Wednesday at 4:00 PM ET. However, the real action often happens during the “legal negotiating window,” or as we like to call it, the “legal tampering period.”
That period will begin today at 12:00 PM ET (noon). If previous years were any indication, you’ll hear quite a few headlines from around the NFL of who has signed where. Today’s updates will be brought to you by a mix of the DBN staff. I’ll try to put my initials on posts by me (Chris Pokorny) as -cjp.