Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry has not made any of the “bold moves” in free agency that dominate headlines, but he has still been doing solid work.
From re-singing center Ethan Pocic to addressing the defensive tackle issue with Delvin Tomlinson and the hole at safety with Juan Thornhill, Berry has taken a sensible approach in the opening days of free agency.
There is one move, however, that has drawn some national praise and that is the signing of defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, who agreed to a three-contract with $12.5 million in guaranteed money on Wednesday.
Okoronkwo, who has played 50 games in his four-year career, came into his own last year with the Houston Texans as he played 518 defensive snaps and finished with 44 tackles and 5 sacks. He took off after Week seven as his pass-rush grade of 88.5 over the final 11 games of the season was the league’s sixth-best among edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus. That closing stretch 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.
That was enough to put Okoronkwo on the radar of teams and his potential growth led ESPN’s Seth Walder to give the signing an “A” in his rankings of the best deals so far in free agency (paywalled):
I think Okoronkwo could break out later in his career the way Shaquil Barrett did with the Bucs in 2019. I’m not promising anything quite like 19.5 sacks, but you get the idea. He had five sacks with the Texans this year, but that came while playing just 44% of snaps (a career-high) on a bad team, which resulted in fewer sack opportunities. On a play-to-play level, he was productive, recording a 19% pass-rush win rate and 31% run-stop win rate at the edge, which ranked 13th and fourth at the position, respectively.
Okoronkwo fills a need, playing edge opposite Myles Garrett, and I think a year from now, we’ll look at this contract as a steal.
The Browns needed to generate more pressure up front outside of the great Myles Garrett, and new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz brings aboard an extremely intriguing player in Okoronkwo, who came on very strong over the second half of the 2022 season.
Okoronkwo settled into a 4-3 defensive front in Houston after beginning his career in a 3-4 with the Los Angeles Rams, and his production skyrocketed. This could prove to be an under-the-radar signing that ages quite well during the season.
The Browns are banking that Okoronkwo can be the player he was in Houston rather than the one he was with the Los Angeles Rams, and playing opposite Garrett and with a defensive coordinator like Schwartz should certainly help the cause.
If Okoronkwo can do that, then those high grades will be well-earned, indeed.