NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year has begun, which means free-agent signings can be made official. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The Cleveland Browns on Monday restructured the record-setting contract of quarterback Deshaun Watson, clearing $36 million in cap space ahead of free agency, a source told ESPN.
The Browns signed Watson last offseason to a new five-year deal worth an NFL-record $230 million fully guaranteed. Before restructuring Watson's deal, the Browns were roughly $14 million over the salary cap. Now, Cleveland has cap space to use in the free agency negotiating window.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free-agent signing, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive tackle
The Browns and the former Vikings defensive tackle have agreed to a four-year deal worth $57 million, with $27.5 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN.
What it means: The Browns ended the first day of the free agency negotiating window by landing one of the top tier free agent defensive tackles, addressing their biggest need on the roster. Tomlinson ranked No. 34 among all NFL interior defensive linemen in pass rush win rate (7.3%) and had the Vikings' third-highest pressure rate (5.3%) last season. He also ranked 32nd last year in run stop win rate (33.2%) among DTs, ahead of any DT on Cleveland's roster last season. That should help improve what was one of the worst run defenses in the league last year.
What's the risk: At 29 years old, Tomlinson is a little older than Cleveland's primary core. Tomlinson did miss four games last year, but he also started all 64 games from 2017-20 with the New York Giants and his first 23 games with the Vikings through the middle of last season. Cleveland had to get an anchor for the interior of its defensive line. And though it cost the Browns, they should be better defensively in 2023 from the addition.
Juan Thornhill, safety
What it means: The Browns needed a veteran starting safety after releasing John Johnson III, and they got just that. Thornhill will move into the starting lineup alongside safety Grant Delpit, essentially filling the only hole in a secondary that, despite the coverage miscues last season, still has the talent to be elite. Thornhill started 52 games for Kansas City and will bring some much-needed experience to the backend of the Cleveland defense.
What's the risk: Cleveland tried to fill this spot with a free agent previously in the Johnson signing. The Browns really need this free agent signing to pan out. Outside of D'Anthony Bell, the Browns don't have another young, up-and-coming option at safety.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, defensive end
The Browns have agreed to sign the former Texan to a three-year deal.
What it means: The Browns needed a replacement for outgoing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who had a disappointing 2022 season with only two sacks. Okoronkwo could actually turn out to be an upgrade, after ranking 13th in the league last year in pass rush win rate (19.0%). The Browns had to sign a starting-caliber end to pair with Myles Garrett. They got just that in Okoronkwo.
What's the risk: Okoronkwo has only 9.5 career sacks in four seasons; Clowney had nine sacks alone in his first season in Cleveland in 2021. Okoronkwo might be coming off his best season (five sacks), but the Browns need immediate production out of the position, as they wait for last year's third-round pick, Alex Wright, develop as a pass-rusher (Wright had no sacks last year). Okoronkwo will have to show last season wasn't the outlier for him.
Ethan Pocic, center
The Browns have agreed to a deal to re-sign Pocic to a three-year contract, a source confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: Pocic was one of the top centers in the NFL last season, and now he'll be back to anchor the interior of a Cleveland offensive line alongside Pro Bowl guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller that might be the league's best. Pocic ranked fifth in the league among centers in pass block win rate (96.2%) and fourth in run block win rate (74.6%) last season.
What's the risk: Pocic was not supposed to start last season. But after projected starter Nick Harris went down with a season-ending injury in the preseason opener, Pocic shined. The Browns now have two centers they believe are starting-caliber. Pocic's return could stunt the development of Harris, a 2020 fifth-round pick. But Cleveland is trying to win now. Pocic gives the Browns the best chance to do that.
Dobbs and the Browns agreed to a one-year deal.
Joshua Dobbs, quarterback
What it means: The Browns needed a veteran QB to backup Watson, and in Dobbs they get a familiar face who knows Cleveland's offense. Dobbs was Cleveland's third-string QB last year during the 11 games Watson was suspended. He was waived when Watson returned, as Jacoby Brissett stepped back into a backup role. Dobbs wound up starting the final two games for the Tennessee Titans.
What's the risk: It's hard to see how the Browns could've done better here, given what they had available to spend on a backup QB. Dobbs is a terrific presence in the locker room, and showed last year in Tennessee that he can play well if called upon. It would've been nice to lock in Dobbs longer than one year, but the Browns also have former third-round pick Kellen Monds who they will continue to develop on their practice squad.
Matt Adams, linebacker
The Browns and Adams agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: Adams was yet another addition with special teams in mind. Before the Chicago Bears, Adams played for Indianapolis, and has a relationship with new Browns special teams coach Bubba Ventrone, who came to Cleveland from the Colts.
What's the risk: Adams could help the Browns with their rotation at linebacker. But his contribution will likely come on special teams.
Mike Ford, cornerback
The Browns and Ford agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: The Browns are hoping to upgrade their special teams, and adding Ford will give new special teams coach Bubba Ventrone an intriguing piece to utilize. Ford could be the key gunner on special teams the Browns have struggled to consistently unleash in recent years.
What's the risk: Ford likely won't factor much in the Browns cornerback rotation. Then again, Cleveland should be set there anyway with Greg Newsome II, Martin Emerson Jr. and Pro Bowler Denzel Ward.
Jordan Kunaszyk, linebacker
The Browns and Kunaszyk agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: Kunaszyk was one of Cleveland's top special teams players last year, and bringing him back will give new special teams coach Bubba Ventrone an experienced veteran. Kunaszyk also adds depth to the linebacker rotation, which Cleveland needed after a litany of injuries at the position last season.
What's the risk: Signing Kunaszyk to a one-year deal brings little risk. He's a reliable player, but also a backup. The Browns have developed him to this point, and will relish the opportunity to continue doing so.
Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver
What it means: The Browns continue to add to their receiver corps. Days after trading for Elijah Moore, Cleveland signed the speedy Goodwin. The Browns desperately needed to add downfield threats for Watson. They now have added two.
What's the risk: Goodwin really hasn't had a productive season since 2017, when he had 56 receptions for 962 yards. He hasn't had more than 27 catches and 400 yards receiving since. If the Browns were counting on Goodwin to start, that might be worrisome. But with Moore already on board, the pressure for Goodwin to produce will be mitigated.
Sione Takitaki, linebacker
The Browns and Takitaki agree to terms on one-year deal at just under $2.6 million, per a source.
What it means: The Browns have begun to reconfigure their depth at linebacker by re-signing Takitaki. Cleveland had issues at inside linebacker all year. But after getting his shot in the role in the middle of the season, Takitaki showed they could provide competent play there before tearing his ACL (Cleveland had four inside linebackers suffer season-ending injuries last year). Takitaki will get another chance to contribute there. He's also been a solid player for the Browns on special teams.
What's the risk: Coming off the ACL tear, Takitaki might not be ready to go at the start of training camp or even the start of the regular season. The Browns can't afford another slow start to the season, and inside linebacker was a major problem last year. Cleveland is banking that Takitaki will be able to help again sooner rather than later.
Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle
What it means: The Browns added another piece to their defensive tackle rotation in Hurst, who gives them another body as they look to improve what was a porous run defense last year. After a strong rookie season, Hurst has either struggled to make a difference or struggled to stay on the field, playing only two games last year. Still, he has shown enough that he can be part of the rotation inside, provided he can stay healthy.
What's the risk: The Browns need immediate help inside, and Hurst really hasn't had much of an impact, neither with the 49ers last year or the Raiders before that. He does have 17 career starts. And while he'll bring some much needed experience to a young DT rotation (outside veteran Tomlinson), Hurst will have to stay healthy in order to help in that regard.
Trysten Hill, defensive tackle
What it means: The Browns continued to bolster their defensive line depth, by adding Hill, a 2019 second-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Cleveland already had agreed to terms with Tomlinson and Hurst, as the Browns look to improve what was one of the worst run defenses in the league last year. The 310-pound Hill has battled injuries and was ultimately waived by Dallas in the middle of last year. He was eventually claimed by the Arizona Cardinals, but wound up on injured reserve.
What's the risk: The Browns are rolling the dice that at least one of Hurst and Hill will hit, giving Cleveland a deeper and stouter defensive tackle rotation than what it had last year. Hill never played in more than seven games in his 3.5 seasons in Dallas. But he's only on a one-year deal in Cleveland, which mitigates any long-term risk.
Jordan Akins, tight end
What it means: The Browns added one of Watson's former pass-catchers from Houston in Akins, who is also coming off his most productive season in the NFL. In 2020, Watson's last season in Houston, Akins caught caught 37 passes for 403 yards. Last year, Akins had 37 receptions again for 495 yards and a career-high five touchdowns. The Browns already have David Njoku as their starting TE, but Akins should give Watson another reliable -- and familiar -- option.
What's the risk: The Browns need more speed at the wide receiver position. But in the meantime, there's nothing wrong with adding a player Watson should have confidence throwing to. It will be interesting to see what this means for Browns backup TE Harrison Bryant, who has been a solid player. But the Browns have carried three TEs before.