On Monday, the first day of the "Legal Tampering" period in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns restructured the monstrous contract of quarterback Deshaun Watson, freeing up $36 million in cap space, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
After previously being "over the cap", this new-found financial flexibility led Browns fans to hope that general manager Andrew Berry and the Cleveland front office would come out swinging today once the "legal tampering" period opened at 12:00 pm.
Instead, the Browns have seemed to focus on bringing back a couple of breakout players from the 2022 season. The first player that Cleveland agreed to terms with is linebacker Sione Takitaki, who is coming off of a torn ACL, but did play at a fairly high level last season.
The one-year deal for around $2.5 million seems to be a pretty fair price for the home-grown backer out of BYU. A season ago, Takitaki totaled a career-high 71 tackles in just 12 games prior to his injury, landing him a 66.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. The Browns will look to get Takitaki back as quickly as possible in 2023 with hopes that he can continue to develop under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Further, the Browns made a seemingly even bigger move, retaining center Ethan Pocic, after an impressive 2022 season of his own. Coming into last season, Nick Harris was slated to be the starting center, but a preseason knee injury sidelined him for the entire year. Pocic stepped up and filled in, and did so at a very high level.
Pocic was a player that many Browns fans were petitioning to bring back, so this should please the Cleveland fanbase.
Watching the tape, Pocic seemed to be a great fit for what the Browns love to do on offense. He was an effective mover and dominated defenders out in space. While Harris excels with this as well, Pocic, with his size, will likely be able to better hold his own in pass protection, as the team shifts to a more spread offense with Watson as the starter.
Pocic returns to Cleveland at what seems to be a bargain, with the team locking him up for three years totaling $18 million. According to PFF, Pocic was the third-best center in the NFL last season, ranking behind only Kansas City's Creed Humphrey and Philadelphia's Jason Kelce, both of whom made the Super Bowl. He earned an overall grade of 79.0, proving his effectiveness with a 79.1 run block score and still a solid 71.9 pass block score.
Getting Pocic back, and keeping the offensive line completely intact, should be huge for the Browns in 2023. Watson should have already built a rapport with Pocic at the end of last season, and the offensive line can now hit the ground running as a unit under veteran offensive line coach Bill Callahan.
Overall, it has been a solid start for Berry and the Browns. Bringing back Pocic is huge for the offense, and Takitaki could come back and be a serviceable piece for the defense. With some more time, I would imagine that the team would take some bigger swings at free agents outside of the building, but beginning with a couple of their own is a solid way to kick off free agency for Cleveland.