By Chris Burke
March 12, 2013

Desmond Bryant had four sacks rushing the passer from inside in 2012. (Getty Images)Desmond Bryant had four sacks rushing the passer from inside in 2012. (Getty Images)

In the span of less than day, the Cleveland Browns transformed their defensive front seven from a respectable unit into one to be reckoned with.

Cleveland helped kick off the NFL's free-agent period by signing Paul Kruger away from Baltimore, then helped punctuate Tuesday evening's activity with the addition of defensive tackle Desmond Bryant.

Both deals are pricey -- Kruger at about $8 million per season, Bryant at five years and $34 million. But with those two in place, plus OLB Jabaal Sheard, DE Ahtyba Rubin, NT Phil Taylor, ILB D'Qwell Jackson and either James-Michael Johnson or Chris Gocong at the other ILB spot, Cleveland is set up for a quick transition to the 3-4.

They're also in prime position to improve on a defense that ranked 23rd in yards allowed and 19th in points last season (not to mention 25th against the pass). All this while Pittsburgh struggles with the salary cap, Baltimore endures a roster migration and Cincinnati plays it relatively low key.

The Browns still have a ways to go before they're considered an AFC contender, but they made meaningful progress Tuesday.

Bryant had 10.5 sacks over the past three seasons in Oakland. He's a high-motor guy more than capable of dropping into the Browns' 3-4 after playing in the Raiders' 4-3.

Bryant does have a couple of red flags -- most notably, his recent arrest on the charge of criminal mischief; he also was hospitalized during a game last year due to an accelerated heartbeat. Still, he rated as the league's sixth best DT or NT last season, according to Pro Football Focus, above Pro Bowler Henry Melton.

As for Bryant's contract, the Browns are a bit in the not-all-that-uncommon situation of occasionally having to overpay free agents to come to Cleveland. That's part of the cost of struggling year after year.

Grade: A-minus.

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