In an attempt to help sure up the back of their defense, the Cleveland Browns signed coveted free agent, strong safety John Johnson III to a three year contract worth a total of $33.75 million, with $24 million guaranteed. Johnson turned down more money elsewhere to join a Browns team that is coming off of their first playoff victory since returning to Cleveland. The former LA Ram was a leader on an off the field for one of the premier defenses in football, and will bring a wealth of playmaking ability to the Browns.
Johnson will join fellow young safeties Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit in a room that all of the sudden has an immense amount of upside. According to Pro Football Focus, John Johnson was rated as the third highest graded safety in the league in 2020 according to their metrics. Johnson’s newly signed deal ranks him as the ninth highest paid safety in football, which is tremendous value for a play of Johnson’s stature.
The Browns struggled mightily at the safety position in 2020, with Andrew Sendejo being forced into a starting role when Grant Delpit went down with a torn achilles tendon. Johnson is a highly instinctive player who should help the Browns defense against both the run and pass in major ways over the course of the next three seasons. Johnson was also the on field defensive signal caller for the Rams defense this past season, a role that he very well could undertake with the Browns. The former Ram was also voted as a team captain in 2020, a transformative role that speaks to Johnson’s leadership abilities. Johnson immediately becomes one of the leaders on Cleveland’s defense, next to the likes of Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward.
In four seasons with the Rams, Johnson accumulated a total of eight interceptions, 32 pass deflections and one forced fumble. He is the exact type of game changing defender that Cleveland needed to add to a defense that struggled to defend the pass for a majority of the 2020 season. Johnson’s decision to join the Browns for less money than other suitors also speaks to the overall progress the Browns have made as an organization in the last year. In years past, surely the Browns would have had to overpay for a player of Johnson’s abilities and status, as the team was far away from sustained success. Players of Johnson’s caliber are taking notice of what the Browns are building, as not only have they found a head coach that players want to play for, but they also found a quarterback that players have confidence in and want to play with.
Coming into the offseason, safety was arguably the biggest need for a Browns defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of defending the pass. The Browns not only addressed that need, but they did so in a way that left them room to maneuver another possible deal for a defensive end opposite Myles Garrett. The Browns did not break the bank in this signing, which is something that should be a relief to Cleveland, who will be looking to extend both Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb sooner than later.
In addition to grabbing Johnson, the Browns have been in discussions with various defensive ends who have ended up signing elsewhere. Look for Cleveland to continue to monitor the defensive end market, as finding another pass rusher opposite Myles Garrett is absolutely imperative this offseason in hopes of turning the Browns defense into a unit capable of carrying a team when the offense is not one hundred percent in sync.