In addition to the signing of John Johnson III, the Cleveland Browns have been active in improving their defense during free agency with multiple acquisitions. With the exception of the Johnson signing, here is a summary of Cleveland’s first week of free agency.
Takkarist McKinley, defensive end:
The Browns inked the 25 year old to a one year contract worth a total of $6 million with incentives. While it is unclear whether or not the Browns will bring in another pass rusher with their first round draft pick, McKinley should be a solid rotational piece opposite Myles Garrett on the defensive line. The Browns tried to claim him last season after being waved and failing multiple physicals, but Cleveland instead lands him in the offseason.
Troy Hill, cornerback:
In what was perhaps Cleveland’s most under the radar impact signing, the Browns plucked another defensive back from a Rams defense that was one of the best in football statically a season ago. While Hill is 29 years old, he was the league’s most effective slot corner according to Pro Football Focus with a grade over 89. This will help a Browns defense that struggled mightily to cover opposing tight ends and slot receivers this past season. Hill should see significant time from day one in Joe Wood’s 4-2-5 base scheme.
Anthony Walker, linebacker:
Walker is a terrific run defending linebacker who will be missed in Indianapolis not only for his on field contributions, but his leadership abilities in the locker room as well. Colts linebacker Darius Leonard felt compelled enough by Walker’s departure to make a tribute video to his former teammate on twitter, crediting Walker for being a huge part of Leonard’s success in the NFL. Walker is a tackling machine who struggles in pass coverage, but in Joe Wood’s heavy defensive back scheme Walker should not be forced to play in coverage that often. Not only is this another tremendous value deal for the Browns at $3.5 million for one year, but Walker will also elevate the play of his fellow linebackers as he did in Indianapolis if given the proper chance.
Malik Jackson, defensive tackle:
Jackson should be another nice rotational piece for the interior of Cleveland’s defensive line after losing Larry Ogunjobi to the Bengals. The former Philadelphia Eagle has dealt with multiple injuries in recent years after making the pro bowl in 2017. If Jackson can stay healthy, he will compete with Andrew Billings for the starting role next to Sheldon Richardson. Billings singed with the Browns last offseason, but opted out of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rashard Higgins, wide receiver:
Higgins re-upped with Cleveland with one year despite receiving more lucrative offers elsewhere. The receiver has terrific chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield, showcasing his abilities and value in the second half of the season after the injury to Odell Beckham. While Higgins might not be the fastest, or the most physically intimidating receiver, he is extremely consistent for a third wideout and was worthy of a new contract if the price was right. Higgins turning down more money elsewhere also shows just how far the Browns have come in terms of building an organization that players want to play for.
Malcolm Smith, linebacker:
The former Super Bowl MVP resigned with Cleveland, despite the terms of the contract not being released. The veteran played well in a reserve role for Cleveland last season, a role that he should remain in. Smith provides the Browns with Super Bowl experience on what can be considered in general a young defense.