The Browns made a significant addition to their secondary when they signed safety John Johnson as a free agent in 2021. His time in Cleveland is coming to an end, however. Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports that Cleveland will release him at the onset of free agency in March unless a trade partner can be found before then (Twitter link).
Johnson, 27, inked a three-year, $33.75MM contract in 2021 after a productive start to his career with the Rams. He was arguably the top safety on the market that offseason, but reportedly took less money to come to Cleveland. That reflected the optimism surrounding the team at that time, but still led to high expectations given the Browns’ investment in Johnson to solidify their backend.
Johnson had a strong 2021 campaign, recording three interceptions and five pass deflections. He also posted career-best numbers in terms of coverage statistics, allowing an opposing passer rating of 70.1. Things went differently this past season, one in which the former third-rounder moved closer to the line of scrimmage while remaining a full-time starter. He eclipsed the 100-tackle mark for the third time in his career, but totaled just one interception.
Johnson is due to carry a cap hit of $13.5MM this season, making him a logical candidate for a cost-cutting trade or release. The only way the Browns would see any savings by moving on from him, though, is they designated him a post-June 1 release. Assuming that takes place, Cleveland will save $9.75MM while incurring a dead cap charge of $3.75MM. Those savings could help them re-stock with a notable name.
Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports that the Browns “are expected to pursue” Bengals safety Jessie Bates in free agency. The 26-year-old has been with Cincinnati for all five years of his career, but the contentious negotiations which took place between he and the Bengals last offseason resulted in the franchise tag being used. That move, along with the team’s decision to draft Daxton Hill in the first round, point to Bates heading elsewhere this year. He will no doubt command a lucrative deal, but freeing up funds from Johnson’s deal will allow the Browns to at least be a contender to add more playmaking on defense.
Given his age and production, Johnson will himself likely have suitors on the open market, albeit at a reduced rate compared to his Browns deal. Cleveland, meanwhile, will be a team to watch if they become serious in their pursuit of Bates, one of the top defenders set to hit free agency.
5 comments on “Browns To Part Ways With S John Johnson; Team Eyeing Jessie Bates?”
Bates is a center field free safety. This article suggested the Browns are looking to replace a safety who plays primarily closer to the line of scrimmage with him. Horrible idea. That’s not his game. At all. Tho, what would be more Browns than making Bates the highest paid safety and totally changing his role. He won’t live up to the contract he’s demanding even if he’s put in a perfect situation..
That’s you making assumptions, not the article stating it. The Browns have a new defensive coordinator, so what they’re looking for in a safety is probably a lot different than last year. The run defense needs a lot of work, but doing that would require defensive linemen and linebackers. If they want Bates, it’s not to turn him into a box safety.
sounds like sour grapes. 2 years ago, everyone loved Bates in Cincinnati. Then he wants to get paid and suddenly everyone thinks he sucks. Cleveland is changing defensively. Do you think they hired a DC based off of how JJ3 plays his position? Come on, man.
Typical Bengals fan
i think you mean john johnson not josh johnson