John Johnson

John Johnson Turned Down More Money To Sign With Browns

The Browns added a big piece to their defense when they signed safety John Johnson last week, and they apparently faced steep competition for his services.

Johnson turned down “significantly more money” from another team to sign with the Browns, his agents told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. He was clearly very excited about the prospect of playing for this upstart Browns team that is coming off their best season in decades. It’s a sign of how much the times have changed that players are now taking less money in order to sign with the Browns as a destination in free agency.

Imagine if someone had told you that a few years ago. Johnson signed a three-year, $33.75MM pact with the Browns that included $24MM guaranteed, and was arguably the top safety on the market after guys like Justin Simmons, Marcus Maye, and Marcus Williams all got franchise tagged by their respective teams.

Johnson’s AAV of $11.25MM has him as the eighth-highest paid safety in the NFL currently. Shortly before he signed with Cleveland we heard the Lions, Eagles, and Jaguars were pursuing him, so it’s possible it was one of those teams that offered him the bigger contract.

The Rams opted not to tag him for financial reasons, but Johnson has been a really good player since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2017. He played every snap for a Los Angeles defense that was best in the league last season, and won’t turn 26 until December. Johnson will start next to either 2020 second-round pick Grant Delpit or Ronnie Harrison in 2021.

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Browns, S John Johnson Agree To Deal

Entering the legal tampering period in need of defensive talent, the Browns are making a big move early. They agreed to terms with longtime Rams safety starter John Johnson, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

With Justin Simmons, Marcus Maye and Marcus Williams receiving the franchise tag, Johnson moved up the list of available safeties. The Browns will add the former third-round pick on a three-year, $33.75MM contract, according to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (on Twitter). Johnson will receive $24MM guaranteed in the deal.

The Rams have lost a host of key role players over the past three offseasons, with the team having made a few splashy moves. Johnson follows the likes of Rodger Saffold, Lamarcus Joyner and Cory Littleton out of Los Angeles. He joined them as a Super Bowl LIII starter and had been a Rams first-stringer since his 2017 rookie season. Being well over the cap, the Rams will lose Johnson to a team with in a better financial spot.

The Browns ranked 25th in defensive DVOA last season. They lost second-round pick Grant Delpit to injury and used multiple stopgaps at the position. This represents a much bigger investment than Cleveland made at the spot last year. Johnson will join Denzel Ward as high-end Browns secondary cogs. Pro Football Focus has regarded Johnson highly for much of his career; he ranked as PFF’s No. 3 overall safety in 2020.

Despite Johnson’s status as a high-end free agent, his contract will not quite hit the top tier among safeties. It is outside the top five at the position in both AAV and guaranteed money. But the Browns will have a key piece to team with both Delpit and Ronnie Harrison under Joe Woods going forward.

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Lions, Eagles, Jaguars, Browns Pursuing S John Johnson

One of the top defenders on the market is safety John Johnson, and it sounds like there are a handful of teams hot on his tail. Johnson’s market is beginning to take shape, with the Lions, Eagles, Jaguars, and Browns all showing interest, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports hears (Twitter link).

Adam Caplan of Sirius XM NFL Radio followed up by tweeting that the Browns are expected to make a “strong effort” in their pursuit of Johnson. Marcus Williams, Justin Simmons, and Marcus Maye were franchise tagged by the Saints, Broncos, and Jets respectively, only ensuring a bigger payday for Johnson by making him arguably the top safety on the market.

The Rams opted not to tag Johnson for financial reasons, and it seems like moving on from Los Angeles might be likely at this point. Johnson was the only player to play every single snap for a Rams defense that was one of the best in the league last season.

The 2017 third-round pick became a starter as a rookie, and had four interceptions as a sophomore in 2018. Perhaps the most appealing part about him is that he’s only 25 and won’t turn 26 until December.

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NFC West Rumors: Fitzgerald, Gould, Reed

Speculating about Larry Fitzgerald‘s future has become something of a holiday tradition over the past few seasons. The surefire Hall-of-Famer did say earlier this year that if the Cardinals were to win Super Bowl LV, he would ride off into the sunset, but Arizona’s hopes for its first Lombardi Trophy suffered a major blow in an upset loss to the 49ers last night.

So will Fitz be back in 2021? As Rachel Gossen of ArizonaSports.com writes, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said he believes Fitzgerald could play for another four seasons, but Fitzgerald himself was noncommittal.

“I haven’t really given it much thought to be honest with you,” he said. Though Fitzgerald did add that it will be nice to have fans back in the stands when it’s safe, Kingsbury downplayed the notion that Fitzgerald would return just to receive a proper sendoff from the Cardinals’ faithful.

As we wait to see whether one of the best receivers in NFL history will call it a career, and as the Cards focus on keeping their fading playoff hopes alive, let’s round up a few more notes from the NFC West:

  • The 49ers have a big decision to make on kicker Robbie Gould this week. Per the four-year extension Gould signed in 2019, San Francisco has until January 2 to pick up an option that would guarantee $2.25MM of Gould’s $4.5MM 2021 salary. Gould had hit 90.5% of his field goal attempts heading into last night’s matchup with Arizona, but he missed two FGA’s and a PAT in a 20-12 win that could have been more decisive. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan said the performance will not impact the team’s decision on Gould’s contract. “You got to look at the body of work, and Robbie has been unbelievable,” Shanahan said (Twitter link via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area).
  • Claimed off waivers from the division-rival 49ers in August, Seahawks CB D.J. Reed has been a great find for Seattle. In eight games (six starts), Reed has lined up both in the slot and outside the numbers and has accumulated 49 tackles, two interceptions, and six passes defensed while yielding a modest 77.9 passer rating as the nearest defender (via NFL Next Gen stats). Though the 5-9 Reed does not fit the mold of the big-bodied specimens that Seattle generally prefers at the outside corner positions, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com thinks his presence could make the club more amenable to moving on from contract-year players Quinton Dunbar and Shaquill Griffin. Reed will be entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2021.
  • As Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic points out, the Rams would be about $26MM over the 2021 salary cap if the cap is decreased to $175MM as many expect. So while the club can certainly restructure the contracts of players like Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to create space, it will also have tough decisions to make on pending free agents. Rodrigue posits that, if DC Brandon Staley gets hired as a head coach, he may try to bring safety John Johnson and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd with him, though Los Angeles will doubtlessly prioritize re-ups with both players. Meanwhile, Rodrigue sees players like WR Josh Reynolds and TE Gerald Everett signing elsewhere this offseason.

Rams HC, GM Discuss Offseason

It’s been a busy 24 months for the Rams, and it’ll all culminate with a crucial 2020 offseason.

They’ve handed out a number of high-priced extensions to quarterback Jared Goff, defensive lineman Aaron Donald, and others, leading to only $21MM in cap space this year. The organization also traded their 2020 and 2012 first-rounders for Jalen Ramsey, leaving the team with reduced draft capital.

Plus, the organization is staring at a long list of impending unrestricted free agents. In other words, the Rams could look a bit different next season.

Head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead spoke to ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry about some of their critical offseason decisions. The entire article is worth a read, but we snagged some of the notable soundbites below:

On if the front office has engaged in any trade talks:

McVay: “Usually, Aaron Donald is off the table. I think, to answer your question, I think you kind of know who are the guys that there’s not something that would be worth it, but those are ongoing conversations and I think we’re always open to being able to explore things that can upgrade us as a team.

“What we have done a nice job of is identifying those foundational pieces to try to build around.”

Snead: “This time of year, it is interesting. You get calls on a lot of players. There’s a new era, in that somebody may call and ask about your best player, which in the past, I don’t know that phone call would be made. … But usually the answer is ‘No.'”

On free agent left tackle Andrew Whitworth‘s potential return:

McVay: “We’re pretty confident. He still played a really high level last year. His impact isn’t exclusive to just playing the left tackle position.”

On free agent kicker Greg Zuerlein:

McVay: “He’s done so many things and he’s a great kicker and I think those established veterans are so important, especially when every time he takes the field, there’s points at stake, unless he’s kicking off. But we want to make sure we’re evaluating the guys in the draft and then we’re going to have free agency.”

On potential extensions for receiver Cooper Kupp and safety John Johnson:

Snead: “The goal would be, let’s say guys like those two, if we do want them to get back, it would be great to have that box checked. What we have to do now is, because we have, I call it more urgent guys whose contracts actually expire, get through that process first and then move on to — I don’t want to call them less urgent — but less urgent than the players whose contracts are expiring.”

On potentially franchising free agent linebackers Dante Fowler or Cory Littleton:

Snead: “All options are on the table.”

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Rams Place John Johnson On IR

Rams safety John Johnson has been placed on IR with a shoulder injury, the club announced. Johnson went down in the Rams’ loss to the 49ers and testing revealed that he’ll need a long while to recover. 

Johnson ranks as one of the best young safeties in the game, so this is unwelcome news for the Rams. At the same time, this probably helps to explain their recent shakeup, which sent corner Marcus Peters to the Ravens while bringing in former Jaguars star Jalen Ramsey.

Johnson tallied four interceptions and eleven pass breakups last year, solidifying his status as one of the best at his position. Through six games this year, he had 51 stops and two picks.

Without Johnson, the Rams will likely promote Marqui Christian to the starting lineup.

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Rams Notes: Peters, Johnson, Gurley

The Rams have a lot on their plate coming up. As they look to defend their NFC championship, they have a bunch of players who will need new contracts soon. One of those is cornerback Marcus Peters, who is heading into the final year of his rookie deal. Rams coach Sean McVay said back in March that the team wanted to extend Peters, but there hasn’t been much progress since then. There’s no guarantee that anything gets done, and Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic notes that while the “Rams have shown a tendency to lock up players they consider core pieces,” that “they’ve also been selective, if not entirely reluctant, to do so with defensive backs.”

Peters is surely looking for a huge payday, but he was inconsistent during his first season in Los Angeles last year. Bonsignore points out that just in the past few years they’ve let corners Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins and safeties Rodney McLeod, T.J. McDonald and Lamarcus Joyner all walk in free agency, choosing to replenish through the draft and in trades. The Rams gave up a lot to acquire Peters from the Chiefs, but it doesn’t sound like they’re quite sold on him. Bonsignore writes that “it looks like a situation they’ll table until next March,” so it doesn’t sound like Peters will get a new deal before the season starts. If that’s the case, he’ll need to prove himself with a bounce back 2019.

Here’s more from Los Angeles:

  • While Bonsignore pointed out an interesting trend about the Rams and defensive backs, in the same piece he noted it’ll soon be broken. Not necessarily by Peters, but by safety John Johnson. He writes the Rams “have made it clear they intend” to lock up Johnson, although he does caution that he “probably won’t get a new” contract until this time next year, as he still has two years left on his rookie deal. Johnson, a third round pick in 2017, has blossomed into one of the league’s best young safeties. He’s thrived in Wade Phillips’ defense, racking up four interceptions and 11 passes defended last year.
  • The Rams have been impressively tightlipped about the health of Todd Gurley. Ever since Gurley was hampered down the stretch last season and ended up splitting time with C.J. Anderson, it’s been impossible to pin down specifics. Reports have varied from him having arthritis in his knee that could potentially derail his career, to insisting that everything was fine. While the Rams have tried to put a positive spin on everything, Jay Glazer of The Athletic hears that Gurley’s knee “is a concern.” Glazer does write that “it’s not all doom and gloom” in Los Angeles, but he makes it sound like something that’s unpredictable and could blow up at any time. All the Rams would say recently is that they have an “individualized workout plan” for their star running back this offseason. Gurley has been staying away from the team’s OTAs, so he hasn’t had to answer questions from reporters yet. We should hopefully have more clarity on the situation soon.
  • In case you missed it, the Rams extended Troy Hill on Thursday.

Rams Sign Top Three Picks

The Rams have finally begun to lock up their draft class. The club signed its top three picks – tight end Gerald Everett, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive back Josh Johnson – on Friday, tweets Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com.

Gerald Everett

Trading up to No. 1 overall in 2016 for quarterback Jared Goff left the Rams without a first-rounder this year, meaning they didn’t pick until No. 44. That’s where they landed Everett, who transferred from UAB to South Alabama after the 2014 season and ended his college career with back-to-back 40-catch seasons. With the Rams having released their previous No. 1 tight end, Lance Kendricks, earlier this offseason, the 6-foot-3, 239-pound Everett is in line to open his NFL career as a starter. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com likens Everett to the Titans’ Delanie Walker, a pass-catching machine who has racked up 282 receptions and 23 touchdowns since 2013.

Kupp, the 69th pick and the first of two third-rounders for the Rams, thrived at Eastern Washington, where he combined for FCS-record-setting numbers (428 catches, 6,464 yards and 73 TDs) over four seasons. Along with free agent pickup Robert Woods, the 6-2, 204-pound Kupp is one of two prominent newcomers in LA’s receiving corps, which was among the league’s worst last year.

Johnson was the Rams’ second choice in Round 3 (No. 91), and is coming off back-to-back three-interception seasons at Boston College. The 6-0, 208-pounder has the coverage skills necessary to start right away, per Zierlein, and is capable of playing both safety and cornerback.

“I think I fit best as a safety, although I think I have a corner body type,” Johnson said in April (via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times). “I came into Boston College as a corner, and I like covering man to man. I like covering the intermediate zone … but I think I would fit best as a safety.”

The Rams still have five more picks to sign, including two fourth-rounders.

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