The Cleveland Browns made their first big splash of free agency on Monday, signing safety John Johnson III to a hefty deal.
The Browns inked the former Los Angeles Rams standout to a deal worth $33.75 million over three years, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Johnson will get $24 million in guaranteed money.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was ecstatic to hear the news, giving Johnson a shoutout on social media.
“Let’s go,” Mayfield wrote with a series of exclamation points.
Baker Mayfield on the John Johnson signing, via IG: pic.twitter.com/V9d8I1oYPL
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) March 15, 2021
The signing drew praise from around the league, adding to a Browns defense that was in need of secondary help.
“New Browns [safety] John Johnson is viewed as one of the smartest, instinctive safeties in the league,” ESPN’s Field Yates wrote. “On top of his physical skill set, he’ll immediately bring leadership, reliability and impact plays. Huge get for Cleveland.”
New Browns S John Johnson is viewed as one of the smartest, instinctive safeties in the league. On top of his physical skill set, he’ll immediately bring leadership, reliability and impact plays.
Huge get for Cleveland.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 15, 2021
Johnson was the play-caller on defense for a Rams squad that finished as the top-ranked unit last season. Johnson — a third-round pick in 2017 — has 48 starts to his name. He’s coming off his best year, having racked up 105 tackles in 16 starts last season. Johnson has eight interceptions in his career.
John Johnson a Key Addition to Browns Defense
Johnson has played both free and strong safety in his career and joins a unit that includes both Grant Delpit or Ronnie Harrison. The Browns drafted Delpit last year and had high hopes for him. However, the former LSU standout missed the entire season with a ruptured Achilles.
The Browns traded for Harrison last season after Delpit went down. Harrison, who spent the start of his career in Jacksonville, has one year left on his contract. He notched 47 tackles in 11 games last season. Whoever becomes the odd man out will still see some action, seeing that the Browns system uses a lot of three-safety packages under Joe Woods.
Johnson’s former head coach Sean McVay had only good things to say.
“You look at what John Johnson has meant to our football team,” McVay said at the end of last year. “He’s a playmaker, the versatility, all the different things that he could do for our defense. I mean, he had the green dot, where he was the communicator, that’s something that I value so much in terms of the different intricacies of what we were doing defensively from a schematic-perspective.
“He’s a guy that was incredibly instrumental in a lot of the success we had defensively. He became a big-time team leader for us. I think you really saw him grow a lot this year and we put a lot on him and he showed why he was more than capable.”
Browns Still on the Hunt for Defense
The Browns are not done adding defensive pieces, likely wanting to add a big-name pass-rusher opposite of Myles Garrett and an upgrade at linebacker.
If the Browns feel they saw enough out of veteran BJ Goodson — who notched a team-high 91 tackles — they could choose to re-sign him. However, he’ll likely have suitors as an unrestricted free agent coming off a career-year.
The Browns want more depth in their secondary beyond Johnson and are also eyeing former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.