Browns’ Key Free Agent Moves Add to Rapidly Growing 2021 Hype

John Johnson Browns

Getty John Johnson celebrates a big play in Cleveland.

In case you missed it, the Cleveland Browns have been making some moves. With free agency kicking off last week, general manager Andrew Berry had some decisions to make and questions to answer.

  • How will they fill the DE position opposite Myles Garrett?
  • Can they snag another LB or CB?
  • What will happen with Rashard Higgins?
  • Will they improve the defense in a significant way?
  • Let’s take a look at a comprehensive list of the moves Berry and the Browns’ front office made in the past week.

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    Who They Lost

    Before we take victory laps for the players Cleveland added, let’s take a moment to review the ones who got away.

  • OT Kendall Lamm – TEN; Two years, $8.5 million
  • DT Larry Ogunjobi – CIN; One year, $6.2 million ($4.6 million guaranteed)
  • DT Vincent Taylor – HOU; One year, $1.5 million
  • CB Terrance Mitchell – HOU; Two years, $6.5 million ($3 million guaranteed)
  • CB Kevin Johnson – TEN; One year, salary TBD

  • Who They Kept

  • WR Rashard Higgins – One year, $2.4 million
  • WR/KR/PR JoJo Natson – One year, $1 million
  • K Cody Parkey – One year, $1.2 million
  • LB Elijah Lee – Terms TBD

  • Who They Added

  • S John Johnson III – Three years, $33.8 million ($24 million guaranteed)
  • CB Troy Hill – Two years, $9 million ($4.5 million guaranteed)
  • DE Takkarist McKinley – One year, $4.3 million ($3.5 million guaranteed)
  • LB Anthony Walker Jr. – One year, $3.5 million
  • LB Malcolm Smith – One year, $1.2 million
  • DT Malik Jackson – One year, $4.5 million
  • OT Greg Senat – Terms TBD

  • Browns Upgraded the Defense in a Major Way

    Last season, the Browns defense ranked 21st in the NFL in points allowed (26.2 per game) and gave up 30-plus points in seven of 16 games.

    The losses of Ogunjobi and Mitchell are certainly notable, but it’s not the end of the world for Joe Woods’ unit. While they may not have landed one of the big names at defensive end, McKinley, a 2017 first-round pick, seems ready and willing to step in when called upon. He showed up to the press conference looking quite dapper just a few days after posting this video:

    Hill, a Youngstown native, is also a step in the right direction at cornerback, as his arrival adds depth to a position of need. While Greedy Williams is expected to be back next season, adding another established veteran to play across from Denzel Ward was an important move they had to make in free agency.

    Berry addressed the linebacker position with the signings of Smith, a former Brown, and Walker, whose signing nearly brought his former Colts teammate to tears. In 2020, Walker posted a Pro Football Focus tackling grade of 75.1 and ranked 16th in tackling efficiency.

    Perhaps Berry’s biggest offseason move was the signing of Johnson, who is already becoming a fan favorite after calling the decision to come to Cleveland a “no-brainer.” Last season, Browns safeties earned the worst cumulative PFF grade in the league at 48.2, while Johnson earned the league’s third-highest grade (85.3).

    Key Contributors Returning on Offense

    In the weeks leading up to free agency, rumors about David Njoku and Rashard Higgins swirled around the Twitterverse, thanks in part to some cryptic tweets. However, the Browns quieted the rumor mill by signing Higgins to a one-year deal and retaining Njoku via his fifth-year team option.

    Higgins, a fan favorite in Cleveland, posted 37 receptions on 52 targets last season for a career-best 599 yards and four touchdowns.

    Oh, and the fans weren’t the only ones who were happy Higgins decided to stay in Cleveland.

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