Browns Big-Money Defender Faces Uncertain Future With Team

John Johnson

Getty Images John Johnson III of the Cleveland Browns celebrates with Denzel Ward.

The Cleveland Browns will have some tough decisions to make this offseason, which could include the future of safety John Johnson III.

Johnson was one of the first big free agent signings by general manager Andrew Berry, signing a three-year deal worth $33.75 million. Johnson is the No. 3 paid strong safety in the league in terms of value, behind only two Seahawks in Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs.

Browns insider Mary Kay Cabot of circled Johnson as a player who could need a contract restructuring if he’s open to it. If not, the sides could go their separate ways.

“Johnson could be a possible candidate for a restructuring to give the Browns some cap relief in a year when they have some big paydays coming due,” Cabot wrote in her latest Q&A column. “Johnson could also be a player whose trajectory changes under a new coordinator, depending on his role. He was more versatile with the Rams, and that defense seemed to play more to his strengths.”

Browns Have Out on Johnson’s Contract

The financial implications of releasing Johnson could be lightened if he’s released with a June 1 designation. His salary cap hit would be only $3.75 million if the Browns choose that route.

Johnson has been decent with the Browns but has not been the impactful playmaker they expected when they brought him over after a fairly elite four-year stint with the Rams. He has an overall grade of 62.8 on Pro Football Focus this season, which is 23 points lower than his final year in Los Angeles.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnson had racked up 94 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception.

Kareem Hunt Has Likely Played in Final Game With Browns

There are a handful of players who were likely playing in their final game on Sunday with the Browns, including running back Kareem Hunt.

Hunt has made it fairly clear his future is not in Cleveland after a disappointing year. He’s on the final year of a two-year extension he signed with the team in 2020 and between trade drama and a lack of work, Hunt will likely explore other options where he can be more of a contributor.

“Possibly they could figure out something, I guess,” Hunt told on December 21. “I don’t know. But I enjoy playing with Deshaun. It’s definitely changed up the offense a little bit.”

In all, Hunt had 119 carries for 455 yards this season entering the finale. He’s also caught 32 balls for 195 yards and has four total touchdowns. Hunt registered a season-low two carries against the Commanders in Week 17, gaining no yards. He had one catch but it went for negative yardage.

The Browns dreamed of having the league’s best backfield duo with Hunt and Nick Chubb, but the latter has proven to be a workhorse capable of carrying the load. If Hunt departs, Jerome Ford would likely slide into the No. 2 running back role next season.

Chubb entered Sunday’s matchup with 1,448 yards — 205 off the top rushing mark in the league, which was set by Raiders running back Josh Jacobs. Chubb was recently named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl.

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