Johnson is entering the final year of a three-year deal he signed with the Browns prior to the 2021 season. Without a restructure, Johnson will make $8.75 million next season and count $13.5 million against the cap.
Johnson hasn’t been the difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball the Browns extended when they inked him to the deal — one of the first for general manager Andrew Berry.
He’s been solid, notching 162 tackles and four interceptions over two season, but hasn’t reached the heights he did with the Rams. He notched elite grades on Pro Football Focus while with LA but has been average with Clevelad, coming off a year where he graded out at 62.8.
Cabot: Johnson Candidate for Restructure or Trade
Veteran Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com sees Johnson as a potential restructure or even trade candidate.
“I think there’s a chance the Browns would approach Johnson’s agent about a restructure to lower his $13.5 million cap number for 2023, or be open to other possibilities, including a trade,” Cabot wrote in her latest Q&A column. “I think some of it will depend on who the new defensive coordinator is. If that person believes he can get more out of Johnson and showcase his versatility more in 2023, then the Browns will be more apt to make it work.”
As Cabot notes, Johnson wouldn’t make too much of a concession with a restructure and it could work out in his favor. He’d get more money up front, while the Browns get more flexbility with the cap. Amari Cooper and others have done this for the Browns and it’s likely more will this coming year as the Browns look to bolster the roster.
Browns Making Shift on Defensive Side of Ball
“I wouldn’t say it was too complex schematically, but I would say in certain moments in the game, yeah, maybe we didn’t need to trick ourselves trying to trick the other team,” Johnson said. “Maybe we could just line up, get our cleats in the ground and make plays, ’cause that’s when we’re at our best. When we’re panicking and stuff like that that’s when you see you guys running wide open. When we got our cleats on the ground we’re a pretty good defense.”
The Browns weree miserable on defense for the start of the year, with gaping holes in the run game and blown coverages defining the unit. They picked it up in the second half and finished 20th in points per game (22.4) and 14th in yards allowed per game (331.2).
The Browns have already interviewed Brian Flores, Jim Schwartz, Dennard Wilson and Sean Desai for the vacant defensive coordinator position.