The Cleveland Browns have a weakness in the secondary and a handful of free agents from whom to choose to strengthen it, including one of their own former Pro-Bowlers.
Cleveland is a franchise in flux on defense, as new coordinator Jim Schwartz enters along with the distinct possibility of a philosophical shift from the Joe Woods’ era. The safety position is a prime spot to look for upgrades in both personnel and scheme after inconsistent performance across the unit last year, with the departure of John Johnson III now a legitimate possibility.
Jared Mueller of SB Nation’s Dawgs by Nature on Saturday, January 28, suggested the Browns pursue San Francisco 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson in free agency this offseason. Gipson began his career in Cleveland, playing with the Browns for four years from 2012-15.
“This is a little nostalgia, a little cap friendly and a little focused on the field,” Mueller wrote. “The former Browns defensive back has bounced around the league a little bit but continues to show he knows what he is doing with five interceptions this year.”
Gipson Still Playing at High Level Years After Pro Bowl With Browns
Gipson will enter his 12th NFL season in 2023, but he’s been a quality and reliable safety every year of his career with no immediate signs of slowing down.
As a member of the NFC West Division champion Niners this season, Gipson has started every game and been on the field for more than 97% of the stellar defense’s snaps. He has recorded 61 tackles, including one tackle for loss, to go along with eight passes defensed, five interceptions, one quarterback hit and 0.5 sacks, per Pro Football Reference.
Gipson earned Pro-Bowl honors with the Browns in 2014 and has forced 33 turnovers over the course of his career. He had a three-year stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to joining the Houston Texans for one season in 2019. He played the next two years for the Chicago Bears before linking up with San Francisco in 2022.
Browns Expected to Take Hard Look at Johnson III Ahead of Season
The Niners’ safety played this season on a one-year deal worth just over $1.05 million and will hit free agency in March. Johnson III, on the other hand, is owed $9.75 million in 2023 and carries a salary cap hit of $13.5 million.
Johnson III produced just four passes defensed and one interception last season, leaving the Browns to consider whether he’s worth the value of his contract next year.
“Johnson has been one of the most frustrating players on the Browns. In his two seasons with the team, he has shown the ability to take over games and he desperately wants to be a vocal leader and often had the right message,” Pete Smith of Sports Illustrated’s Fan Nation wrote on January 25. “However, rabid inconsistency on the field has undermined his talent and his voice. Johnson’s peaks and valleys have closely mirrored the performance of the defense as a whole.”
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com suggested earlier this month that Johnson III is a prime candidate for a contract restructure this offseason, adding that the parties might go their separate ways should the safety refuse to cooperate.
The Browns could release Johnson III with a June 1 designation and incur a cap hit of just $3.75 million, which would open up space to pursue new options, such as Gipson, at the position.