“I felt like it was an opportunity of a lifetime.” This is a quote from new safety John Johnson, III to the Cleveland media on why he signed with the Browns. He also stated he took less money to come to Cleveland. What kind of alternate universe am I living in? The top safety available in free agency wanted to be part of the Browns. What? I pinched myself so much to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, my wife finally told me “STOP.” When free agency started, the consensus was GM Andrew Berry would address defensive end with his first big signing. Nope. Let’s face facts; the Browns defense was atrocious last year, especially the safeties. Pro Football Focus gave the Browns a 48.8 at the safety position. Johnson was graded at 85.3 by PFF last year. Plus, he’s a great coverage safety and called the defensive plays for his former team the Rams. Immediate upgrade.
Later that day, the Browns came to an agreement with defensive end Takk McKinley. It’s no secret the Browns have been interested in McKinley, they attempted to claim him off waivers three times and tried to trade for him once. Talk about serious interest. In his first two years in the league, McKinley had twelve sacks, then his play regressed. McKinley explained his regression like this to the Cleveland media, “When I came into this league at draft night, I was really hungry… I was not relaxed. I was all about just getting after it. I felt like these last couple of years, specifically probably 2018-2019, I kind of lost myself. I lost the way I play the game. I just lost a lot”. He is very grateful to the Browns for showing interest in him and for giving him another chance. Sounds like RB Kareem Hunt. This is a low-risk, high-value signing.
Okay, new safety signed, check. The new defensive end signed, check, what about cornerback? The Browns then announced they came to terms with CB Troy Hill. According to PFF, Hill is the highest graded slot corner in the NFL since 2019. Andrew Berry is a freaking ninja. Both Hill and Johnson were part of the number one pass defense in the NFL last year with the Rams. Major upgrade. So what about linebacker? The Browns then signed LB Anthony Walker formerly of the Colts. Walker is described as a team leader and a tackling machine. He’s graded in the top three percentile of linebackers for stopping the run. Colts LB Darius Leonard posted this on Twitter about Walker, “Crazy to see such an amazing person, leader, player and a friend leave a locker room!” Next, with the loss of Larry Ogunjobi, the defensive line needed to be addressed. Enter DT Malik Jackson formerly of the Eagles. Jackson will be a rotational player on the interior of the Browns defensive line and is known for his ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks from the interior.
The Browns also signed some of their own free agents. LB Malcolm Smith, WR JoJo Natson, Kicker Cody Parkey, WR Rashard Higgins, LB Elijah Lee and resigned G Greg Senat. The Higgins resigning was the biggest news because QB Baker Mayfield gets his security blanket back. He and Higgins have always had a cosmic bond on the field. Smith will bring veteran leadership to a young linebacker core. Natson is a favorite of special teams coach Mike Priefer and nobody wants to see WR Donovan Peoples-Jones returning punts again. Even though Browns fans liked to criticize Parkey because of his mid-season misses, he was perfect in the playoffs. Lee is a special teams ace and Senat will get a chance to compete for a backup role now that OL Kendall Lamm signed with the Titans.
What positions still need to be filled? Another cornerback to take the place of Terrance Mitchell for one. Former Buckeye Gareon Conley has been rumored, but his asking price needs to come down. Also a veteran defensive end to backup Myles Garrett. Names to watch are Jadeveon Clowney, Melvin Ingram, Carlos Dunlap, Ryan Kerrigan and Geno Atkins. Clowney will have to wait till April to sign, once he gets clearance after his knee surgery.
With all these signings, it appears the Browns are printing money. However contract restructures probably have already happened, but Browns fans won’t find out about those for a couple of months. Finally the one thing all these signings show, on draft day, Andrew Berry will not be forced to draft for positional need like last year, when he had to draft a left tackle and a safety with the first two picks. This year it will be strictly about adding more talent to an already talented roster.