CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Browns plan to release veteran safety John Johnson III when the NFL’s new season starts on March 15, a person familiar with the team’s intentions told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Johnson hasn’t lived up to the three-year, $33.75 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2021. He’ll be dealt unless the team can trade him, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Browns are not publicly commenting on Johnson’s status.
NFL Network first reported Johnson’s likely departure at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Cleveland’s startling regression on defense played a major role in the Browns going 7-10 and finishing fourth in the AFC North last season. Coach Kevin Stefanski fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods shortly after a loss to Pittsburgh in the finale and replaced him with former Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
Early last season, the Browns’ secondary had numerous communication breakdowns and gave up big plays. Johnson had been brought in to anchor the back end of Cleveland’s defense after spending four seasons with the Rams.
In 32 games with Cleveland, Johnson had 162 tackles, four interceptions, forced three fumbles and recovered two and had a sack.
While those are solid stats, Johnson didn’t have many game-swinging plays and his salary-cap hit of $13.5 million in 2023 necessitated the Browns moving him. Cleveland is approximately $14 million over the cap and needs to create space so they can be active in free agency to fill some needs.
Johnson made news off the field during the season when he questioned the commitment of some of his teammates.
With Johnson set to leave, the Browns will likely pursue an experienced safety in free agency to pair with starter Grant Delpit, who made big strides last season following injuries.
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