The NFL is two days into its ‘legal tampering’ period. Dominoes have fallen, and next year’s rosters are beginning to take shape. Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry hasn’t been loud, but he has been effective. Cleveland has signed two players, one on each day. Former Los Angeles Rams safety John Johnson inked a three-year, $33.75 million contract with the Browns, and former Atlanta Falcons first-round edge, Takkarist McKinley signed a deal for one season, worth up to $4 million. Johnson is the splashier signing of the two, but both have a chance to play a pivotal role for the Browns in 2021.
Free Agency Roundup: Cleveland Browns Defensive Outlook
Johnson is young and incredibly talented. He turns 26 later in December, and last season was the third-highest ranked safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. A versatile defensive back, the fourth-year standout can play both safety positions. He is a talented ballhawk and is a more-than-capable run stopper. He is exactly what Cleveland defensive coordinator Joe Woods needs in his secondary.
Johnson will join a talented, albeit somewhat unproven, secondary. Denzel Ward is becoming an elite shutdown corner on the outside. Ronnie Harrison, though he missed time in 2020, was very impactful when he played. Grant Delpit is coming off an Achilles tear that forced him to sit out his entire rookie season. If the LSU product is able to come back strong, the Browns have arguably the best safety room in the NFL.
A second LSU star in the secondary will also be returning from injury in 2021. Cornerback Greedy Williams missed all of 2020 with a shoulder injury but has been cleared by team doctors to practice. Though he has yet to play much in the NFL, he has flashed talent, especially in the slot.
Johnson will slot in and become the Browns defensive captain immediately. In 2020, he served as the Rams signal caller on the defensive side, and he will occupy the same role in Cleveland. Cleveland’s secondary is perhaps, one piece away from becoming very formidable. A player like Buffalo Bills free agent Levi Wallace could help massively.
Though a far less splashy signing than Johnson, McKinley could potentially be a steal for Cleveland. On a one-year deal at only $4 million, he is a low-risk, high-reward signing. In 2018–his last healthy season–McKinley registered 50 quarterback pressures.
The Browns were in desperate need of a pass rusher to play opposite Myles Garrett. McKinley uses his size and speed well when he’s on the field, though that certainly remains a question. Coupled with Andrew Billings back on the field and either Larry Ogunjobi or Sheldon Richardson, the Browns’ defensive front looks to be on the rise.
Assuming that the Covid-19 effects have left Myles Garrett, he will aim to be a contender for Defensive Player of the Year. With 25-year-old McKinley on the opposite side, he may have an easier time of fighting through blocks and seeing fewer doubles.
It remains to be seen if McKinley’s talent will shine through his inability to stay healthy. However, if it does, AFC quarterbacks better look out.
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