The Cleveland Browns bolstered their secondary on Wednesday by signing veteran safety Jim Leonhard.
Leonhard himself took to Twitter to announce the news of the deal:
It's official, I just signed my 8th NFL contract to become a part of the Cleveland Browns. #dawgpound— Jim Leonhard (@jimleonhard) July 30, 2014
The Browns later confirmed the signing:
Browns have signed DB Jim Leonhard.— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) July 30, 2014
Field Yates of ESPN noted how Leonhard has recent, previous ties with Browns head coach Mike Pettine:
Veteran S Jim Leonhard Tweets that he has signed with the Browns. Reunites with Mike Pettine after the year together in Buffalo in 2013.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) July 30, 2014
To go even further back than that, Leonhard spent the best years of his NFL career with the New York Jets from 2009 through 2011, thriving in coach Rex Ryan's attack-oriented defense. Pettine was a part of Ryan's Jets staff as the defensive coordinator in all those years.
Steve Doerschuk of The Repository provided more context for Leonhard and Pettine's long-ranging relations:
Leonhard has started 47 games on teams that included Pettine, beginning in 2008 w/Baltimore. Is a play-like-a-Brown type.— Steve Doerschuk (@sdoerschukREP) July 30, 2014
This marks the fourth different team in as many seasons for Leonhard, who has had trouble sticking in a starting role in recent years. However, opportunities are abound for him to see the field frequently in Cleveland due to his familiarity with Pettine's complex system.
Who will start at free safety for the Browns in 2014?
Former undrafted free agent Tashaun Gipson is the Browns' current projected starter at free safety, but Leonhard has the experience to beat him out. Gipson was named the defensive MVP in November 2013 by former defensive coordinator Ray Horton, now with the Tennessee Titans.
Such high praise suggests Leonhard has an uphill battle to work his way into a starting role alongside hard-hitting safety Donte Whitner, but Gipson is new to Cleveland's multifaceted defense.
Cleveland's rationale for letting T.J. Ward go in free agency this offseason in favor of Whitner was to bring in a player who knew how to win. Whitner did plenty of that in San Francisco, advancing to the NFC Championship Game in each of the past three seasons.
Leonhard is a potential upgrade from Gipson in that same vein, having made it to two straight AFC title games as a member of the Jets. At the very least, Gipson stands to learn a great deal from Leonhard as a mentor, and will face formidable competition to keep his starting job.
The maligned Browns could use all the help they can get in terms of positive NFL experience as they try yet another new regime to turn things around after a 4-12 season. With a quarterback battle brewing between two uncertain commodities in Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, Cleveland will be counting on a stout defense and a strong rushing attack to carry the Browns back to respectability.
That philosophy saw the Jets soar to success, so Leonhard is used to it. This is a perfect fit for both Leonhard and the Browns, continuing an aggressive, transaction-filled and largely successful offseason under first-year general manager Ray Farmer.