John Johnson III, Browns Reportedly Agree to 3-Year, $33.8M ContractMarch 15, 2021
Veteran safety John Johnson III agreed to a three-year, $33.75 million contract with the Cleveland Browns on Monday, according Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.
The deal reportedly includes $24 million in guaranteed money.
After a shoulder injury limited him to six games in 2019, the 25-year-old bounced back nicely in 2020.
Speaking with reporters last September, Johnson explained how he felt like a tone-setter for the Los Angeles Rams defense:
"I've always felt like the safety should be like the quarterback of the defense. Oftentimes it's the linebacker, the middle linebacker, but just for me personally, you know, high school, college, I was always the leader in the back of the defense. So, like you said being with Coach (Brandon) Staley, him putting that emphasis on the safety play and us being in the center is huge. And I love it. You know, my personality, I feel like it's a perfect fit."
Johnson backed up those words by finishing with 101 tackles, eight passes defended and one interception.
As a collective, the Rams ranked first in total defense (281.9), passing defense (190.7) and points allowed (18.5). Staley parlayed his one season as the defensive coordinator into the Los Angeles Chargers head coaching gig.
Jalen Ramsey is by far the biggest star in Los Angeles' secondary, living up to his status by earning his second All-Pro nod. While Ramsey grabbed the spotlight, Johnson demonstrated why he's one of the NFL's better safeties. Pro Football Focus gave him an 84.9 overall grade, third-best at the position.
Johnson's career year was a double-edged sword for the Rams, though. If he had been an overlooked asset in the past, that was no longer the case as he approached the end of his contract. The price on his next deal rose with each week.
That presented an issue for Los Angeles given its salary-cap situation. The team is projected to be $26.4 million over the cap, per Spotrac. General manager Les Snead also had to weigh possible extensions for Leonard Floyd and Troy Hill.
David Lombardi @LombardiHimself
Let's go through the NFC West's salary-cap challenges team-by-team, post-Stafford trade... Rams: ~$30M over the cap. Restructures for Stafford, Donald and others will be necessary. Even then, it'll be very hard to re-sign all FAs (Leonard Floyd, Josh Johnson, Austin Blythe..)
Unless Snead was willing to swing a bunch of team-friendly deals, he would have to watch at least one consistent contributor on defense walk out the door.
In the event the Rams were unable to meet Johnson's asking price, another team was going to step up and give him big money. Franchises are still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that won't stop the top free agents from getting paid.
The Browns clearly made safety a priority position, and Johnson should make an immediate impact on the field and in the locker room.