The Browns reportedly have plans to cut safety John Johnson III but they already have a big-name replacement in mind.
The Cleveland Browns will release free safety John Johnson III by March 15 barring a trade, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.
The move will free up $9.75 million in cap space. Last season, Johnson had 101 combined tackles (second-most on the team), two forced fumbles, and an interception.
Johnson was a big free agent acquisition for the Browns in 2021; they signed him to a three-year, $33.75 million deal. At the time, he was coming off a productive four-year run with the Los Angeles Rams. Across four seasons, he recorded 350 combined tackles and eight interceptions.
Although moving on from Johnson saves cap space, it does leave a glaring hole in Cleveland’s secondary. The next free safety on their depth chart is 26-year-old D’Anthony Bell, who was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2022.
According to Cabot, the Browns are already targeting a potential replacement: Cincinnati Bengals free safety Jessie Bates III.
The Browns are expected to pursue Jessie Bates III after cutting John Johnson III
“The Browns are expected to pursue Bates if he’s not extended, franchised or traded to someone besides the Browns,” Cabot wrote.
Bates is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason. He played last season on the franchise tag. If he hits the open market, Bates will draw a lot of interest. He is one of the best safeties in the league.
Last season, he had 71 combined tackles, eight passes defended, and four interceptions. He posted a PFF grade of 76.8.
In pass coverage, Bates was targeted 37 times; he allowed 19 completions for 304 yards and four touchdowns.
Spotrac projects Bates to receive a contract worth $14 million per year. The Bengals will likely try to retain Bates, and they do have over $36 million in estimated cap space. Comparatively, the Browns currently have roughly -$14 million in cap space.
Acquiring Bates would boost the Browns’ secondary, but it will be a challenge.
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