Cleveland Browns Free Agency Review

The Cleveland Browns entered free agency with multiple needs on the defense and were top 10 in available salary cap. How much did GM Andrew Berry improve the roster in the first week of free agency?
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Key Additions

Name/Former TeamContract DetailsName/StatusContract Details

SS, John Johnson (signed from LAR)

 3-yr/ $33.75 mil.

WR, Rashard Higgins (resigned)

1-yr/ $2.38 mil.

DE, Takkarist McKinley (signed from LV)

1-yr/ $4.25 mil.

LB, Malcolm Smith (resigned)

1-yr/ $1.21 mil.

CB, Troy Hill (signed from LAR)

4-yr/ $24 mil.

WR, Jojo Natson (resigned)

1-yr deal

LB, Anthony Walker Jr (signed from IND)

1-yr/ $3.5 mil.

K, Cody Parkey (resigned)

1-yr/ $1.21 mil.

DT, Malik Jackson (signed from PHI) 

1-yr deal

John Johnson's signing brings the top-rated safety in free agency to Cleveland and provides much needed security on the third level of secondary. Johnson is a tremendous upgrade over Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph due to his ability to excel in coverage. Last season the Browns safeties struggled to keep the top on the defense and numerous teams found success attacking the seam. Johnson is a rangy, smart, leader on the backend and can become the heart of the defense in his first season.

With the addition of Johnson it gives DC Joe Woods versatility in the coverages he uses rather it is single high safety Cover-1 or covering tight ends in man coverage. Over the past half-decade tight ends have feasted against the Browns defense and when a player can help mitigate their impact it is an automatic value win in free agency. Joined by his former Rams teammate Troy Hill, both newcomers provide necessary upgrades in the secondary to help stop teams from finding excessive success throwing the ball similar to last season.

The additions of Takkarist McKinley and Malik Jackson are great moves to add depth along the defensive line. Both linemen join the Browns roster with a particular skillset in mind and that is to pressure the quarterback. McKinley is a very athletic defensive end that effectively replaces the recently released Adrian Clayborn while providing more speed on the edge. He ideally is not the DE2 the Browns defense needs but he offers value in sub packages in passing situations. 

The same can be said about Malik Jackson and his ability to rush the passer from the interior. Jackson is veteran brought in to help replace Larry Ogunjobi while also giving last year’s third round pick Jordan Elliot time to develop. Collapsing the pocket in a conference filled with athletic throwers of the football, is a good way to contain their ability to make plays with their legs.

Andrew Berry also found value by bringing back their own players namely Rashard Higgins and Malcolm Smith. Higgins who is a fan favorite is welcomed back to Cleveland with open arms and he should be the solidified WR3 entering next season. There will definitely be a competition with last year’s sixth round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones for snaps, but Higgins chemistry with Mayfield is undeniable. The ability to have a receiver than can work in the intermediate areas of the field that Baker Mayfield trust is a great tool to have at disposal. 

That benefit is shared for DC Joe Woods as well by having a linebacker that excels in pass coverage like Malcolm Smith. Covering tight ends and slot receivers in open space was an area of concern for most of the season especially with the Browns linebackers. Resigning the best coverage backer on the roster is a smart move for a deemphasized position and Smith is a smart veteran with plenty playoff experience to help in important moments.

Key Losses

UFA: Unrestricted Free Agent

NameStatusNameStatus

LB, Olivier Vernon

 (released/ UFA)

DT, Larry Ogunjobi

(signed w/ CIN)

LB, B.J. Goodson

(released/ UFA)

DE, Adrian Clayborn

 (cut/ UFA)

SS, Karl Joseph

(released/ UFA)

CB, Terrance Mitchell

 (signed w/ HOU)

FS, Andrew Sendejo

(released/ UFA)

CB, Kevin Johnson

(signed w/ TEN)

OT, Kendall Lamm

(signed w/ TEN)

CB, Tavierre Thomas

(signed w/ HOU)

The most important signings thus far in free agency for the Cleveland Browns are the additions of John Johnson, Troy Hill, and Anthony Walker Jr. In terms of bringing back their own players, resigning Rashard Higgins and Malcolm Smith were very smart moves. Andrew Berry’s ability to effectively improve the roster without overpaying for talent is one of his most beneficial factors of being the Browns general manager. He found value contracts in the secondary and shown an innate ability to place contracts around the players potential impact on the team. 

In two off-seasons, Berry has handed out contracts based on the long term value of core veterans. The contract expirations for these players are near the team options or the contract expiration of payers added via the draft. For example, John Johnson’s contract ends around the same time as Grant Delpit, while Troy Hill’s contract is up as Greedy Williams and Denzel Ward rookie deals end. 

Also, Berry doesn’t over commit to veterans that provide mostly depth by signing them to one-year or short term deals. These tactics were seen last year in Berry’s first offseason as he signed six defensive players to one-year deals and making Clayborn’s two-year contract essentially a one and done. This flexibility gives Berry the ability to rebuild personnel if certain players don’t play well enough or if there is a coaching staff change that utilizes a different scheme. 

Given the current contract statuses of Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward the next two seasons are ideal to bring in talent via free agency before having to give these players significant money via contract extensions. Baker Mayfield will command the most money, given the growing annual salaries around the NFL. Plus if he gets a new contract it will make the salary cap tighter than the past four seasons. 

Cap space flexibility will be Andrew Berry’s best asset to formulate the most competitive roster possible. Making a potential super bowl run while Mayfield is on his rookie deal would be nice but long sustained success is the best route to get multiple cracks at a Lombardy trophy.