John Johnson III has consistently been one of the NFL's best safeties since the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in 2017, and his signing — a three-year, $33.75 million deal — addresses a major area of need for the Cleveland Browns.
Johnson's only season without an 80.0-plus PFF grade came in 2019, when he lasted just six games before injury shut him down. That six-game stretch was uncharacteristically poor, seeing him miss seven tackles in his final three games before he landed on injured reserve.
Removing that season from the picture, Johnson has been one of the league’s best safeties, excelling in both coverage and as a run defender for the Rams. He was made even more potent in 2020 as Brandon Staley propelled the Los Angeles defense to the league’s best ranking.
Johnson has been at his best as part of a defensive scheme that plays primarily with split-field safeties, as opposed to teams that play with a single-high safety, and that fits what Cleveland does on defense.
The Browns played with a lot of both forms of defense last season, with Cover 3 and Quarters being their two highest coverage shells by percentage of snaps played. Johnson is a perfect fit within that defense, and while he has never earned a 90.0-plus PFF season grade, he has consistently been in the tier just below that. And consistency is not an easy thing to achieve for a defensive back.
Ronnie Harrison had solid performances for the Browns when he won the starting job, and that gives the Browns a potentially excellent safety pair to patrol the field behind the rest of the defense. Denzel Ward is an excellent cover corner, leaving Cleveland to find just its second and third corner options to form a good secondary — a unit that was a major concern for the Browns in 2020 — very quickly.
Johnson’s deal is also exceptional value, clocking in reportedly at just a little over $11 million a year. The Browns hit free agency with some money to spend, and this looks to be an exceptional way of spending some of that money to propel them in the right direction.