Browns agree to terms with John Johnson III, one of NFL’s top-rated safeties
Johnson shined as a top tackler, leader for top-ranked Rams defense
By Andrew Gribble, ClevelandBrowns.com Senior Staff Writer
The Browns are kicking off the new league year by adding one of the NFL’s top safeties to their secondary.
John Johnson III, who spent the past four years shining as a leader on the Rams defense, has agreed to terms with the Browns, who are set to welcome one of the NFL’s top-rated players to a position group that could have a much different look in 2021.
“Really excited about what John Johnson is going to bring to our defense and our back end in particular,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He’s a dynamic player that will fit in well with our group. On top of that, I’m excited about the person, as much as I am about the player. He was the captain of the team out there in Los Angeles at such a young age and all the people that I’ve spoken to about him consistently rave about the person that he is and the leader he is for a football team, so we couldn’t be more thrilled to add him to the team.”
Johnson, who is entering his fifth season, comes to Cleveland after racking up a team-best 105 tackles, an interception and eight passes defensed for a Rams defense that finished No. 1 in the NFL in total defense and No. 1 in pass defense. Pro Football Focus gave Johnson a grade of 85.3 for the 2020 season, putting him third in the league among safeties.
The Rams selected Johnson, who starred at Boston College, in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He quickly solidified a role in Los Angeles’ defense, appearing in all 16 games as a rookie and taking over as a starter one month into the season. His breakout campaign came in 2018, when he registered 119 tackles, 11 passes defensed and four interceptions during the Rams’ run to the Super Bowl. His interception of Drew Brees in overtime of the NFC Championship helped send the Rams to their first Super Bowl in 17 years.
Johnson intercepted two passes in his first three games of 2019 but had his third season short-circuited by a shoulder injury that limited him to six games. He bounced back in a big way in 2020 and proved to be an Iron Man in the back end of the Rams’ defense, playing every single snap in the team’s 16 regular season games and two playoff games. Johnson was one of just four safeties in the NFL to play every snap during the regular season.
“John has a diverse skill set so we’re excited about his versatility. He can do a bunch of different things, that will allow us to expand our packages to see where he fits in,” Stefanski said. “Versatility is a big part of where we want to be.”
Johnson was more than just a producer for the Rams in 2020; he was a leader. He was voted as a team captain for the 2020 team and wore the headset in his helmet that connected him with his defensive coordinator. He was also the team’s nominee for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, which goes to a player who “best demonstrates the qualities of on-field sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition.”
Johnson joins a Browns safety room that features Ronnie Harrison Jr., Grant Delpit and a slew of other younger players. Harrison joined the Browns via trade shortly before the start of the 2020 season and proved to be an impact player despite missing a handful of games because of injuries. Delpit, the Browns’ second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, missed all of his rookie season after tearing his Achilles tendon during training camp. Veterans Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo, who played the most snaps of any Browns safeties in 2020, are currently free agents.
Browns agree to terms with DE Takkarist McKinley
Cleveland adds former 1st-round pick to group of pass rushers
The Browns bolstered their group of pass rushers Wednesday with the addition of Takkarist McKinley.
McKinley, a former first-round pick out of UCLA, spent the majority of the past four seasons with the Falcons. He appeared in 49 games with 25 starts, four of which coming at the start of the 2020 season before an injury led to his exit from Atlanta. McKinley spent brief amounts of time with the Bengals and 49ers before finishing the season on injured reserve with the Raiders.
McKinley compiled 17.5 sacks and 45 hits on the quarterback during his time with Atlanta. His most sacks came in 2018, when he posted seven in his first year as a starter.
“Takk is a skilled young player with tremendous upside,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “We like his pass rush ability and the way he has gotten after the QB throughout his young career. Defensive line was a position that we felt we wanted to address during free agency, and we are excited to add Takk and the impactful tools he possesses to the group that will help make the plays we need along the line.”
McKinley had six sacks as a rookie, when he was utilized as a situational pass rusher. In 2019, McKinley was an every-game starter when healthy and finished the year with 3.5 sacks and 13 hits on the quarterback.
McKinley grew up in Oakland and attended UCLA, where he emerged as a first-round talent after a big senior season. McKinley landed with the Falcons at No. 26 — the same spot at which the Browns will be picking in 2021 — and provided one of the biggest moments in recent draft memory, as he clutched a picture of his grandmother and emotionally described how far he’d come.
McKinley joins a Browns defensive ends group led by All-Pro Myles Garrett. The Browns recently released Adrian Clayborn and veteran Olivier Vernon, who suffered an Achilles tear in Week 17, is a free agent. Cleveland’s defensive ends accounted for 24.5 of the team’s 38 sacks in 2020.