Browns plan to commerce or launch security John Johnson III

The Cleveland Browns plan to release veteran safety John Johnson III when the NFL’s new season starts March 15, he confirmed in a statement Tuesday.

“I appreciate the Cleveland Browns for the opportunity,” Johnson said in a statement to on Tuesday. “The city is truly one of a kind. I wish that I could’ve done more while here; however, I know that my best ball is ahead of me. I pray great things for my former teammates.”

Johnson hasn’t lived up to the three-year, $33.75 million contract he signed as a free agent in 2021. He’ll be released unless the team can trade him, general manager Andrew Berry told reporters at the NFL combine on Tuesday.

“Really the first thought is just gratitude in terms of what he’s done the past two years on the field and in the locker room for us,” Berry said of Johnson. “After just looking at the roster and thinking about where we want to be in 2023, thought it would be the best move for the organization to really part ways. But that certainly doesn’t minimize what John was able to do while he was with our team.”

The team will save $9.75 million in cap space if they release Johnson with a post-June 1 designation.

Cleveland’s startling regression on defense played a major role in the Browns going 7-10 and finishing fourth in the AFC North last season. Coach Kevin Stefanski fired defensive coordinator Joe Woods shortly after a loss to Pittsburgh in the finale and replaced him with former Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

Early last season, the Browns’ secondary had numerous communication breakdowns and gave up big plays. Johnson had been brought in to anchor the back end of Cleveland’s defense after spending four seasons with the Rams.

In 32 games with Cleveland, Johnson had 162 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and a sack.

While those are solid stats, Johnson didn’t have many game-swinging plays and his salary cap hit of $13.5 million in 2023 necessitated the Browns moving him. Cleveland is approximately $14 million over the cap and needs to create space so it can be active in free agency to fill some needs.

Johnson made news off the field during the season when he questioned the commitment of some of his teammates.

With Johnson set to leave, the Browns will likely pursue an experienced safety in free agency to pair with starter Grant Delpit, who made big strides last season following injuries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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