CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Browns have opened another hole in their defense.
General manager Andrew Berry said Tuesday that the team will release veteran safety John Johnson III, who signed a three-year $33.75 million contract as a free agent two years ago.
Johnson hasn't lived up to his big deal, and the Browns need to clear out space under the salary cap in order to upgrade a defense that had numerous issues last season.
The team will save $9.75 million in cap space if they release Johnson with a post-June 1 designation.
Speaking at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Berry expressed gratitude for Johnson's contributions “on the field and in the locker room for us” before saying the team intends to move on without him.
“We did after looking at the roster and thinking about where we want to be in 2023, we thought it would be best for the organization to really part ways,” Berry said. “But that doesn't minimize what John was able to do with our team.”
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, four interceptions, forced three fumbles and recovered two and had 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. He was also open about his frustration about being used differently than he was in Los Angeles.
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.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL