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Free Agency Update: Browns Overhaul Defense, Looking to Build on Promising 2020

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Fresh off one of their most successful seasons in franchise history, the Cleveland Browns entered the 2021 offseason hungry for more and looking to reload an already stacked roster.

They did just that, immediately addressing a subpar secondary that surrendered 31 touchdown passes and 247.6 yards per game a season ago. Cleveland was content allowing cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson to walk, as they were able to replace them with two defensive backs from the league’s top pass defense in 2020.

The Browns made a splash early in free agency, signing safety John Johnson and cornerback Troy Hill from the Los Angeles Rams. The duo contributed to the NFL’s most suffocating secondary last year, a unit that allowed just 17 touchdown passes and 190.7 yards a contest. Johnson has an impressive nose for the football, having tallied 105 total tackles and eight pass breakups in 2020. Hill is a turnover machine with ten career takeaways, three of which he returned for scores.

Johnson got paid on a three-year, $33.75 million contract, while Hill was signed on a two-year, $9 million deal.

Factor in established cornerback Denzel Ward and the Browns should have the AFC North’s best secondary for years to come.

Strong pass defenses also require a potent pass rush. While they already had one of the best edge defenders in the game in Myles Garrett, Cleveland found him a running mate in former Raider pass rusher Takkarist McKinley, who agreed to a one-year, $4.25 million deal. McKinley owns 17.5 career sacks and 22 tackles-for-loss.

The Browns did also lose defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to Cincinnati, but he will likely be replaced immediately by former Bengal Andrew Billings, who opted out of last season after signing as a free agent. Cleveland also added veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson on Tuesday, for good measure.

Lastly, Cleveland added former Colts linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. to sure up the center of their defense. Not only is Walker adept in pass coverage, but he is a tackling machine that should make an immediate impact. Walker recorded 343 combined tackles, 19 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions over four seasons in Indianapolis.

After pairing Walker with re-signed former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, Cleveland’s defense is looking scary.

Cleveland is already loaded on the offensive side, but the club did make a key re-sign and a depth acquisition.

The Browns returned wide receiver Rashard Higgins on a one-year, $2.3 million deal. He has caught 113 passes for 1,615 yards and eleven touchdowns over five seasons.

They also added former Dallas offensive tackle Greg Senat, who will likely serve a crucial rotational role along Cleveland’s outstanding offensive line. Senat’s addition will offset the loss of tackle Kendall Lamm. He signed with Tennessee.

Cleveland has few holes across their roster, but that will not stop them from adding further when April’s draft comes to town. The Browns own nine total picks, including five in the first 110 selections.

Additions

SS John Johnson

CB Troy Hill

EDGE Takkarist McKinley

LB Anthony Walker Jr.

DT Malik Jackson

T Greg Senat

K Cody Parkey (Re-signed)

LB Elijah Lee (Re-signed)

WR JoJo Natson (Re-signed)

WR Rashard Higgins (Re-signed)

LB Malcolm Smith (Re-signed)

TE Jordan Franks (Re-signed)

DT Porter Gustin (Re-signed)

TE Stephen Carlson (Re-signed)

WR KhaDarel Hodge (Re-signed)

CB Robert Jackson (Re-signed)

Departures

RT Kendall Lamm

CB Kevin Johnson

CB Terrance Mitchell

CB Tavierre Thomas

DT Vincent Taylor

LB Tae Davis

DT Larry Ogunjobi

Cuts

DE Adrian Clayborn

OL Drake Dorbeck

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