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Free Agency

John Johnson III enters 'opportunity of a lifetime' as Browns' newest leader in the secondary

Johnson didn’t wait to long to make his decision on the next stop in his career

John Johnson III saw the Browns' orange helmet logo at the top of his new contract and couldn't stop smiling as he scribbled his signature on the line.

For the past 72 hours, Johnson has been living a dream.

It started when the Browns originally extended him an offer and told him he was one of their top free-agent targets of the offseason. In Cleveland, Johnson was going to be one of the top leaders and most important players for a defense Executive Vice President of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry sought to upgrade early in free agency.

Several top-tier secondary players were on the market. Johnson was his first target.

So when the offer finally came, Johnson, who received several big offers from other NFL teams after four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, didn't feel the need to wait to make his decision. His mind raced as he thought about joining a Browns team that turned a corner after an 18-year wait to return to the playoffs. He'd be one of the top leaders for one of the league's most exciting teams, and he'd live in a city that embraces its football team like family.

"I felt like it was an opportunity of a lifetime," Johnson said Friday in his introductory Zoom interview with local reporters. "(I'm) coming into a situation where things are moving in the right direction. That's rare in this business. It's rare that people care about you, appreciate you and want to do things the right way.

"This city as a whole, let alone this organization, it drips that."

Johnson grinned throughout the entire video call as he spoke about his first impressions of Cleveland. He said people around the city already recognized him when he stepped off the plane Thursday and had several players and friends extend messages to him to let him know that he'll be taken care of with the Browns.

Oh, and his first impressions of what he'll be doing in a football uniform were great, too.

Johnson will join Ronnie Harrison Jr. and Grant Delpit, a 2020 second-round pick who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, in a safety room full of youth — Johnson, 25, is the oldest of the trio. All three players are capable of playing anywhere on the field, whether it be in the slot, in open field or near the line of scrimmage, and all of them have plenty of time left to tap into their prime.

Johnson is capable of handling any roles the Browns ask of him. He's proven to be a quality defender both against the run and in pass coverage and recorded 105 tackles, one interception and eight pass breakups last season in addition to being the defensive signal-caller to the rest of the Rams defense, which ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 2020.

The Browns could ask Johnson, who was one of four NFL safeties to play 100 percent of their team's defensive snaps last season, to handle a similar role and workload in 2021.

"If that's something they want me to do, I'll gladly do it," he said. "I was considered a guy that wasn't going to leave the field. You can see the most at safety. I can see everything, and I can call out stuff that guys might miss. I felt like I was the glue to that defense. When guys turn around and see the (No.) 43 out there, they feel comfortable and they can rely on me."

Johnson was excited about the prospects for the rest of the Browns' defense, too. He compared the tandem of cornerback Denzel Ward and defensive end Myles Garrett to cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the All-Pro duo he succeeded with in Los Angeles, and complimented the speed of cornerback Greedy Williams, who is set to return in 2021 after missing all of last season.

There's another potential teammate he'll know the best. According to reports, free-agent cornerback Troy Hill agreed to terms Thursday on a contract with the Browns. Hill totaled three defensive touchdowns last season and was also one of the Rams' top secondary players. Now, he's coming to Cleveland looking for more success alongside Johnson.

"When he texted me he was coming in, I didn't believe him," Johnson said. "I thought he was just talking. Then I saw the news break and I was like, 'OK, it's business now.'"

When all the pieces come together, Johnson believes the Browns defense will be a stiff challenge for opposing quarterbacks. Cleveland is set to have a steady blend of youth and veterans with proven NFL success, and with talent set to perform at all three levels of the defense, the Browns appear to be a perfect fit for Johnson and his versatility.

That's why he couldn't wait to grab the pen and sign his name on the new contract. He already loves Cleveland, and he's positive Cleveland will love him, too.

"It was a no-brainer," he said. "It's all coming to fruition, and I'm happy I made the right decision."

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