The Cleveland Browns announced the signing of veteran safety Jim Leonhard on Wednesday. Going based on my history, I guess I have to say, "it's about damn time." Five years ago during the 2009 offseason, I listed Leonhard as the No. 1 free agent I wanted the Browns to target. He was coming off of a breakout season with the Baltimore Ravens -- one that included 13 starts.
Instead, Leonhard signed a three-year deal with the New York Jets, playing their from 2009-2011, a stretch which included him starting all 40 games that he was healthy for. Leonhard had a reserve role with the Denver Broncos in 2012. During the 2013 offseason, I noted that Leonhard would be a good, cheap depth signing for the Browns. Leonhard ultimately signed with the Buffalo Bills and started in 7 of the 16 games he played.
One of the key things to note about Leonhard is the amount of experience he's had in Mike Pettine defenses. Pettine was the outside linebackers coach for the Ravens in 2008, so there might not have been a big connection there, but Pettine was Leonhard's defensive coordinator with both the Jets and the Bills. Think of it this way: Pettine has been a defensive coordinator for 80 career games, and Leonhard was one of his starting safeties in 47 of those games.
Despite all of those starts, you have to think that if Leonhard sticks around with the Browns, it'll be as a reserve in his 10th NFL season. Donte Whitner is locked in as a starter at strong safety, and although I've had my reservations about free safety Tashaun Gipson, I don't think the coaching staff views him as such a negative that they'd bring in Leonhard to replace him part-way through training camp.
What the Browns lack behind Whitner and Gipson is depth, just like they lacked it in 2013. Jordan Poyer and Josh Aubrey both seem like promising players, but I think Pettine would give the edge to a veteran in this case, with the option of rolling with Aubrey on the practice squad. Leonhard has also been a regular punt returner in his career and could be an insurance policy to WR Travis Benjamin.
What do you think of the Leonhard signing, Browns fans? Do you think he'll make the 53-man roster?