Free agency officially begins for the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the teams in the NFL at 4:00 PM ET on Wednesday — but for the past few years, the real news has broke when the legal tampering period starts. That period begins today at 12:00 PM ET.
We will have all of the Browns-related coverage on free agency here at Dawgs By Nature throughout the day. We will have individual posts about each free agent signing that Cleveland makes, or any other relevant news.
This thread will act as a “live blog” of sorts, with brief but important updates about the latest rumors, signings, or trades involving Cleveland or other NFL teams. You should also use the comments section as your free agency open thread! (Newest updates will be at the top of the live blog below)
2021 Browns Free Agency Live Blog - Day 1
11:00 PM: Two more updates before we call it a night. First, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick cashed in again, getting a 1-year, $10 million deal with Washington. And the other nugget is that yet another edge rusher is off the board, as the Cincinnati Bengals signed DE Trey Hendrickson. We’ll be back on Tuesday for Day 2 of our Free Agency Live Blog, so stay tuned to DBN!
9:48 PM: According to Josina Anderson, the Browns are “keeping an eye” on CB Shaquill Griffin. Griffin had a down season in 2020, but overall has been regarded as a solid player.
My understanding is the #Browns are keeping an eye on CB Shaquill Griffin and his market. Everything is about the price. Teams and players...— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 16, 2021
9:15 PM: Two more pass rushers that have been linked to the Browns are off the market, as former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree is reportedly signing with the Tennessee Titans, while defensive end Carl Lawson is leaving a bad situation in Cincinnati to join a potentially worse one with the New York Jets, both according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
It’s $16.5M a year for Bud Dupree on a multi-year deal. https://t.co/vhpkZCf6nL— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 16, 2021
9:10 PM: The Browns lost one of their own as the Tennessee Titans are planning to sign offensive tackle Kendall Lamm to a two-year contract, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
Lamm was an OK depth player for the Browns, for the most part, so someone will need to fill that slot.
7:49 PM: “Cheap” is a relative term, but some fans were wondering how the Browns were able to sign FS John Johnson for so cheap. Now we know — according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, Johnson “turned down ‘significantly more money’ from another team to sign with Cleveland.”
His agents said Johnson really wanted to play for the Browns and can’t wait to get started. He loves the team that Browns GM Andrew Berry has assembled, and felt it was the perfect fit.
6:48 PM: Hmmm, well how about that, I guess certain players are attracting fair value after all. The Browns are losing their first free agent, as DT Vincent Taylor is signing a 1-year, $2 million deal with the Texans (although he’ll only make $850,000 if they end up cutting him).
The #Texans are signing DT Vincent Taylor to a one-year, $2 million deal that includes $850,000 guaranteed, per source.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 15, 2021
6:30 PM: Another reported Browns target is now off the table as defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is reportedly signing with the Las Vegas Raiders, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
6:28 PM: Our article on the Browns’ signing of S John Johnson is now up. Here are some quick hitter notes to summarize:
- Played every snap for the Rams last season. He was the defensive playcaller for the team, had elite-level coverage, and tackles well.
- The Browns’ safeties combined for a grade of 48.2 last year. Johnson was the 3rd-best safety in the NFL, per PFF, with a grade of 85.3.
- Johnson is expected to be the Browns’ free safety, but the team still likes Grant Delpit and Ronnie Harrison as their other safeties.
5:45 PM: Doesn’t it figure? I’ve been here all day on the live blog, but had to go out at 4:15 PM. Literally one minute later, I guess the news broke on the Browns reaching terms with S John Johnson. I’ll break the news down in a second once I get settled back in at home here. (I tried to have your back, but got involved in something at the exact same time - Tom)
#Browns deal for S John Johnson: Three years, $33.75 million with $24 million guaranteed, source says. Former third-rounder cashes in.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 15, 2021
4:00 PM: Here is what Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network said when asked about what the Browns are doing, and it very much echos what we heard earlier. She believes the Browns will make a deal with a top pass rusher, presumably to fill the void left by injured DE (and free agent) Olivier Vernon.
1)The #Browns need a top-flight pass rusher to pair with Myles Garrett.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) March 15, 2021
2)Andrew Berry, the Browns GM, is a very smart man.
3)Berry, and the Browns, will not be rushed into something short-sighted. Or stupid.
4)The Browns will sign a top-flight pass rusher. https://t.co/yzJcDnWOqd
3:35 PM: Let’s give a quick update on the Browns’ cap space situation. Remember that I’m sticking with my number, which said Cleveland had $24.87 million in available cap space heading into the day. They tendered WR KhaDarel Hodge for $2.13 million.
Remember, with the Top 51 rule, for every player you add, you also must subtract one from the bottom (valued at $780,000). Therefore, the move is a reduction of $1.35 million in cap space. When I phrase it like that, slapping the tender on Hodge actually doesn’t seem so bad. Therefore, Cleveland should have about $23.52 million in available cap space still.
2:50 PM: Per Lane Adkins of The OBR, the Browns are busy, but there are a lot of moving pieces.
Don't think the Browns aren't trying and aren't in talks, ..... they are.— LA (@TheRealLA__) March 15, 2021
This is a league-wide issue and calculated situation.
Except in NE where Bill don't give a damn.
2:20 PM: The Browns were rumored to be one of the teams interested in Baltimore’s Matt Judon to help with the pass rush. If so, they might have some competition as New England is reportedly making a “major push” for Judon, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. If so, that would likely keep the Browns out of the bidding.
1:40 PM: In case you missed it, last week, we covered the Proven Performance Escalator, which explained the bumps in pay that RB Nick Chubb, OG Wyatt Teller, and S Ronnie Harrison are getting from the Browns for the 2021 season.
1:28 PM: According to Adam Caplan, the Browns are “expected to make a strong effort” to pursue former Rams S John Johnson.
1:05 PM: Good for OL Cameron Erving, who is signing a 2-year deal with the Panthers.
Offensive tackle Cam Erving and the Carolina Panthers are working on a deal for two years and $10 million with $8 million guaranteed, per source.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 15, 2021
1:00 PM: The Titans certainly know how to produce tight ends who end up receiving lucrative deals elsewhere. The latest is TE Jonnu Smith, who is headed to the Patriots on a deal that includes $31.25 million guaranteed. It’s too bad TE David Njoku didn’t get more involved this past season (despite playing well), as it appears he could have been coveted in a trade market.
Former Titans’ TE Jonnu Smith reached agreement with the Patriots on a 4–year, $50 million deals that includes $31.25 million fully guaranteed, @DrewJRosenhaus told ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2021
12:55 PM: There we go — finally a rumor about the Browns being linked to someone. According to Josina Anderson, the Browns are one of three teams showing interest in Saints DE Trey Hendrickson. He broke out with 13.5 sacks this past season for New Orleans.
12:50 PM: With a few pass-rushers off the board already, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network believes it sets Steelers LB Bud Dupree up to be the most coveted free agent on the market.
12:22 PM: Looking at specific contract numbers, here is what LB Shaq Barrett is getting from the Buccaneers. It appears that at least the top tier players will still get their lucrative contracts.
Buccaneers are giving Shaq Barrett a four-year deal worth up $72 million that includes $36 million fully guaranteed, his agent @DrewJRosenhaus told ESPN— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2021
12:15 PM: Another name comes off the list of potential Cleveland targets as defensive end Romeo Okwara is staying with the Detroit Lions, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The #Lions and pass-rusher Romeo Okwara are staying together, as Okwara has agreed to a 3-year deal worth $39M, source said. After a career year with 10 sacks, Okwara wants to make Detroit his home.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 15, 2021
12:08 PM: Fans hoping to score LB Shaq Barrett can cross him off the list. According to Josina Anderson, Barrett is returning to the defending Super Bowl Champions.
12:00 PM: It has begun!
11:48 AM: I am triple tasking today between work, the Browns blog, and also attending a weeklong virtual conference. Time is flying, and we’re only 12 minutes away from the start of the negotiation period!
11:00 AM: We have our first Browns player news of the day! According to Jake Trotter of ESPN, the Browns are tendering WR KhaDarel Hodge, who is a restricted free agent. That’s a surprise to me — not because I don’t want Hodge, but because the RFA tag, as originally discussed, is expected to be $2.133 million this year. I thought the Browns would try to sign him to a multi-year deal just over $2 million, but instead, he’ll eat at about 8% of the team’s available cap space.
Browns have sent a tender to RFA WR KhaDarel Hodge, per source— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) March 15, 2021
10:20 AM: With the Browns in need of help at defensive end, this note in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column is interesting:
There’s never been so many tempting rushers in a free-agency class. Aldon Smith could have multiple double-digit-sack seasons left after rising in Dallas last year; Bud Dupree was on his way to a career year last year in Pittsburgh before getting hurt; Carl Lawson is terminally underrated; Melvin Ingram should be due for a rebound; and Haason Reddick, Matthew Judon and Trey Hendrickson all are intriguing. A month from now, two or three of those players will be unsigned and have massive chips on their shoulder, almost certain to be smart one-year buys while they re-establish a market for 2022.
Browns fans are hyped up about the team making a splash this week, so it will be interesting to see if general manager Andrew Berry plays the long game here.
10:06 AM: There had been some people doubting the official start time of today’s negotiation period, but Brian McCarthy from the NFL PR office confirmed that it does indeed begin at noon ET today:
To clarify the time: the 2-day negotiation period for prospective Unrestricted Free Agents (“UFA”) begins today at 12 noon, New York time and ends at 3:59:59 p.m., New York time, on Wednesday.— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) March 15, 2021
9:10 AM: On that same note, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports relayed this from agents: they don’t expect as big of a flurry during the “legal tampering period,” due to the aforementioned salary cap issues across the league. However, there will still be some “upper-class” deals for the top-tier players. The rich get richer, which means there could be a lot of high-quality gems out there. That’s why I think a player like WR Rashard Higgins is a sure bet to return to Cleveland, as is a guy like LB B.J. Goodson.
“My sense is the market, overall, is going to be more depressed than usual,” said one prominent agent who has several in-demand clients. “We’re in a pandemic. The cap is way down. It is what it is.”
Another top agent said: “Give it a few days and we’ll be straight to vet minimum deals once these upper-class deals are final.”
9:05 AM: As Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 the Fan mentions, with the reduced NFL salary cap this year and teams needing to cut costs, it’s possible that players take on one year deals in order to try securing a heftier contract next year. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth negotiating, however. Players can also try to leverage longer-term deals with teams if they are willing to take a minimal salary in 2021, while having much higher salaries and/or bonuses kick in for 2022, 2023, etc.
With a tighter cap, look for some players to intentionally sign shorter contracts with a wave of new TV revenue on the way in the coming years to get another bite at the apple when that $ kicks in. Larger signing bonuses to keep cap numbers low too.— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) March 15, 2021
8:24 AM: There goes a little bit of a victory for the Baltimore Ravens: they signed former Browns OG Kevin Zeitler. They are allowed to sign him early because the Giants released him a few days ago.
Former Giants’ G Kevin Zeitler reached agreement on a three-year, $22.5 million including $16 million guaranteed with the Baltimore Ravens, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 15, 2021
8:20 AM: Buried at the bottom of one of Mary Kay Cabot’s articles from Sunday is this blurb about CB Terrance Mitchell. Although Cabot doesn’t reference a source, all of her language makes it sound like she’s heard vibes that Cleveland is expecting to move on from Mitchell:
As of Sunday afternoon, the Browns were prepared to let free-agent cornerback Terrance Mitchell walk, and there’s a good chance he’ll be gone. He started all 16 games in place of Greedy Williams, but the Browns seem to want go in another direction. They could always re-sign him later, but he doesn’t appear to be on the front burner.
7:45 AM: According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, sources say that the Browns have shown some interest in “Ravens DE/OLB Matt Judon, Chargers LB Denzel Perryman, and Jets nickel CB Brian Poole.”
7:30 AM: Teams are trying to get creative with the league’s reduced salary cap situation. Take this, for example, from the New Orleans Saints: a 4-year, $140 million extension for QB Taysom Hill, which is basically a bunch of baloney:
TRANSLATION:— Spotrac (@spotrac) March 14, 2021
A 1 year, $12.159M restructure contract with 4 voidable years to spread out a $9.6M signing bonus. The new deal carries an $8.4M cap hit, clearing $7.44M of space for the #Saints. https://t.co/2UR9YLpgHa
7:15 AM: So, how much available cap space do the Cleveland Browns have? Last week, I did a breakdown projecting that the Browns have $24.87 million in available cap space. That’s the number I’m going to stick with — however, I wanted to point out a few discrepancies.
- At the time of my projection, Over the Cap’s cap space number for the Browns matched. Now, however, it has dropped to $24.07 million, which is a difference of $800,000. I’m not sure what happened, especially considering Over the Cap’s Top 51 and dead money numbers remain the same.
- Field Yates of ESPN posted a photo on Sunday showing each team’s available cap space, per NFL accounting, based on moves that have been officially made. That one indicates the Browns have $24.57 million in available cap space, which is $300,000 less than our figure.
I’m not sure where the discrepancies lay, but nonetheless, it’s a solid estimate to say the Browns have between $24-25 million in cap space heading into the day. If given the opportunity, one player the Browns might be interested in jumping all over is LB Shaq Barrett — although the Buccaneers want him back too.
7:00 AM: Good morning, Browns fans, and welcome to free agency! Technically, free agency does not start until Wednesday at 4:00 PM ET. For the past couple of years, that is the day I have started the free agency live blog, but then I’ve started missing out on where all of the real buzz was: the action that happens during the “legal negotiating window,” or as we like to call it, the “legal tampering period.”
According to multiple reports, that period will begin today at 12:00 PM ET (noon). If previous years were any indication, you’ll hear quite a few headlines from around the NFL of who has signed where.
A critical day tomorrow in the NFL, as the legal negotiating window for free agency begins at Noon EST and runs until Wednesday at 4 PM EST.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 15, 2021
Up to this point, teams and agents have had no contact with each other about deals that they would like to get done. pic.twitter.com/Lt82SZ6t30