The Cleveland Browns had several issues on the defensive side of the ball in 2022, and while much of the focus was on the defensive tackles, the safety position also was problematic.
Ronnie Harrison Jr. has been a disappointment in his three years with the Browns and will likely not be back. John Johnson III has only been slightly better, and his cap hit combined with his uneven play could mean his days are numbered in Cleveland.
The only player that appears safe is Grant Delpit, but his defensive grade of 63.6 in 2022 from Pro Football Focus means that he could use someone talented to line up next to in the secondary.
If general manager Andrew Berry and the coaching staff see the situation in a similar light, then there is a safety within the AFC North that they might want to take a hard look at in free agency.
Name: Jessie Bates III
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 200 pounds
2022 Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: 2022: 16 starts, 38 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble, 7 missed tackles, 4 interceptions, 8 pass defenses
Career: 79 games, 79 starts, 327 tackles, 43 PDs, 14 interceptions, six TFLs, 2 QB hits, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries
PFF Grade: 76.8 overall, 84.8 vs. run, 72.9 vs. pass
2022 Contract: Final year of contract, $12.9 million
Fit with the Browns
Jessie Bates III is the type of player the Browns can use in the defensive secondary. He is durable (more than 1,000 snaps on defense for five consecutive years and has missed only three games in his career), stout against the run (his Pro Football Focus grade landed him in the top 5 among safeties), opportunistic (14 career interceptions), and signing him would weaken the Cincinnati Bengals, a division opponent who may not be able to keep Bates after signing him to the franchise tag a year ago.
The problem could be the price tag, as Bates will be considered the top free agent on the market at his position, which means a big payday is on the horizon as PFF is estimating that Bates will bring home a five-year deal with $40 million in guaranteed money.
Browns Player Signing Could Impact
Remember that part about the Browns needing to clear space to afford Bates? Well, that would put incumbent safety John Johnson III right in the crosshairs. After two underwhelming seasons, Johnson could be designated for a June 1 cut, which would save Cleveland $9.75 million in cap space, money that could be used to entice Bates to come north.
How Signing Could Impact the NFL Draft
It all depends on which way the Browns go. If they sign Bates or ride with Johnson for another season, then safety becomes a much lower priority in the draft. If they decide the cost is too high for a free agent on the level of Bates and move on from Johnson, then the safety position slots in as another priority on the defensive side of the ball behind the defensive line and linebackers.
Medium - Some of it will depend on how new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz views the current group of safeties. If he likes what he has to work with, then the priority lands in the low-to-medium range. If not, then the need takes on a greater sense of urgency.