Browns 53-man roster imbroglio (part 11: safety)


Cleveland's safeties communicating with each other last season was like Boomhauer and Brad Pitt's character in Snatch talking to each other through gas masks in an echo chamber. How Joe Woods was able to turn John Johnson III — the No. 1 safety on the market in 2021 — into a vet-min player that fast was like watching Superman III on rewind turning a diamond into coal. Work has been done in that room, and we hope it translates to the field.

Juan Thornhill was another top-five signing by the Browns' front office this free-agency period (along with Okoronkwo, Tomlinson, Dobbs, and Akins — all predicted right here back in February). Rodney McLeod was a terrific addition too; he's generally played free safety in his career, particularly in Philadelphia with Jim Schwartz, but last year in Indy he was in the box or lined up on the slot receiver more than two-thirds of the time.

Grant Delpit was an Andrew Berry draft pick (2020 2.44); this just in: Berry doesn't cut his draft picks. He definitely belongs on the team and hopefully he'll thrive in the new system and take the step forward many were hoping to see from him last season, a year removed from coming back after an Achilles tear. But there's a silver lining if he doesn't: if he continues the roster-worthy but middle-of-the-road performance he's posted thus far in his young career, he'd likely be a candidate for the Four Year Qualifying Contract, an element of 2020's collective bargaining agreement which will allow Cleveland to re-sign Delpit in 2024 for up to $2.7425M but incur a cap charge of less than $1.3M.

Sione Takitaki is on the full 4YQC currently and is expected to be eligible for it next year too. The other players with expiring contracts who are anticipated to have been with the team uninterrupted for at least four seasons by the beginning of next year are Donovan Peoples-Jones (who may price himself out of that range), and Harrison Bryant, Jordan Elliott, and Jacob Phillips (none of whom figure to be worth that check alone, though the benefit can be split between two players). Nick Harris should be waived prior to vesting his fourth season in Cleveland, but may not be: he was a Berry pick.

Though Mike Ford Jr. is listed here in this forecast, he isn't regularly a safety — he's more of a corner, and was brought in primarily as a special teamer; this should be mop-up or spot duty only. But with multiple unmeritorious draft selections taking up valuable roster spots, we're running out of room. They may not list him here, but if there are only three safeties, Ford is the most likely to be the emergency No. 4. And because he was signed to be a jammer/gunner on punt units, at least you know he'll be on the active list for game days — unlike the next three safety options, who'd all be (to varying degrees) at least somewhat more likely to be one of the five (to seven) mandatory inactives if any of them were to make the 53.

Bubba Bolden spent part of last season on Cleveland's PS and he'd probably do well to find his way there in 2023.
Update: Bolden has been waived/injured (hamstring). His spot will be filled by Nate Meadors, a safety who went undrafted in 2019; he's bounced around the NFL like a pair of dice in a cement mixer (MIN, JAX, PHI, CLE, NYG, TEN, CLE again).

Even with the subpar rookie season last year defensively from D'Anthony Bell (2022 UDFA) and the tackling woes of Ronnie Hickman (2023 UDFA), one of them should get a roster spot ahead of one of AB's failed picks he obstinately refuses to move on from (or both, then waive one after the Cincinnati game to make way for a player who, by that point, wouldn't be entitled to full Termination Pay if later cut). But with past behavior being the best predictor of future behavior, it seems like it'd be a safer bet that Cleveland's front office compulsively shoehorns some unfit schnook into this caricature of team assembly and self-evaluation sideshow somehow — instead of bringing in a player likely to have a more positive impact both now and for the future — than to predict a cut of one of Berry's little darlings. Without them cutting bait from some of the tangled fishing line AB has ensnared himself in, it's difficult to envision there being roster space here for the conventional 10-plus DBs.

Update: with injuries to Jakeem Grant Sr. and Jordan Kunaszyk, the Browns can probably keep four traditional safeties here.

- What it should look like:

SS Grant Delpit22
- Ronnie Hickman33
FS Juan Thornhill1
- Rodney McLeod26

- What it's more likely to look like:

SS Grant Delpit22
- D'Anthony Bell37
FS Juan Thornhill1
- Rodney McLeod26

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