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Cap Casualties: Browns S John Johnson III

The 49ers have a need at safety, and Johnson could be another value signing that pays off.

Cleveland Browns v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported, barring a trade, the Browns will release safety John Johnson III at the start of the league year.

Johnson, 27, was entering the final year of his three-year contract he signed in 2021. It’s a move that’ll save Cleveland $9.7 million in cap space, although they’ll eat $3.7 million in dead money.

The 49ers currently don’t have a free safety. Tashaun Gipson had a career-year, but he’s a free agent. San Francisco doesn’t intend to pay Jimmie Ward safety money, leaving a void at the position.

Jordan Elliott went over his free agent wish in Adrian Amos. If the former Packer is out of the Niners price range, Johnson is quite the consolation prize.

Johnson has only missed significant time once since he came into the league in 2017. The former third rounder started all 17 games for the Browns last year. So, off the bat, we know he’s reliable.

I use Sports Info Solutions “total points saved” metric for players to get an idea of how they played and which players were around them statistically. Johnson’s 40 total points saved were in the same tier as Derwin James, Tyrann Mathieu, and Kevin Byard — a pretty good list!

Johnson’s positional versatility makes him an attractive asset. He played nearly 1200 snaps in 2022. Of those, 689 came at free safety, 250 came playing in the box, and 102 were at slot cornerback. He also played on four separate special teams units.

Johnson did not allow a touchdown in coverage this past season, but had four pass breakups, an interception, and eight tackles for loss. One stat that does not reflect well on Johnson’s season is his missed tackle rate, which was 15.9 percent — a number twice as high as Tashaun Gipson’s 7.8 missed tackle rate in 2022.

Then again, Gipson never had a number in single digits prior to joining San Francisco, while that was Johnson’s highest number since 2019.

It’s all about how Johnson fits in the 49ers defense and whether his valuation lines up with what the 49ers can pay.

Johnson was a consummate pro, despite Cleveland’s defense leaving a lot to be desired last season. His professionalism should be viewed as a positive, and I’ll always give a potential free agent a bump when they’re playing behind the Niners defensive line.