Browns continue to add defensive help
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns stayed inside their division — and state borders — to add some defensive help.
Cleveland beefed up its front by agreeing to a one-year contract with free agent Andrew Billings, who spent the past three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. His agency, SportsTrust Advisors, announced the move on Twitter with a posting that read: “Same state, new team, Congrats, @BillingsAndrew!”
A fourth-round pick in 2016 by Cincinnati, Billings will give the Browns some depth up front and potentially a starter to play alongside Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi, who can both stop the run and get to the quarterback.
The 25-year-old Billings started 37 games after missing his rookie season with a knee injury. He started 30 games in the past two seasons and made 67 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in that span.
Also, the Browns added a nickel back by agreeing on a one-year deal with cornerback Kevin Johnson, who played with Buffalo last year after spending four in Houston.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Johnson can help with covering slot receivers. The Browns already have two solid young cornerbacks in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams — both former first-round picks.
The 6-foot-1, 328-pound Billings and Johnson are among four defensive free agents locked up in the past 24 hours by first-time Browns general manager Andrew Berry. On Wednesday, he agreed to deals with linebacker B.J. Goodson and safety Karl Joseph.
While the NFL has loosened its policy on announcing deals in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Browns have not yet officially announced any of their free-agent signings. Typically, teams must wait until prospective players complete their physicals before contracts can be finalized, signed and made public.
Earlier this week, the team reached contract agreements with free agent right tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper, and quarterback Case Keenum. The Browns also agreed to acquire fullback Andy Janovich in a trade from the Denver Broncos in exchange for a 2021 seventh-round draft pick.
The Browns also reached an agreement Thursday with kick returner JoJo Natson, who played college ball at nearby Akron.
The 26-year-old Natson spent the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams following one year with the New York Jets.
He’s averaged 9.5 yards on punt returns and 20.9 on kickoffs the past two years.
Cleveland’s special teams made major improvements last season under coordinator Mike Priefer, but the return game was not as good as he would have liked. The speedy, 5-foot-7, 153-pound Natson should help.
Goodson, who played for Green Bay last season, will take over for departed middle linebacker Joe Schobert, and Joseph’s deal is for one year. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the players can’t finalize their deals until they’ve taken physicals.
On Monday, Browns’ general manager Andrew Berry showed his resolve to improve Cleveland’s offense by agreeing to contracts with right tackle Jack Conklin (three years, $42 million), tight end Austin Hooper (four years, $42 million) and backup veteran quarterback Case Keenum (three years, $18 million).
Berry also struck a deal Tuesday with Denver to acquire fullback Andy Janovich from the Denver Broncos for a seventh-round draft pick in 2021.