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John Johnson III reflects on his Browns tenure as Rams welcome Cleveland to SoFi Sunday

The Rams safety left LA in the 2021 to join the Browns, but was cut part way through his three-year deal

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams drafted safety John Johnson III in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft, being the first defensive selection of the Sean McVay era. Johnson played well in his first four years with LA, with most remembering his crucial interception in overtime against the New Orlean Saints during the 2019 NFC Championship that set-up the game-winning field goal to send the Rams to their first Super Bowl under McVay.

Johnson III signed a three-year, $33.75 million dollar deal from the Cleveland Browns in 2021 upon the expiration of his rookie deal. Unfortunately, during his two-year stint with the team, he never seemed to get back to the level of play that he exhibited in Los Angeles to warrant the big money contract, and was eventually cut after following the 2022 season.

With the Rams welcoming Cleveland to SoFi this weekend, Johnson spoke with Los Angeles Daily News’ Adam Grosbard and reflected upon his time with the Browns.

“I told somebody else it’s going to feel like practice a little bit,” Johnson said, “but we can actually go live, tackle them to ground. So it’ll be fun, but when I’m out there it’s a nameless, faceless opponent wearing orange colors.”

Speaking about his struggles in Cleveland, Johnson continued:

“I felt like I stayed stagnant, if anything,” Johnson continued “I felt like I was just kind of in limbo. … I probably could have did some things differently, but the past is the past and I got another opportunity to prove who I am.”

Cleveland Browns v Miami Dolphins Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

After being cut in March, Johnson found his way back to the team that drafted him, signing with Los Angeles on a one-year deal shortly before the season began. Johnson’s struggles continued though, causing him to not play much significant playing time early on, and even being benched at one point.

Since the Rams bye week though, Johnson’s play has improved greatly. On 46 snaps in a rotational role, he did not give up a single reception. This allowed him to get the start at safety last week against Arizona, where he had his best game of the season, contributing four tackles and two pass breakups, as well as an interception of Cardinals QB Kyler Murray on a 2-pt conversion.

“He really started to get better,” defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “He made some plays on the ball and then putting him out there to get into his natural flow and rhythm of the game with his communication.”

Against the Cardinals, Johnson was also the fourth highest graded player on defense, with a PFF score of 82.1, and along with Jordan Fuller, really seemed to shore up the backend of the Rams defense.

“I’ve always trained myself as a starter while I’m starting or if I’m not starting,” Johnson said. “So I was always going to be ready. My body feels good. I haven’t been taking all of the hits that the rest of the guys have, so I’m fresh, feel good and ready to just put some more tape out there.”

Johnson is a bargain for LA contract wise, with a cost of only $1.08 million this season. At one point Sean McVay called him a “foundational piece to what they were building” back in 2017, and while it remains to be seen if he can play himself into the extension he never got from Los Angeles originally, at only the veteran’s minimum price, not to mention the experience and depth Johnson brings to a very young defensive back room, it seems he has already justified his signing this year.