CLEVELAND — The Browns had a pressing need in the secondary. They addressed it Tuesday with a proven veteran.
The team agreed to a contract with cornerback Jason McCourty, 29, according to a pair of league sources. The deal is expected to be announced today, and is for two years and $6 million, NFL Network reported.
The Browns’ offseason search for secondary help didn’t stop after two months of free agency and the draft. They don’t have a clear-cut starter at free safety, and the cornerback depth took a hit Friday when rookie fourth-round cornerback Howard Wilson broke his kneecap during practice.
So McCourty should be an instant upgrade and assume a large role. He’s spent his eight-year career at cornerback — all with the Tennessee Titans — but a move to free safety could be an option.
Members of Cleveland’s front office and coaching staff took him to dinner Monday night and he visited team headquarters Tuesday, taking a physical.
McCourty has started 90 of 108 games with 13 interceptions, 72 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, a sack and 410 tackles. He is familiar with new Browns coordinator Gregg Williams, who served as a senior defensive assistant with the Titans in 2013.
Over the weekend McCourty told NJ Advance Media seven or eight teams had shown interest since he was released by the Titans on April 13, more than a month into free agency. He was due $7 million in the final year of a six-year, $43 million deal and wouldn’t take a pay cut, the Tennessean reported.
McCourty’s twin brother, Devin, plays for the Patriots and they’ve talked about playing together. McCourty said he’d like to play for a contender after never reaching the playoffs but added it wasn’t the only factor.
“You place value in the opportunity you have to get to the playoffs and win it,” he told NJ Advance Media. “But also just the opportunity that the team you are going to sees a role for you.
“They want you there. They think you are a piece that’s missing for them. I think that’s the biggest thing. Whatever it is in life, you want to be wanted and you want to feel that you have value in being there. You want that to come along with winning and being in a great environment.”
The Browns are looking for a drastic turnaround following a 1-15 season and aren’t expected to challenge for a playoff spot this year but still enticed McCourty.
Owner Dee Haslam said the decision to draft Florida defensive lineman Caleb Brantley was made by the football department, which is led by Sashi Brown. Brantley was involved in an incident last month in which he allegedly knocked a woman unconscious. The state’s attorney is deciding whether to file charges.
Haslam said Brown didn’t have to get approval from ownership.
“No, we really trust our football personnel group to make these decisions and they vet every situation very carefully,” she said at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new athletic field at John Adams High School. “Sashi and our personnel group have done an amazing job.
“So we’re excited to have Caleb on the team. We feel like he’s doing the right things to get better.”
Haslam is excited about the recent draft class and the team’s future but still carries scars from 2016.
“We knew last year was going to be painful. I don’t think any of us saw 1-15,” she said. “That was extremely painful. But we put a plan in place. We’re following that plan.
“We’re very excited about where we are. We’re very excited about where we’re going. So that’s what we have to count on, and I think following the plan is the key to our success.”
A pair of tryout players impressed the Browns enough during rookie minicamp to be added to the roster.
Defensive backs Najee Murray and Donte Carey were signed Monday, a day after minicamp ended. Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Josh Boutte was waived.
The roster was at the maximum of 90 before McCourty, so a move will have to be made.
Murray (5-foot-8, 182 pounds) played 27 games for Kent State, with 100 tackles, 21 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
Carey (5-11, 199) started 23 of 53 games at Grand Valley State, totaling 134 tackles, 20 passes defensed and seven interceptions.