CLEVELAND (AP) — While awaiting word from Deshaun Watson, the Browns addressed needs by agreeing Wednesday to terms on contracts with free agent linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. and Pro Bowl returner Jakeem Grant, a person familiar with the deals told The Associated Press.
Cleveland also plans to release tight end Austin Hooper, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because teams can’t make free agency signings or other moves until the new NFL league year begins at 4 p.m.
Walker will sign a one-year contract to return for a second season with Cleveland, his agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed to AP.
Grant, chosen as a Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears last season, is getting a three-year deal worth up to $13.8 million.
And, Hooper, who has not lived up to the four-year, $42 million contract he signed as a free agent two years ago, is being designated as a post-June 1 release, which will allow the Browns to spread out his dead salary cap hit over two years, the person said.
Hooper twice made the Pro Bowl in four seasons for Atlanta. Since coming to Cleveland, he’s caught 84 passes for 780 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Browns recently placed a franchise tag on tight end David Njoku and also have Harrison Bryant under contract. Coach Kevin Stefanski favors multiple-tight end formations, so it’s likely the Browns will either sign or draft another player at the position.
On Tuesday, a contingent from Cleveland flew to Houston and visited Watson to make a recruiting pitch to the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback to possibly join the Browns.
Watson didn’t play last season because of lawsuits from 22 women who have accused him of sexual assault or harassment, and he still faces civil lawsuits after a grand jury declined to indict him last week.
Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract and would have to agree to any deal before the Texans can trade him.
Watson has also met with Carolina and New Orleans, and is reportedly meeting with Atlanta before making a decision. The Texans are seeking a bevy of draft picks, including three first-rounders, for one of the NFL’s elite QBs.
The Browns’ courtship with Watson has soured the team’s relationship with quarterback Baker Mayfield. He posted a letter late Tuesday night expressing that he doesn’t know where he’ll play next and thanked Cleveland fans for their support.
The No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Mayfield has had a turbulent four seasons with Cleveland. He took the Browns to the playoffs in 2020, but struggled last season after injuring his left shoulder in Week 2.
Still, Browns general manager Andrew Berry and Stefanski have said this offseason they expect Mayfield to “bounce back” in 2022.
However, it appears Mayfield’s days in Cleveland are over.
Walker provided leadership on a revamped Browns defense last season after signing as a free agent. He had 113 tackles in 13 games.
The 5-foot-7 Grant averaged 11.9 yards on 26 punt returns — one a 97-yard touchdown — in 2021. He averaged 23.4 yards on 23 kickoff returns.
The Browns’ return game hasn’t produced much the past two seasons and needed an upgrade.
Grant could also see time at wide receiver. The Browns need more depth at the position after releasing Jarvis Landry earlier this week. They agreed Saturday to a trade with Dallas for Amari Cooper, who will be the team’s No. 1 receiver.
The Browns also released center JC Tretter, the NFL Players Association president, to clear $8.2 million in salary cap space.