Browns land Cleveland native, former Pro Bowler in free agency

The Browns are serious about special teams once again

Justin Hardee
Justin Hardee / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

A proud Cleveland native has come home. The Cleveland Browns announced on Tuesday they signed defensive back Justin Hardee, who spent the past three years with the New York Jets. Before that, he spent four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, who signed him after being waived by the Houston Texans in 2017.

Hardee developed into a trusted special teams player in New Orleans and then joined the Jets in 2021. He made the Pro Bowl in 2022 as a special teams ace, which is what he's going to be doing for the Browns.

Browns continue focus on special teams

In each of the past two seasons, the Browns have made special teams a priority. They signed Matthew Adams and Michael Ford in 2023 and each played well. Ford ended up leaving in free agency, signing with the Texans, and was quickly replaced by Tony Brown.

They also landed Nyheim Hines in free agency, who will serve as their primary returner. Hines, who missed the entire 2023 season due to a jet ski accident, has two punt returns for a touchdown and two kickoff returns for touchdowns as well in his career.

As if that wasn't enough, they even brought back Cade York. While he's not expected to kick — unless Dustin Hopkins gets injured — the Browns made sure to get some depth at that position as well.

Now they add Hardee, who Browns fans might remember from Week 17 last year. After Cleveland clinched a playoff berth over the Jets, Hardee met with Joe Flacco at midfield and told his former teammate to win it all for his hometown. Now Hardee can try and do that himself.

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