The Browns continued to overhaul their defensive backfield Friday by signing former Bills cornerback E.J. Gaines. Gaines, 26, will be reunited with Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who coached him from 2014-2016 with the Rams, both in St. Louis and Los Angeles.
Gaines was in Cleveland Friday for a free agent visit and he saw the Jets on Thursday. He also visited the Cardinals. Gaines (5-10, 190) will compete for a starting job in the Browns’ revamped defensive backfield.
He started 15 games for Williams in 2014 and 10 in 2016. He sat out the 2015 season with a Lisfranc foot injury. Gaines was traded to the Bills in August in exchange for Sammy Watkins, and had a good season in Buffalo, where he recorded 59 tackles, three forced fumbles, nine passes defensed and one interception in 11 starts.
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The Browns’ investment in the secondary this offseason means they might be looking elsewhere besides Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick at No. 4 overall. Other top candidates are North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
New general manager John Dorsey has been busy overhauling Cleveland’s defensive backfield. He also traded for cornerback Damarious Randall, signed free agents T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell and dealt cornerback Jason McCourty to New England.
Cornerback, outside linebacker and left tackle are considered the three biggest needs remaining for the Browns. They have nine draft choices in the 2018 NFL Draft, including five of the first 64. Cleveland has also been attached outside linebacker Junior Galette in free agency.
The 26-year-old struggled early in his career, particularly a problematic 2016 campaign. Some of those troubles were attributed to soft-tissue injuries.
Given that he did struggle in Williams’ system while flourishing outside of it, Gaines’ role in Cleveland will be one to track this offseason.