Just before the season, Christian Kirksey ventured to Buffalo on a practice squad agreement. The veteran linebacker prioritized signing with a contender, upon not making the Texans’ 53-man roster. But he does not plan to stay on with the Bills.
Instead, the 10th-year vet has informed the team he plans to retire, NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo reports. Kirksey, 31, spent time with the Browns, Packers and Texans before coming to Buffalo. Prior to this season, the former third-round pick had been a regular starter in each of his previous nine seasons. The Bills have since announced Kirksey’s retirement plan.
To fill Kirksey’s spot on the practice squad, Garafolo adds the Bills are planning to bring back A.J. Klein. The off-and-on Bills regular was with the team during training camp. Klein re-signed with the Bills in April but was among the vested veterans not to make the team’s 53-man roster in August. The 11th-year veteran has remained in free agency since that cut.
Chosen by the Browns during what became an infamous draft for the team, Kirksey ended up a long-term starter for the downtrodden franchise. After selecting first-round busts Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, the Browns did very well on Day 2 of the 2014 draft. They added Joel Bitonio in Round 2 and Kirksey in Round 3, taking the Iowa linebacker at No. 71 overall. Bitonio has become one of the Browns’ best players since the 1999 reboot, while Kirksey became a six-year starter for the team.
Kirksey’s post-Cleveland tenure provided a bounce-back effort after injuries sidetracked him as the 2010s wound down. After the Browns released him in 2020, Kirksey wound up with the Packers and started for a team that reached the NFC championship game. The Packers also released Kirksey, however, leading him to the Texans as one of the many veterans to stop through Houston on short-term accords during Nick Caserio‘s GM tenure. Kirksey spent the past two years in Houston, starting 29 games with the rebuilding team. After signing an extension to stay with the Texans in 2022, he started all 17 games and posted a 124-tackle, three-sack, two-interception season.
Excepting his 2020 Green Bay cameo, Kirksey did his best work for struggling teams. The off-ball ‘backer notched a career-high 148 tackles (11 for loss) during the Browns’ 1-15 season in 2016, earning a four-year, $38MM extension during the 2017 offseason. Cleveland then completed the NFL’s second 0-16 season, doing so despite rostering the likes of Bitonio, Kirksey, Joe Thomas and well-paid ILB Jamie Collins. The Browns cut bait on Kirksey’s deal with two years remaining, and he never came especially close to securing that kind of cash again. Still, Kirksey will leave the game having made more than $37MM.
Offering intermittent sack production despite his place on teams’ defensive second levels, Kirksey finishes his career with 16.5 sacks and 45 tackles for loss. He produced three 100-plus-tackle seasons.