Christian Kirksey

Packers Cut Christian Kirksey, Rick Wagner

The Packers turned to street free agents Christian Kirksey and Rick Wagner to plug lineup holes last March. A year later, both are out of the picture.

Both veterans received notice they are being released. The Packers announced the cuts Friday. They released Kirksey with a failed-physical designation, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter).

Green Bay will create just more than $10MM in cap space by making these moves. Wagner is considering retirement, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.

This is familiar territory for both. The Browns dropped Kirksey after six seasons in 2020; this move came around the same time the Lions cut Wagner after three seasons. The Packers scooped both up and turned to them as regular first-stringers. Wagner started nine games; Kirksey started 11.

The Packers recently created $8MM in cap space by restructuring David Bakhtiari‘s contract. They are now close to $20MM in savings over the past week, which should lead to speculation they are eyeing a certain Wisconsin native. J.J. Watt remains a free agent and has been connected to the Bills and Browns thus far. But the Packers make sense as a Watt landing spot, given the superstar defensive end’s ties to the area and Green Bay having qualified for the past two NFC championship games.

Pro Football Focus graded Wagner well last season, slotting him as the No. 23 overall tackle. While he struggled against Shaquil Barrett in the latter’s three-sack NFC title game, Wagner should draw interest — if, in fact, he chooses to play in 2021. Wagner has played eight NFL seasons, doing so after being a fifth-round Ravens draftee in 2013. With Wagner gone and Bakhtiari suffering an Achilles tear on New Year’s Eve, the Packers have a major need at tackle.

The Browns acquired Kirksey in the 2014 third round. He began his career as a high-end cog on bad Cleveland teams, but his early work prompted the Browns to give him a deal worth north of $10MM annually. However, Kirksey struggled with injuries in 2018 and ’19. His 11-game 2020 season, which featured 77 tackles and two sacks, continued the injury theme to the latter part of his career but also doubled as his most extensive work sample in years. Kirksey will turn 29 just ahead of the 2021 season.

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Packers Activate Christian Kirksey From IR

Christian Kirksey will be back in uniform on Sunday. The Packers are activating the veteran linebacker from IR after a lengthy stay without one of their starters.

Green Bay parked the former Cleveland standout on IR because of a September shoulder injury. The offseason addition has been out since Week 3. His return will stand to help a Packers defense that has struggled this season.

After a strong start to his career led to the Browns signing off on an eight-figure-per-year extension, Kirksey has not shown he can stay healthy consistently in recent years. He missed 23 games during his final two Browns seasons and became a 2020 cap casualty. Kirksey still received considerable interest as a street free agent this offseason and signed a two-year, $13MM deal with the Packers. Green Bay guaranteed Kirksey $4MM but can drop him after 2020 and save $6MM, making the second half of this season key for the seventh-year vet.

The Packers also promoted wide receiver Juwann Winfree from their practice squad. The team did not activate Allen Lazard from IR, despite their No. 2 wideout making the trip to San Francisco in Week 9. In order for Lazard to return this season, he must be activated ahead of the Packers’ Week 11 game. The Packers are also elevating cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell and Stanford Samuels and safety Henry Black.

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Packers Place Christian Kirksey On IR

Packers inside linebacker Christian Kirksey sustained a shoulder injury during the team’s Sunday night victory over the Saints, and Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reported earlier this week that Kirksey would miss at least one game as a result. Unfortunately, the Packers placed the 28-year-old ‘backer on IR today, sidelining him for at least three games.

It’s a tough break for Kirksey, who was released by the Browns in March following two injury-marred seasons. An assortment of ailments limited him to just seven games in 2018, and he missed all but two games of the 2019 campaign due to a broken collarbone. He still managed to find a nice payday in free agency, landing a two-year, $13MM contract from Green Bay after generating a significant amount of interest on the open market.

He played in all of the Packers’ defensives snaps over the first two games of the season, recording 12 total tackles in each contest. He also served as the defensive signal-caller. 2019 seventh-rounder Ty Summers filled in for Kirksey and wore the speaker helmet, and the team reported no communication issues.

Still, if Kirksey is out for an extended period, Green Bay could look to sign a veteran, especially since the club is also starting UDFA rookie Krys Barnes at the other inside linebacker spot. Players like Wesley Woodyard and old friend Jake Ryan currently headline the available ILBs.

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Extra Points: Stanley, Tate, Broncos, TV

The Ravens and Ronnie Stanley began discussing an extension in February, but after taking a long break prior to an August negotiation resumption, the sides remain without a deal. An understandable reason may be holding up the talks. Buzz has emerged that Stanley is seeking a contract that pays him north of Laremy Tunsil‘s market-reshaping $22MM-per-year pact, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes (Insider link). Stanley has been diplomatic about the talks, but he is poised to cash in soon. Tunsil, of course, carried unique leverage after the Texans dealt two first-round picks to land him. Stanley, however, is Baltimore’s top lineman and became a top-tier tackle ahead of his contract year. The Ravens will have the option of a pricey franchise tag, in a year when the cap could plummet by a record margin, if they cannot extend Stanley by the March tag deadline.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • In another AFC North matter, one of the Bengals‘ wide receivers may be unhappy. And it is not A.J. Green. The Bengals made Auden Tate a healthy scratch Thursday night, and his agent floated the prospect of a trade. While Deiric Jackson stopped short of saying his client has requested one, it is clear Team Tate is not content. “He was healthy and ready to go,” Jackson said, via CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin. “If they don’t know how to use him, I’m sure there are plenty of other teams that would love to have a weapon like that offensively.” Tate played 15 snaps in Cincinnati’s opener. The Bengals used the 6-foot-5 target frequently last season — when he caught 40 passes for 575 yards — but now have Green back and second-rounder Tee Higgins in the fold. Two seasons remain on Tate’s seventh-round contract.
  • The Broncos have put off major investments at inside linebacker since Brandon Marshall‘s 2016 extension, but Mike Klis of 9News notes the team considered both signing street free agent Christian Kirksey and using its first-round pick on Patrick Queen this year. This is not the first time the Broncos were linked to a first-round likebacker under Vic Fangio. Had they not executed a trade-down for Noah Fant in the 2019 first round, they would have chosen Devin Bush 10th overall. Denver, which cut longtime starter Todd Davis this month, used 2019 breakout player Alexander Johnson and 2018 draftee Josey Jewell as its three-down ‘backers Monday.
  • Phillip Lindsay will not be available for the Broncos against the Steelers. The talented running back is battling turf toe, leaving Royce Freeman as Melvin Gordon‘s top Week 2 backup.
  • Blake Bortles remains a free agent, but the former Jaguars starter and Rams backup is waiting on the right situation to open up, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. After starting for five seasons, Bortles threw just two passes in 2019.
  • NFL owners are confident they will have “groundbreaking” TV deals in place by early 2021, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports. The league was making progress during its negotiations with networks prior to the pandemic, and La Canfora adds that the contracts would likely have been finalized were it not for COVID-19. The next round of TV contracts were expected to be a game-changer for the NFL; projections of a $260MM-plus salary cap within a few years surfaced this past winter. While fanless stadiums amid the pandemic will cut into that short-term growth, teams authorizing big extensions in recent weeks points to confidence in long-term financial stability. The NFL’s ESPN contract expires after the 2021 season; its deals with the other networks are not up until the end of 2022.

Contract Details: Castonzo, Kirksey, Cousins, Jarwin

Packers To Sign LB Christian Kirksey

Christian Kirksey made his decision early Monday morning. After visiting three teams last week, the free agent linebacker will sign with the Packers, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets.

Kirksey agreed to a two-year, $16MM deal with Green Bay, per Garafolo. The six-year veteran will reunite with Mike Pettine, the Packers’ DC who drafted him when he was the Browns’ head coach back in 2014.

This marks a notable move for a Packers team that does not usually devote much funding to off-ball linebackers. The team is expected to let top tackler Blake Martinez hit the market and find his second contract elsewhere. Now, the team has an $8MM-AAV contract at this position. Kirksey also adds to a suddenly expensive linebacking corps, with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith each earning north of $13MM annually.

It represents another deviation under GM Brian Gutekunst, who has shown a greater willingness to spend in free agency than predecessor Ted Thompson. However, this signing — since Kirksey was a street free agent — will not affect the Packers’ compensatory formula.

The 27-year-old linebacker visited the Raiders and Bills while also communicating with the Ravens. Despite coming off two injury-marred seasons, the recently released defender landed a contract that pays him nearly what his previous Browns deal did. Cleveland signed Kirksey to a $9.5MM-per-year extension and saw the former third-round pick total 286 tackles between the 2016-17 seasons. He will now have a chance to revive his career in a familiar system.

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Ravens In Mix For Christian Kirksey

Christian Kirksey made three visits this week, and the former Browns starter wants to choose a new team soon. In addition to the Bills, Packers and Raiders, a fourth suitor may be lurking.

The Ravens have entered the mix for Kirksey, with ESPN.com’s Josina Anderson reporting they have communicated with the recently available linebacker (Twitter link). Kirksey has not visited the Ravens but did trek to Buffalo, Las Vegas and Green Bay this week.

The Browns made the 27-year-old off-ball ‘backer a cap casualty earlier this week, but a fairly sizable market has emerged for the longtime starter. Prior to injury-plagued 2018 and ’19 seasons, Kirksey combined for 286 tackles from 2016-17. The Ravens also have questions at this spot. Patrick Onwuasor and Josh Bynes are free agents. Baltimore did, however, extend in-season addition L.J. Fort. But the team will likely add inside linebacker help in free agency or the draft.

Since Kirksey is a street free agent, he will not count toward the compensatory formula. The Ravens have been known to prioritize those selections, holding a substantial lead on the rest of the NFL in accumulating those. They are projected to hold just $21MM in cap space. That number lags well behind the Bills’ $81MM and Raiders’ $55MM in offseason funds.

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Christian Kirksey To Visit Bills

The third team on Christian Kirksey‘s post-Browns-release itinerary has emerged. Kirksey is visiting the Bills on Friday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter).

This summit follows Kirksey meetings with the Raiders and Packers. It was reported shortly after the Browns cut Kirksey that the linebacker had scheduled three visits. Two of those are 2019 playoff teams, so it will be interesting to see where the formerly well-paid linebacker goes.

Free agency is still set for its soft opening Monday. That will open the market to linebackers coming off better seasons than Kirksey. The six-year veteran would like to make his decision “fairly soon,” Josina Anderson of ESPN.com tweets.

Buffalo houses extension candidate Matt Milano and the fast-emerging Tremaine Edmunds at off-ball linebacker; finding a Kirksey fit here is more difficult than it is for Las Vegas or Green Bay. Kirksey was a part of a once-formidable Cleveland linebacking corps, which housed Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert and, for a short time, Mychal Kendricks. With the Bills, he would help form one of the league’s top linebacker cadres.

The Bills, however, easily outflank the Packers and Raiders in cap space. Buffalo holds nearly $82MM — third-most in the league — and would certainly not have to pay Kirksey what the pre-John Dorsey Cleveland regime did. The Browns gave Kirksey a $9.5MM-AAV extension in 2017 but saw injuries limit him. But he is still just 27 and profiles as a player looking to revive his value after two lost seasons. Prior to the injury-marred 2018 and ’19 slates, Kirksey combined for 281 tackles between the 2016-17 campaigns.

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Packers To Meet With Christian Kirksey

The Packers are set to meet with free agent linebacker Christian Kirksey on Thursday, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter). Kirksey left his Raiders visit without a deal this week, though Garafolo hears that a deal is still possible with Las Vegas. 

Kirksey, 27, was cut by the Browns earlier this month. In Cleveland, he was equally known for his tenacious play and his charitable work. On the field, he appeared in 73 career games and made 54 starts over the course of six seasons. Recently, however, he has has been slowed by injuries. In 2018, a hamstring injury kept him out for more than half of the season. Last year, he only played in two games thanks to a pec tear.

The Browns re-upped Kirksey to a four-year, $38MM extension before the 2017 season. Even before the injuries started, Kirksey’s performance was dipping off a bit, as shown by the advanced metrics in ’18. It was a sharp contrast from 2017, when he tallied 148 total stops.

Kirksey would be a logical fit for both the Raiders and Packers, and he’d come at a much cheaper rate than his previous contract.

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Christian Kirksey To Visit Raiders

The Raiders have plenty of holes in their linebacker corps, and the expectation is that they will turn to both free agency and the draft to fill those holes. Las Vegas is already starting on the free agency route, as Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network reports that the club will meet with veteran LB Christian Kirksey today (Twitter link).

Kirksey, 27, was released by the Browns just yesterday. We subsequently heard that he had three visits lined up, but we did not know the details of those visits. Now, we know that the Raiders are the first stop on his tour.

Kirksey played in 73 games and started 54 times over the course of six years in Cleveland. After his first four years of perfect attendance, the injury bug derailed him a bit. In 2018, he was held back by a hamstring injury, and last year, a torn pectoral muscle shut him down after just two games.

In addition to the injury issues, the 2014 third-rounder’s performance started to suffer not long after he signed a four-year, $38MM extension in May 2017. He finished the 2016 season with a whopping 148 tackles and was Pro Football Focus’ 22nd-best LB, but prior to being shut down in 2018, he graded out as one of the league’s ten worst ‘backers.

Still, he is not too far removed from high-end production, and his fit in Las Vegas is obvious. The Raiders released Tahir Whitehead on Monday, and recent reports have indicated that Marquel Lee is likely the only linebacker who will return next season.

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