Christian Kirksey

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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Extra Points: Bennett, NFLPA, Cap, Kirksey

Although Michael Bennett went through a nomadic late-2010s stretch after the Seahawks traded him in 2018, he remained productive. The veteran defensive lineman has registered 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons and is a free agent for the first time since 2013. Bennett, who signed with the Seahawks in 2013, would like to return to the team to which he’s most linked. Asked if he would want to play for the Seahawks again, the 34-year-old defender said “hard yes.” Bennett, though, has not yet committed to playing a 12th NFL season.

I would love to end my career in Seattle,” Bennett said, via Joe Fann of NBC Sports Northwest. “It’s not up to you, though. It’s up to the team.”

The Seahawks gave Bennett two contracts, including a three-year, $31.5MM extension in 2016. That contract was set to run through 2020, but after the Eagles and Patriots traded him, Bennett and the Cowboys restructured the deal to direct him toward free agency this year. Seattle has most of its pass rushers — including Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed — as impending free agents, so the franchise will have critical decisions to make in the next week and change.

Here is the latest from around the league, moving first to the reconfigured NFLPA:

  • Russell Okung has enjoyed an eventful March, being traded from the Chargers to the Panthers and filing an unfair labor practice charge at the NFLPA staff. As for Okung’s status with the union, he will no longer be part of the NFLPA’s executive committee, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Okung dropped his bid for NFLPA president, throwing support behind Michael Thomas in a race that went to Browns center J.C. Tretter. Both of the players Tretter beat out for the job — Thomas and linebacker Sam Acho — will stay on as executive committee members.
  • Calais Campbell, Malcolm Jenkins and Wesley Woodyard will replace Mark Herzlich, Zak DeOssie and Adam Vinatieri on the executive committee. They will join Tretter, Acho, Thomas, Richard Sherman, Ben Watson, Alex Mack, Lorenzo Alexander and Thomas Morstead on the 11-man committee, the union announced.
  • Rumblings about the salary cap rising to around $230MM by 2021 have surfaced, but the 2020 cap will not move too far from the previously estimated $200MM amount. If the players approve the CBA proposal, the highest the cap would surge to in 2020 would be $206MM, per Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic (subscription required). While the salary ceiling could climb significantly by 2023, if the league’s TV negotiations go well, those spikes will not come until at least 2021.
  • Christian Kirksey may have a chance to land on his feet before free agency. Recently released by the Browns, the veteran linebacker has three visits scheduled, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets. Kirksey’s travel itinerary is not yet known, but the 27-year-old defender’s first visit is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
  • The Texans will take a look at a notable wide receiver soon. They will work out former Broncos rotational cog Jordan Taylor, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle notes. Taylor has not played since the 2017 season. He spent 2018 on the Broncos’ PUP list, and though he caught on with the Vikings last year, the 28-year-old target did not see game action.

Browns Release Christian Kirksey

The Browns have released linebacker Christian Kirksey, per a club announcement. Kirksey was one of the team’s longest-tenured players, but the club’s revamped regime did not see him as a part of their plans in 2020. 

Christian Kirksey has been a vital member of our organization for the last six seasons because of his contributions on and off the field,” said Browns GM Andrew Berry, who overlapped with Kirksey in his original stint from 2016-2018. “He has been a strong leader both in our locker room and in the Cleveland community. These are difficult decisions and, in Christian’s case, more challenging because of how well he has represented our team. We thank him for his dedication and wish him nothing but the best in the next phase of his career.”

Kirksey played in 73 games and started 54 times over the course of six years. 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. Last year, a torn pectoral muscle shut him down after just two games. He leaves the Browns after notching 484 stops, 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles. More importantly, he’ll leave behind a legacy of charitable work in the Cleveland area.

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Browns LB Christian Kirksey Undergoes Surgery, Won’t Return This Season

Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey recently underwent surgery to correct the torn pectoral muscle he suffered in Week 2, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Kirksey had already been placed on injured reserve, but had surgery not been required, there was at least some chance he could have returned later this season. Instead, he’ll miss the remainder of the year.

A third-round pick in the 2014 draft, Kirksey had been an iron man to start his career, playing in 64 consecutive games from 2014 through 2017. Last season, however, Kirksey went down with a hamstring injury and missed the final nine games of the campaign.

Kirksey, 27, became a full-time starter for the Browns in 2016, and averaged 143 tackles per year over the next two seasons. In May 2017, Cleveland extended Kirksey for four years and $38MM, locking him in through 2021. He’ll count for $9.95MM and $10.45MM on the Browns’ salary cap in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Fifth-round rookie Mack Wilson will continue to start in place of Kirksey, playing linebacker next to Joe Schobert. Wilson has played 100% of Cleveland’s defensive snaps since taking over for Kirksey in Week 3.

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Browns Place LB Christian Kirksey On IR

Browns captain Christian Kirksey is heading to the injured reserve. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reports (via Twitter) that the starting linebacker will be placed on the IR with a chest injury. The team has promoted linebacker Willie Harvey Jr. in a corresponding move.

We learned earlier today that Kirksey was seeking opinions on his chest injury. Cabot writes that the 27-year-old was hurt during Monday night’s win over the Jets. The ailment will keep Kirksey sidelined for at least eight games, although Cabot writes that if the torn pectoral muscle requires surgery, he could be done for the season.

The 2014 third-round has spent his entire career with the Browns, and he averaged 143 tackles per season between 2016 and 2017 (leading to a four-year, $38MM extension). Kirksey was limited to only seven games in 2018 as he dealt with a hamstring injury. In two games this season, he’s compiled 11 total tackles.

Fifth-round rookie Mack Wilson will likely slide into the starting lineup in place of Kirksey. The team could also turn to backups Malik JeffersonSione Takitaki, or Harvey Jr..

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