Christian Kirksey

Browns Place Kirksey, Gaines On IR

The Browns placed linebacker Christian Kirksey (hamstring) and defensive back E.J. Gaines (concussion) on injured reserve, according to a team announcement. Both players were forced out during the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs and those injuries have ended their seasons prematurely. 

Kirksey, a fifth-year veteran and team captain, started all seven of his games for the Browns this year. In that time, he racked up 29 tackles, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. Kirksey averaged 90 tackles and three sacks between 2016 and 2017, so those numbers were off of his usual pace. According to Pro Football Focus, it has been a subpar 2018 for Kirksey, who currently ranks as one of the ten worst qualified LBs in the league. Still, losing Kirksey is a blow to the Browns D.

The Browns are hoping to get Joe Schobert back on the field soon and his return should take some of the sting out out of losing Kirksey. Schobert has been held out of the last three games with a hamstring ailment of his own.

Gaines joined the Browns on a one-year, $4MM deal in the offseason. Unfortunately, he’s done for the year after suffering his second concussion of the season. Gaines started in two of his six games and snagged his lone interception of the year against the Raiders in September.

To fill one of the vacated roster spots, the Browns have signed defensive back Juston Burris off the Jets’ practice squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Sign Christian Kirksey To Extension

The Browns announced they signed linebacker Christian Kirksey to a four-year contract extension. It’s a four-year, $38MM deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Christian Kirksey (vertical)

[RELATED: Will Mitch Trubisky Be The Highest-Impact Rookie Quarterback?]

The new deal makes Kirksey the fifth-highest paid player in Cleveland. After Kirksey led the team with 140 tackles – putting him nearly 50 tackles ahead of the next-highest producer – it was no surprise to hear that the Browns were working to extend him this spring. He also graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd best LB last season, putting him ahead of notables such as Brian Cushing, Mark Barron, Ryan Shazier, and Danny Trevathan.

First round picks in the 2014 draft will have to wait one more year before signing extensions with their respective teams, but Kirksey was able to get himself some security this offseason as a former third rounder. His selection proved to be one of the best things to happen to the team under the watch of former GM Mike Lombardi.

This year, the Browns will move Kirksey from inside linebacker to the weak side in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams‘ 4-3 scheme. According to Over The Cap, if the deal were to kick in today, it would make Kirksey the third highest-paid 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Rumors: Browns, Villanueva, Vikings

Ryan Grigson will be working on a much lower level with the Browns than he did during his five seasons as the Colts’ GM, but his new employer wants to get the longtime exec back to what he’s believed to do best. The Browns are going to deploy Grigson as a “super scout” of sorts, with Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reporting the team believes that is Grigson’s biggest strength. Grigson worked as an NFL scout with the Rams and Eagles from 1999-2009 before becoming Philadelphia’s director of player personnel in 2010. Pluto notes the 45-year-old Grigson will scout pro and college players and travel to schools to gauge talent in his new role, one that will feature him reporting to former Colts subordinate Andrew Berry.

Here’s more out of Cleveland and some other northern NFL cities.

  • The Browns’ contract talks with Isaiah Crowell have stalled for the time being, per Pluto. But the Browns are expected to revisit discussions about an extension for their starting running back “at some point.” Crowell signed his second-round RFA tender earlier this month and as his contract year approaches is in position for a possible career campaign. The Browns devoted considerable resources to upgrading their offensive line this offseason, signing Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter, and extending Joel Bitonio. Crowell averaged 4.8 yards per carry, rushing for 952 on a 1-15 team, so the 24-year-old back could be in line to enhance his value with a strong 2017.
  • Returning Browns tackles leader Christian Kirksey also profiles as player the team wants to extend, Pluto notes, hearing extension talks between the team and the linebacker are progressing. The former third-round pick is moving from inside linebacker in Cleveland’s 3-4 look to the 4-3 weak-side ‘backer, but he should retain a three-down role alongside Jamie Collins. Kirksey’s 143 stops last season were nearly 50 more than the second-best Browns tackler, and the emerging player is entering a contract year.
  • Alejandro Villanueva hasn’t signed his Steelers ERFA tender yet. As it stands now, Pittsburgh’s left tackle starter would be paid $615K this season. Villanueva profiles as an interesting case, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, noting the 28-year-old former Army Ranger is attending Carnegie-Mellon business school and could have options if an NFL career doesn’t unfold to his liking. Fowler also notes the Steelers won’t be keen on giving Villanueva more than high-end right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who makes $6.1MM per year. While the Steelers are in commanding position here due to ERFAs’ lack of leverage, Villaneuva obviously saw the going rate for steady tackles rise this offseason. The Steelers were working to extend their third-year left tackle starter in February, but Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the sides aren’t progressing on an extension. Gilbert believes Villanueva is “very deserving” of a new deal.
  • Jerick McKinnon has largely been forgotten in the Vikings‘ backfield competition this offseason, but the fourth-year back remains on the roster and has added some weight to his lighter (for an NFL running back) frame. The 5-foot-9 McKinnon bulked up to 211 pounds from 200 this offseason, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. That said, the Vikes signed Latavius Murray and used a second-round pick on Dalvin Cook. It’s likely McKinnon — a former college quarterback — will be the No. 3 back.

Extra Points: Beckham, Bears, Browns

Odell Beckham Jr. did not report to Day 1 of Giants OTAs, Dan Duggan of NJ.com reports. The reason for the absence is not known, per Duggan. These are voluntary workouts, so Beckham cannot be fined for missing them. The Giants will convene again Tuesday, and Thursday’s session will be the first featuring media availability. Duggan reports Beckham being absent for this part of Big Blue’s calendar isn’t new; the superstar wideout was not a consistent presence at last year’s OTAs. The three-time Pro Bowl receiver is attached to a $1.8MM salary in 2017, but New York predictably picked up his $8.5MM fifth-year option. Beckham is now eligible for an extension that would stand to be in line with the top receivers in football, and while he’s displayed some mercurial tendencies, he’s already shown himself to be historically dominant Giants playmaker.

Here’s the latest from around the league.

  • The Bears are in the process of moving Kyle Long to a third position, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports. He and Josh Sitton are set to swap spots, with Long shuttling to left guard and Sitton sliding over to the right side. Sitton has extensive experience at both guard slots, having played at least four years at each. Long, though, has never played left guard in the NFL. He played right tackle in 2015 but was relocated back to his customary right guard slot last season. Long did suit up at left guard while at Oregon. Long is still rehabbing from the ankle injury that ended his season after eight games, Biggs reports. Sitton started at right guard from 2009-12 for the Packers, who switched he and T.J. Lang in 2013 because of Lang’s more physical approach.
  • Justin Pugh signing an extension this offseason would come as a surprise to NJ.com’s James Kratch, who writes that it makes sense for neither side to rush this process. The Giants want to see Pugh make it through a season unscathed after he missed nine combined games between 2014-16. Pugh discussed being in a good spot regarding his second contract, seemingly content to reach free agency after noticing the guard deals of March.
  • Jason McCourty is a possible free safety candidate for the Browns, Pat McManamon of ESPN.com notes. Hue Jackson said the newly acquired defender, a career-long corner, would get a look at safety and the team would play the best four in the secondary. Ed Reynolds will start Cleveland’s OTA workouts at safety, per Jackson. Upon signing, McCourty said he’d be willing to play free safety. Twin brother Devin McCourty, of course, has been a standout back-line defender for the Patriots. It would certainly behoove the Browns to involve McCourty as much as possible, and they are light on experience at safety. They still have Jamar Taylor, who played better in Cleveland than he did in Miami, at corner and drafted Jabrill Peppers as a safety. But the latter doesn’t have much experience there.
  • The Browns will relocate inside linebacker Christian Kirksey to the weak side in Gregg Williams‘ 4-3 look, McManamon reports. Kirksey led the Browns by nearly 50 tackles last season by registering 148 stops.

2017 Proven Performance Escalators

According to the NFL’s contractual bargaining agreement, players drafted in rounds three though seven are entitled to raises during the fourth year of their respective rookie contracts. The pay bumps are tied to playing time — a player must have played in 35% of his team’s offensive or defensive snaps in two of his first three seasons, or averaged 35% playing time cumulatively during that period.Donte Moncrief (Vertical)

If one of these thresholds is met, the player’s salary is elevated to the level of that year’s lowest restricted free agent tender — that figure should be around $1.8MM in 2017. Players selected in the first or second round, undrafted free agents, and kickers/punters are ineligible for the proven performance escalator.

Here are the players who will see their salary rise in 2017 courtesy of the proven performance escalator:

49ers: Aaron Lynch, LB; Marcus Martin, OL

Bears: Charles Leno, T; Will Sutton, DT

Bengals: Russell Bodine, C

Bills: Preston Brown, LB; Seantrel Henderson, T

Broncos: Michael Schofield, OL

Browns: Christian Kirksey, LB

Buccaneers: Kevin Pamphile, G

Cardinals: John Brown, WR

Chiefs: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, G; Zach Fulton, G; Phillip Gaines, CB

Colts: Donte Moncrief, WR

Cowboys: Anthony Hitchens, LB

Falcons: Devonta Freeman, RB

Giants: Devon Kennard, LB

Jaguars: Aaron Colvin, CB; Brandon Linder, G; Telvin Smith, LB

Lions: Nevin Lawson, CB; Travis Swanson, C

Packers: Corey Linsley, C; Richard Rodgers, TE

Panthers: Tre Boston, S; Trai Turner, G

Raiders: T.J. Carrie, CB; Justin Ellis, DT; Gabe Jackson, G

Rams: Maurice Alexander, S; E.J. Gaines, CB

Redskins: Bashaud Breeland, CB; Spencer Long, G; Morgan Moses, T

Texans: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE; Andre Hal, S

Titans: DaQuan Jones, DL; Avery Williamson, LB

Vikings: Shamar Stephen, DT

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Rumors: RG3, Browns, Ravens

Here’s the latest on the AFC North as we wrap up one of the final Sundays without football on the 2016 calendar.

  • Reports pegged Robert Griffin III‘s first offseason in Cleveland as a hit-and-miss endeavor, and Josh McCown remains on the Browns‘ roster after being the team’s most effective starter during 2015. But Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer still expects RG3 to win the job. The longtime Browns reporter notes the team will not be in a hurry to bestow that starting distinction upon Griffin, wanting the fifth-year passer to truly earn the job rather than allow his contract status — he’s signed on a three-year, $21MM deal, while McCown is signed for three years and $14MM — provide the difference.
  • The Browns do not have a deep depth chart at running back, but the rebuilding team won’t look to sign a veteran, Cabot writes. She categorizes the desire to supplement Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson as a low priority, pointing to Terrell Watson and Glenn Winston as players they’re eager to see in training camp. Despite the Browns also losing Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack in free agency, Cabot characterizes the Browns as set to be a force on the ground thanks to improved blocking schemes.
  • Browns inside linebackers coach Johnny Holland told Dan Labbe of the Plain Dealer the team will attempt to further develop Christian Kirksey as a pass-rusher entering his third season. Describing Ray Horton‘s system as one that will benefit a player who’s expected to lock down a starting job at inside linebacker after being a part-time cog in that role the past two years, Holland notes Kirksey’s athleticism will enable this multifaceted approach. Kirksey has 5.5 sacks in his first two years, which have included 13 total starts.
  • The Ravens like rookie second-round pick Kamalei Correa‘s versatility, and Clifton Brown of CSNMidAtlantic.com said the former Boise State linebacker could see time at both inside and outside linebacker as a rookie. Correa served as primarily a pass-rusher in Idaho over the past three seasons, registering 19 sacks, but received reps on the inside in the Ravens’ 3-4 scheme during the offseason.
  • Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin addressed the team’s pass-catching situation, their potential to add another free agent and his own status in Cincinnati.

AFC Notes: Gilbert, Hill, White, Bills

Buried underneath the news of Shaun Suisham‘s contract extension, Triblive.com’s Mark Kaboly notes the Steelers have been talking with agent Drew Rosenhaus about a contract extension for offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, who is in the final year of his rookie deal. Gilbert “always possessed the natural talent to excel in the NFL,” writes Ray Fittipaldo in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Now, he believes he has developed the off-field habits that will help him take the next step in his career.”

Read on for several more AFC news and notes:

  • Texans No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney caused a minor stir when he left practice early and spent time icing his leg on the trainer’s table, but the Houston Chronicle’s Brian T. Smith caught up with head coach Bill O’Brien, who said the team is just managing the rookie’s “pitch count.
  • The Jets traded up to draft Stephen Hill 43rd overall (two spots ahead of Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery), but the talented wide out’s first two seasons have been plagued by inconsistency and injury, writes the New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta, who calls Hill an “enigma who leaves you wanting more every time you see him.”
  • Status quo for Dolphins running back Knowshon Moreno, which means continued uncertainty, writes Adam Beasley in the Miami Herald.
  • ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss relayed Bill Belichick quotes from an interview the Patriots head coach did with Sirius XM NFL Radio, and NESN’s Doug Kyed quoted quarterback Tom Brady. Both men were speaking about rookie running back James White, is making a strong first impression thanks to his versatility and maturity, seemingly earning trust as a three-down back.
  • In a preview of the Browns, CBS’ Pat Kirwan says he wouldn’t be surprised if four rookies start — including third-round linebacker Christian Kirksey, who is already getting some first-team reps — and two more (running back Terrence West and cornerback Pierre Desir) play important roles.
  • Bengals stalwart left tackle Andrew Whitworth is nursing a strained calf muscle, but he’s being patient, writes Cincinnati.com’s Paul Dehner.
  • “The sale of the Buffalo Bills has evolved into an event Ringling Bros and Barnum & Baily would have been proud of,” in the opinion of Forbes’ Mike Ozanian.

AFC Notes: Kirksey, Ridley, Pats, Gilreath

With few, if any, impact free agents left on the board and the draft behind us, most rosters around the league are starting to resemble what we’ll see during the 2014 regular season, at least once teams have made their cuts. But that doesn’t mean that those rosters aren’t without their holes. In an Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Tom Gower of Football Outsiders breaks down the AFC West, looking at the remaining needs for the Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, and Raiders. Those most notable holes are on the offensive side of the ball for the Chiefs (pass-catcher) and Raiders (offensive lineman), and on defense for the Broncos (middle linebacker) and Chargers (cornerback).

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • The Browns have agreed to terms with third-round linebacker Christian Kirksey, the team confirmed today (via Twitter). The agreement, which includes a signing bonus worth about $663K was first reported by Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post.
  • Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is entering the final year of his rookie deal, but he told reporters today, including Albert Breer of the NFL Network, that he’s focused on playing “mistake-free” football rather than on his contract situation (Twitter link).
  • Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com has the details on James Anderson‘s minimum salary benefit contract with the Patriots, which includes a $15K signing bonus and a $50K roster bonus if he makes the team.
  • The Raiders have signed former Wisconsin wideout David Gilreath, agent Sean Stellato tells Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports (Twitter link). Gilreath recorded his first and only career NFL reception during the 2012 season for the Steelers.