Rashard Higgins

WR Rashard Higgins, LB Christian Kirksey To Retire As Browns

Both wideout Rashard Higgins and linebacker Christian Kirksey have officially decided to hang up their cleats, but they will do so as members of the team which drafted them. Both players will sign one-day contracts with the Browns, the team announced on Tuesday.

Higgins spent his first six years in Cleveland, serving as a complementary receiver along the way. His best campaign came in 2020, when he posted 37 catches for 599 yards and four touchdowns. His 16.2 yards per catch average demonstrated his ability as a vertical threat, but by 2022 signs pointed to a free agent departure.

Indeed, the former fifth-rounder signed with the Panthers on a one-year deal that offseason. Higgins, 29, appeared in only three games that year, however. He was out of the league for the past campaign, and instead of pursuing a comeback, he will end his NFL run with roughly $8.3MM in career earnings.

Kirksey signed with the Bills ahead of the 2023 season, aiming to join a contender. His time in Buffalo proved to be very short-lived, though, and in September he informed the team of his intention to retire. That move was not officially made during the campaign, as evidenced by today’s news, but the former third-rounder was not on the field with any team last season.

Over the course of six years with the Browns, Kirksey started 54 of 73 games. He eclipsed 100 tackles twice in that span (2016 and ’17), doing so again during his 2022 performance with the Texans. In both Cleveland and Houston, the Iowa product earned his team’s nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

Kirksey remained a full-time starter during his single season with the Packers in 2020, as well as his two campaigns as a Texan. The 31-year-old spent much of his career on rebuilding teams, and he was released halfway through his most lucrative pact (a four-year, $38MM Browns extension signed in 2017). Still, he made an NFC championship game appearance with Green Bay and accumulated just over $39MM during his career.

“We are thrilled that Rashard and Christian wanted to come back and retire as Cleveland Browns,” a team statement reads. “Both players obviously made an impact on the field, but they each made a lasting impression in the Cleveland community as well. It’s a testament to who they are as individuals, and we are honored to have them retire as part of our Browns family.”

Panthers To Sign WR Rashard Higgins

The Panthers are not certain who their 2022 starting quarterback will be, but that passer will have a nice array of wide receivers to target. Rashard Higgins is joining Carolina’s group, Jake Trotter of ESPN.com tweets. It’s a one-year deal.

A six-year Browns contributor, Higgins will call a place outside Ohio home for the first time since college. No, Higgins has no Temple or Baylor ties, having played at Colorado State. But Matt Rhule nevertheless is adding a veteran wideout to a receiving corps that includes D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall.

Higgins, 27, has two 500-plus-yard receiving seasons on his resume. Last season, he finished with 275 yards as part of a Browns passing game that struggled for most of the year. Carolina’s aerial attack did as well, but the team is highly equipped at receiver for 2022.

The team remains in pursuit of Deshaun Watson, but the Texans passer has at least four suitors as he determines a second NFL employer.

Browns Unlikely To Re-Sign Rashard Higgins

The Browns are expected to part ways with wide receiver Rashard Higgins, according to sources who spoke with Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Nothing’s official yet, but that’s the likely outcome as the Browns look ahead to free agency later this month. Cabot also hears that defensive tackle Malik McDowell is trending towards a non-tender.

[RELATED: Browns Won’t Extend Mayfield This Offseason]

The 2016 fifth-round pick has spent his entire career in Cleveland, appearing in 82 regular season games in parts of six seasons. The wideout had one of his best seasons in 2020, hauling in 37 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns. In 2021, he finished with just 24 grabs for 275 yards and one touchdown in 15 games. All in all, the 27-year-old has collected 137 career receptions for 1,890 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Higgins re-upped with the Browns last year on a one-year, $2.37MM deal. He likely could have fetched a similar contract in 2021 but, this time around, he’d be looking at a much softer market.

Just a year ago, the Browns figured their receiving corps was set for years to come with Higgins backing top targets Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Now, OBJ is in Los Angeles following a messy divorce and Landry profiles as a potential release candidate. The five-time Pro Bowler has one year left on his deal with a 2022 cap hit of $16.4MM — cutting him would clear the bulk of it with just $1.5MM in dead money remaining. A restructuring is also possible, though they’d have to furnish Landry with more in the way of guarantees.

In other Browns news, the team is reportedly willing to keep tight end David Njoku off the market with a ~$10MM/year deal.

Browns To Re-Sign WR Rashard Higgins

Rashard Higgins is heading back to Cleveland. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the Browns are re-signing the free agent wideout. It will be a one-year deal for Higgins.

The 2016 fifth-round pick has spent his entire career in Cleveland, appearing in 67 regular season games in parts of five seasons. The wideout had one of his best seasons in 2020, hauling in 37 receptions for 599 yards and four touchdowns.

In total, the 26-year-old has collected 113 career receptions for 1,615 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Browns have been a bit quiet this week, but securing Higgins’ services assures that they’ll return much of the same receiving corps next season. Barring a trade, Higgins will likely slide in behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on the depth chart.

Latest On Browns’ Receivers

The Browns are coming off their most successful season in decades, but they’ve got very important questions to figure out this offseason. One of the most pressing questions is what’s going to happen in their receivers room.

Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. both have big cap hits for 2021, and there was a report back in November after Beckham tore his ACL that some believed he had played his final down as a Brown. GM Andrew Berry tried to squash that when he recently said Beckham was still very much in the team’s plans moving forward, and head coach Kevin Stefanski echoed that sentiment this week. “I think we can, yeah,” Stefanski said to Keyshawn Johnson on ESPN Radio when asked whether the team can fit Landry and Beckham’s salaries for 2021, via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

Interestingly, Kay Cabot writes that Cleveland “would likely listen to offers for Beckham this offseason,” but that “there’s not expected to be much of a market” for him given his contract and the knee injury he’s coming off of. She notes the team could get out of Landry’s deal with only $3MM in dead cap, but doesn’t think they have any plans to cut him.

Stefanski spoke very highly of Beckham’s efforts to get his knee right, saying “he attacks rehab like I’ve never seen people do it.” Thankfully everything seems to be going well with his recovery and he should be all systems go for 2021.

The Browns also have a third key receiver flying more under the radar, Rashard Higgins. Kay Cabot writes that the impending free agent will receive a contract offer whenever the cap is set, but that if he receives an offer in the $6MM annually range that Spotrac.com estimates him at, it’ll likely be “more than the Browns are willing to pay.”

“If he can get that on the open market, he’ll likely be gone,” she writes. Higgins caught 37 passes for 599 yards and four touchdowns last year. As of right now, it looks like Landry and Beckham are strong favorites to be back catching passes from Baker Mayfield next year, although that seemingly could change if a team steps up with trade interest in Beckham. Higgins’ status is more up in the air, and it appears to be trending toward him heading elsewhere.

Odell Beckham Jr. Remains In Browns’ Plans

While Odell Beckham Jr.‘s stock has taken a hit since his 2019 trade to Cleveland, the star wide receiver has shown flashes during his Browns tenure. The Browns would like to see more.

Beckham is recovering from a midseason ACL tear, and GM Andrew Berry indicated the 28-year-old wideout is progressing well on his road back. As of early March, that road is not slated to lead out of Cleveland. The second-year Browns front office boss indicated the Browns are eager to see Beckham back (Twitter link via cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot). This comes months after a report indicated the seven-year veteran had quite possibly played his final game as a Brown.

The three-time Pro Bowler has previously heard a team commit to him before trading him. The Giants did so in 2019. They shipped him to the Browns in a package that sent Jabrill Peppers and a first-round pick to New York. Thus far, the Giants have gotten the better end of the trade. Beckham and Baker Mayfield have yet to establish a consistent rapport, and OBJ has encountered injuries in each of his two Cleveland slates.

Beckham was previously mentioned in trade rumors going into the 2020 offseason, but Berry shut those down quickly. Any OBJ deal would certainly not produce the kind of return the Giants received in 2019.

Even though Beckham’s contract can be viewed as a year-to-year pact, with the Giants eating a considerable chunk of dead money to unload it, the deal still calls for Beckham to count more than $15MM against the cap from 2021-23. Beckham’s 2021 cap number sits at $15.75MM. It will be interesting to see if the Browns move to adjust it. The Browns managed to reach the divisional round of the AFC playoffs without Beckham, though he remains one of the NFL’s top receiver talents.

Berry also confirmed the team wants to re-sign Rashard Higgins, who did the most to replace Beckham this past season. It doesn’t sound like a deal will be reached before free agency, however, with Berry indicating Higgins will test the market (Twitter link via Cabot). Beckham and Jarvis Landry‘s cap numbers are set to comprise approximately a sixth of Cleveland’s 2021 cap, leaving seemingly little room for a notable Higgins pact.

Mutual Interest Between Browns, Higgins

Asked to play a key role after Odell Beckham Jr.‘s injury, Rashard Higgins is again on the free agency precipice. The five-year veteran will hit the market March 17, should the Browns not extend him by then.

But Higgins would like to stay in Cleveland, and Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com notes the Browns would like him to bring him back — at a price. The Browns and Higgins discussed an extension in December, but nearly three months after news of those talks surfaced, the veteran wideout told Cabot no offer has emerged.

We want to see when we can get this contract and stuff done,’’ Higgins said during an appearance on ESPN 850 Friday. “Obviously if it’s not with the Browns — we want it to be with the Browns — but it’s up in the air right now.”

Higgins re-signed with the Browns on a one-year deal worth just $910K during the 2020 offseason. He then posted career-high marks in receiving yards (599) and yards per catch (16.2). Higgins has two 500-yard seasons under his belt since Baker Mayfield arrived.

The Browns have Beckham and Jarvis Landry under contract for 2021. Landry and Beckham are set to count more than $30MM combined against Cleveland’s 2021 cap, so a Higgins deal — assuming Beckham remains on the Browns after being linked to trades in previous years and having seen his production dip after being dealt to the team — would mean a considerable commitment to the wide receiver position. The Browns drafted Donovan Peoples-Jones last year and have KhaDarel Hodge set for restricted free agency.

Higgins, 26, joined the Browns as a 2016 fifth-round pick. GM Andrew Berry was with the franchise when Higgins was drafted and oversaw the decision to re-sign him last year. Hitting the market this year might not be ideal for the auxiliary wideout, considering numerous starter-caliber receivers will be free agents — of the UFA and SFA varieties — and teams will have less money to spend because of the reduced cap.

Latest On Browns’ COVID-19 Situation

The Browns’ COVID-19 situation will keep at least four players out of their crucial Week 17 game. Linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant are the players who tested positive for the coronavirus, sources tell NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). They’ll be held out of Sunday’s tilt against the Steelers, along with linebacker B.J. Goodson and safety Andrew Sendejo

[POLL: Which AFC Contender Will Miss Playoffs?]

Although the team reopened its facility after a contact tracing effort Wednesday, the Browns closed it again Thursday. They will, however, have their top four receivers back this week. Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge are off the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list. So is linebacker Jacob Phillips. The Steelers-Browns rematch remains on schedule for 1pm ET Sunday.

Denzel Ward, however, is the latest Browns player to run into COVID trouble. The Browns’ No. 1 cornerback tested positive for the coronavirus and is out Sunday, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports (on Twitter). He is out for Sunday’s game and would be a long shot to play in the Browns’ playoff opener, should they qualify.

The Browns are playing to snap the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. If they win, they’re in. If they lose, they’ll need the Colts to do the same, but that would hinge on a quality performance from the lowly Jaguars. If the Browns lose and the Colts win, they’ll need a Titans loss, plus wins from the Ravens and Dolphins to sneak into the postseason.

On the plus side, the Steelers indicated they will rest Ben Roethlisberger this weekend. Plus, they’ll be without top defenders Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, who limited the Browns to just six points in their October meeting. As it stands, Football Outsiders gives the Browns a 44% chance to hold at the No. 6 seed and a 20% chance to make it as the No. 7 seed.

Browns To Be Down Several WRs In Week 16

Dec. 27: There were no new positive tests overnight, so this afternoon’s contest with the Jets will go forward, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports (via Twitter). The Browns will be without their top four wideouts and two linebackers, and while they did activate left tackle Jedrick Wills from the reserve/COVID-19 list as expected, Wills has been ruled out of the game with an illness. Cleveland has elevated Willies and Bradley from the practice squad, along with LB Montrel Meander.

The close contact with Goodson occurred in the team’s recovery pool area, according to Pelissero (hold your jokes, please). Sharing the pool isn’t a protocol violation in and of itself, but at least one player wasn’t wearing a mask as required, and the league may choose investigate further.

Dec. 26: Some fallout is emerging from B.J. Goodson‘s positive COVID-19 test. Contact tracing deemed several Browns wide receivers high-risk close contacts, according to Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter).

Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones — the Browns’ top three wide receivers — have are high-risk close contacts, Schefter and Mortensen report (on Twitter). These three will be placed on Cleveland’s reserve/COVID-19 list and miss Sunday’s game against the Jets, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (on Twitter).

A fourth wideout, KhaDarel Hodge, will also be placed on the virus list, Cabot reports (on Twitter). Linebacker Jacob Phillips is also out. Hodge is Cleveland’s fourth-leading wide receiver this season.

The Browns have not yet left Cleveland and have yet to learn how many players will be unable to travel with the team to New Jersey. The Browns are also likely to be without at least one tight end against the Jets, according to ESPN. The game remains on as scheduled for noon CT Sunday.

While this is not as dire of a situation, functionality-wise, as what the Broncos encountered earlier this season at quarterback, the Browns are in a higher-profile spot. The Browns still have a chance to win the AFC North, with two wins and two Steelers losses, and have yet to clinch a wild-card spot yet. The Jets are 1-13 but coming off a 23-20 win over the Rams.

Already down Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns do not have much in the way of receiving talent beyond their top three healthy targets. Few teams do. Landry’s 789 receiving yards lead the team, while Higgins has contributed 544 and four receiving TDs. This will be Landry’s first absence with the Browns.

Cleveland’s remaining wideouts: Marvin Hall and practice squad cogs Derrick Willies and Ja’Marcus Bradley. None of them have a catch with Cleveland this season. Hall caught 17 passes for 290 yards and two scores with the Lions this year. The Browns claimed Hall off waivers from the Lions earlier this month.

AFC North Notes: Green, Mayfield, Big Ben

During the Bengals’ loss to the Cowboys on Sunday, receiver A.J. Green moved within one touchdown of Chad Johnson for the franchise’s all-time record. But while he was chasing that milestone on the field, his comments after the game might be more significant. Speaking to the media, Green made it “very clear” there’s a good chance he won’t be back in Cincy next year, Ben Baby of ESPN.com writes. “I love my time here,” Green said. “Who knows what is going to happen? I will be ready for anything and be excited to get back to playing football whether it is here or somewhere else.” It’s a stark shift in tone for Green, who has always insisted he envisioned himself playing his entire career with one team.

Green is in the midst of a disappointing season that was supposed to be a triumphant comeback for the former All-Pro after he missed all of 2019 with an ankle injury. Cincinnati placed the franchise tag on him this offseason to buy some time on making a long-term decision, but his production obviously hasn’t matched his price tag so far. There was speculation earlier this year that he wanted to be traded after his usage declined, although he publicly denied that. So far on the year Green has caught only 41 of 88 targets, racking up 419 yards and two touchdowns. Baby notes that Green’s tone has “drastically changed,” and it looks like we might be nearing the end of what was a legendary run with the Bengals. For many years in a row, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft was one of the best wideouts in the game. Assuming he does explore his options on the open market this spring, at 32 and coming off multiple recent injury-plagued years, he likely won’t be getting any sort of big contract.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Baker Mayfield had himself a night on Monday Night Football, even as the Browns fell to the Ravens. The former first overall pick has really turned it on recently, and Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com wrote even before last night’s game that the young quarterback was “playing himself into blockbuster extension territory in the offseason.” Kay Cabot writes that the coaching staff in Cleveland has grown convinced as the season has gone on that they’ve got their quarterback of the future, and that if he closes the season strong “he can expect to receive the blockbuster extension in the offseason.” It’s been a nice turnaround for the Oklahoma product, as his struggles early on in the year had many questioning whether he was the long-term answer for Kevin Stefanski. With his performances the last few weeks, he’s silenced most of the critics. He has only one interception in his last six games, and has the Browns on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. Mayfield is still under team control for two more seasons after this one, and Kay Cabot writes that at the very least the Browns will be exercising the fifth-year option in his contract for 2022 this offseason. It sounds like he’s about to get a whole lot more than that though.
  • Mayfield isn’t the only member of the Browns looking for an extension. Receiver Rashard Higgins is playing out the final year of his deal, and while Kay Cabot writes Cleveland will “likely” re-sign him, she also says nothing is imminent on that front. While she notes that players like Higgins are in a holding pattern as teams wait to see what the 2021 salary cap will look like, she also says he “will likely be wrapped up long-term.” The 2016 fifth-round pick had a huge touchdown on Monday night, and now has at least 65 yards in three of his past four games. His playing time has fluctuated through multiple different coaching staffs during his time with the team, and he had only four catches in ten games last year. But when given the opportunity he has usually delivered, like when he had 572 yards and four scores in 13 games in 2018. Now, it sounds like he might finally get rewarded after playing 2020 on a deal that paid him only $910K.
  • The Steelers have now lost back to back games, and Ben Roethlisberger has struggled mightily in both of them. Even before Sunday’s loss to the Bills, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports wrote that sources told him Roethlisberger’s lingering knee injury has “become a source of greater concern” within the organization. Interestingly, La Canfora reports that Roethlisberger’s close relationship with offensive coordinator Randy Fitchner “has been the cause of some worry” within the team. La Canfora notes that Big Ben is granted wide authority to change calls as he sees fit, and the implication seems to be that he has been checking out of runs too much and dictating the short passing game offense that has begun struggling mightily in recent weeks. Roethlisberger has now gone four straight games averaging 5.8 yards per attempt or fewer. The ground game still wasn’t able to get anything going against Buffalo, and if Roethlisberger’s knee issue turns out to be more serious than we’ve realized, this Steelers offense could be in permanent trouble. This will be a situation to monitor as the regular season draws to a close.