The Cleveland Browns apparently have a defensive overhaul in mind for the upcoming season. Not long after releasing longtime fan favorite linebacker Joe Schobert, the team announced on Tuesday it had cut another linebacker, Christian Kirksey.
Cleveland.com reports Kirksey was let go after he and the Browns couldn’t come to an agreement on how to restructure his contract for the 2020 season. The sixth-year veteran was scheduled to make $7.75 million in base salary this coming season.
The linebacker was considered a team leader for the Browns, a fact that general manager Andrew Berry touched on in a media release announcing Cleveland’s latest move.
“Christian Kirksey has been a vital member of our organization for the last six seasons because of his contributions on and off the field. 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.”
It’s possible the decision to let Kirksey go was made easier by the linebacker’s injury problems the last two years. He played in just seven games in 2018 thanks to various injuries and missed all but two games last year. In 2019, he suffered a torn pectoral muscle that forced him to miss the final 14 games of the regular season.
Despite those injuries, he was a team captain for the Browns from 2017-2019. When he was healthy, he was a stalwart defender, playing in all 16 games his first four seasons in the NFL. Over that period of time, he started 54 games and appeared in a total of 73. For the 2016 and 2017 seasons, he was second in the league in tackles with 281.
His best overall season was his first as a full-time starter. In 2016 he amassed 148 total tackles, including 11 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also had a career-high seven quarterback hits. Pair the loss of a team captain and someone who racks up the tackles when he’s healthy with the departure of Joe Schobert and the Browns have some holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball.
Schobert was a starter since 2017 for Cleveland and had at least 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons. The linebacker had 133 total tackles a year ago. The linebackers’ departures combined with the return of Myles Garrett signal there will most likely be a shakeup on the Browns’ defense over the next few months.