The Cleveland Browns released Christian Kirksey just a few hours ago, and now it appears the linebacker is already lining up his next team. The former team captain is rumored to have already talked to three different teams and will officially meet with one of those franchises on Wednesday morning, according to Dan Graziano on Twitter.
The ESPN analyst wasn’t forthcoming about what three teams are showing interest in the former Browns’ star, but it isn’t surprising many people around the league. The linebacker was cut by Cleveland on Tuesday morning because the front office and Kirksey couldn’t come to terms on a way to restructure his current contract.
By releasing him ahead of the new league year, the team is saving more than $7 million it can use to spend on any free agents who will come available on March 18. The move appears to be part of a retooling on the defensive side of the ball. Cleveland also released Joe Schobert, a linebacker who has had over 100 tackles in each of his last three seasons.
Kirksey’s release was a bit of a double-edged sword for the Browns. On the one hand, they have more room under the salary cap. On the other, the veteran is a fan favorite who has played quite well during some of the worst seasons in the franchise’s less than stellar history.
Kirksey had two straight seasons of more than 130 total tackles in 2016 and 2017. Injuries have plagued him the last few seasons, driving down his production. This too, could be a reason Cleveland was willing to let him go. He played in just nine games in 2018 and only the first two games of the 2019 season.
All of his injuries were independent of each other, meaning there’s no sign of being “injury prone,” but Cleveland decided it wanted to start fresh with its linebacker corps anyway.
If he can prove he’s healthy, Kirksey could be one of the most sought after defenders on the free-agent market. He has the added bonus of being able to talk to and sign with a new team about a week earlier than the rest of the league.
As the NFL moves closer to the date when potential free agents cannot work out a deal with their current teams, there are likely to be more players joining the pool. That could be a factor in the former Cleveland Browns star wanting to move fast and set up meetings right away.