After a relatively quiet first two days of open negotiations in free agency for the Cleveland Browns, the rumor mill is now fully underway. One of the first names on their list of targets may have been a safety many were not expecting.
The Browns are "very serious'' about signing San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner, according to a report by Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com.
Source told http://t.co/AxL2Mqzjbd #Browns "are very serious'' about signing Cleveland native Donte Whitner, 49ers safety. He'd replace Ward— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) March 10, 2014
Another report from Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle points out that the 49ers are still "pushing" to keep the 28-year-old safety entering his ninth season. Among other the teams interested includes the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets.
Source: #Browns, #Bears, #Jets have expressed most interest in S Donte Whitner. #49ers "still pushing" to retain him.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) March 10, 2014
Whitner himself added fuel to the fire by tweeting out some additional interesting tidbits, including a mention of running into Browns star cornerback Joe Haden.
Ran into my boy @joehaden23 last nite...— DonteHitner (@DonteWhitner) March 8, 2014
If the Browns do manage to bring in Whitner to replace T.J. Ward at strong safety, the move will be a lateral one, which is certainly more favorable to leaving another hole in the defense. Ward and Whitner both play a similar style of hard-hitting safety.
While Whitner is very well-known for those hits, he's also coming off of one his best seasons in pass coverage. The former first-round draft pick may have more wear from his long career in the league, but he's still playing at a high level and has only missed one game over the course of the past four seasons.
UPDATE: Dustin Fox of 92.3 The Fan is reporting that Whitner is likely to sign with the Browns on the first day of the signing period. Per NFL rules, free agent players cannot come to terms or sign any contract until 4:00 p.m. ET Tuesday.
Based on a source close to Donte Whitner, He is likely headed to the #Browns when the signing period begins.— Dustin Fox (@DustinFox37) March 10, 2014