The Cleveland Browns released linebacker Christian Kirksey on Tuesday.
Kirksey, who was selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, was one of the longest-tenured players on the team and played under head coaches Mike Pettine, Hue Jackson, Gregg Williams (interim) and Freddie Kitchens.
The only players still on the roster with as much tenure as Kirskey are left guard Joel Bitonio, a second-round draft selection in 2014, and long snapper Charley Hughlett, who was signed as a free agent that same season.
Through a prepared statement on the team’s website, general manager Andrew Berry thanked Kirksey for his time with the Browns:
“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.”
Kirksey took to Twitter to express his gratitude to the team and its fans:
FOREVER GRATEFUL! Thank you Cleveland for the amazing years! Thank you to the entire organization, my teammates, the Haslems for giving me an opportunity of a lifetime and most of all thank you to the city of Cleveland for accepting me as their own! Forever Love, Kirkoland Out! pic.twitter.com/vjcA4nMSZL— Christian Kirksey (@Kirko58) March 10, 2020
The move will reportedly save the Browns $6.575 million on the salary cap. According to ESPN’s Jake Trotter, the Browns wanted to keep Kirksey under a restructured deal, but could not come up with a salary that Kirksey could agree to:
Per league source, Browns tried to renegotiate Kirksey’s contract to keep him, but couldn’t come to an agreement. Kirksey very popular in the locker room, but had missed the better part of the last two seasons with injury.— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) March 10, 2020
It is not a surprising move by the team given that Kirksey has missed 23 games over the past two seasons while dealing with injuries. He played in seven games in 2018 while dealing with a hamstring injury; last season a chest injury ended his season after just two games.
Still, the release of Kirksey coupled with the expected departure of Joe Shoebert in free agency leaves the Browns currently very thin at linebacker. If the season were to start this weekend, the team would be looking at a pair of second-year players in Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki as the starters.
It is hard to imagine the Browns holding that particular course, so this is a good time for fans to start brushing up on linebackers that will be available in free agency and the NFL Draft.
During his six years with the Browns, Kirksey played in 73 games and became a full-time starter in 2016. He served as a team captain from 2017 through 2019, and finishes his Browns career with 484 tackles, 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, according to the team’s website.
He was also involved in the community, earning the team’s Good Guy award in 2016 and the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award in 2018.