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Takk McKinley: “This league is not promised”

Defensive end knows Cleveland may be his last best chance at getting his career on track.

FALCONS VS. PANTHERS David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry took a gamble this week with the signing of defensive end Takkarist McKinley in free agency.

It is a small gamble, of course, as Berry only gave McKinley a one-year deal for $4.25 million that includes incentives that could bring the total to $6 million.

But it is still a gamble on a player who has never really reached the level of play expected from being a first-round selection. In 49 career games with the Atlanta Falcons, McKinley has 17.5 sacks - 13 of which came in his first two seasons - and 79 tackles.

That production was not enough for the Falcons to pick up McKinley’s fifth-year option, however, and as his play declined and he dealt with injuries, Atlanta eventually released McKinley in November of last season.

Berry tried to claim McKinley on waivers but lost out on him to the Cincinnati Bengals, who waived him because of a failed physical. Berry gave it another shot, but the situation repeated itself with first the San Francisco 49ers and then the Las Vegas Raiders as both teams claimed McKinley before ultimately releasing him due to injury concerns.

Now that he has finally found his way to the Browns, McKinley said during his introductory news conference on Friday that he realizes there are no guarantees when it comes to the NFL:

“I means a lot, just the opportunity. Like I said, this league is not promised. Just to be here talking to you, I am very appreciative. To know a team sees what I am worth, sees what I can do and really believes in me, that means the world. Now, I just can’t wait to get out there on that field and prove it to myself and show everybody else why it was a smart decision to bring me here.

“This league is not guaranteed at all. I have a one-year deal. I am focusing on this year and focusing on what I can control. If I do what I need to do, that will take care of itself. There is no reason for me to think about next year when I have to handle this year.”

There should be ample opportunity for McKinley to show what he can do as the Browns are currently incredibly thin at defensive end behind Myles Garrett. The Browns released veteran Adrian Clayborn earlier this month and are not expected to retain Olivier Vernon in free agency, so for now the only “competition” McKinley is facing comes from the likes of Porter Gustin, Joe Jackson, Cameron Malveaux, George Obinna, Curtis Weaver and Trevon Young.

That will likely change come draft weekend, but for now, there is nothing holding McKinley back from seizing the opportunity but himself.

The Browns are moving closer to the day where they will not need to concern themselves with the type of “low-risk, high-reward” deals that excite certain corners of the fan base so much.

For now, however, there are a few gambles they are willing to take, and McKinley is true to his word, this might be one of the rare times that gamble pays off.