Following the news that the Cleveland Browns are reportedly planning to let leading tackler Joe Schobert walk in free agency, the future of another veteran linebacker in the organization is coming into question.
Christian Kirksey fired off a cryptic tweet on Monday that had many Browns fans sending their goodbyes to the 2014 third-round pick in the comments.
“Blessing in disguise,” Kirksey wrote in the vague tweet that sparked rabid speculation.
Kirksey is coming off surgery on a torn pectoral tendon he suffered last season in Week 2 against the New York Jets. He also missed a chunk of time in 2018 with ankle and hamstring injuries.
Kirksey signed a four-year, $38-million contract extension in 2017 that runs through 2021. It doesn’t take an analytics guru to see that Kirksey hasn’t met the value on that deal simply by not being able to stay on the field.
However, there’s always the hope that the former Iowa standout can return to his form prior to the injuries. He had 138 tackles in 2017 and 148 the season prior to that.
If both Schobert and Kirksey are indeed gone, second-year LB Mack Wilson would become a key contributor. In 14 starts last season in relief of Kirksey, Wilson collected 82 tackles. He still can improve, but showed a high enough ceiling last year that the Browns new regime will want to see what he can do. Sione Takitaki, a third-round pick in 2019, could also slide into a bigger role.
There aren’t a bevy of free agent options available at inside linebacker, but names like Kyle Van Noy, Danny Trevathan or Alec Ogletree could be potential additions if new defensive coordinator Joe Woods feel like they’re a good fit.
Browns Expect to Let LB Joe Schobert Walk
Schobert is not expected to be back with the Browns next year, with Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reporting that the team is letting him hit free agency to pursue a deal that is expected to approach $10 million per year.
The Browns are expected to make a big investment in their offensive line and were not willing to pay Schobert that kind of money, according to Cabot. There are only six inside linebackers that make more than $10 million annually, led by Seahawks Bobby Wagner at $18 million.
Schobert made 133 tackles last season, leading the Browns. He also snagged four interceptions and collected a pair of sacks. It was his third season in a row with triple-digit tackles, totaling 104 in 2018 and 144 during a Pro Bowl campaign in 2017.
The former Wisconsin All-American and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year was taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft by the Browns.
Earlier this offseason, DB T.J. Carrie and LB Adarius Taylor had their contracts terminated by the Browns.
Browns Will Run 4-3 Defense Under Joe Woods
When he was hired, Woods assured that the Browns are planning to run a 4-3 scheme, with pass-rushers Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon — if he’s still on the roster — staying at defensive end.
“I think you want to make sure that you’re putting the guys that you have in the right position to make plays,” Woods said. “I know the personnel here is tailored toward a 4-3 scheme, which I’m very comfortable with. We’ll stay with the 4-3 system here and focus on putting the guys in the right positions to make plays.”