The Green Bay Packers are officially making a change at inside linebacker next season.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Packers have agreed to a two-year, $16 million contract with former Cleveland Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey, who was visited the team in Green Bay last Thursday after the Browns released him earlier in the week.
The Packers made his signing official on Tuesday morning when they announced the addition of Kirksey as well as former Detroit Lions right tackle Ricky Wagner, both of whom were eligible to sign prior to Wednesday’s official start of free agency and the new league year.
Kirksey, a former third-round draft pick, has racked up 484 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, 16 pass deflections and a pair of interceptions during his six seasons with the Browns, but the 27-year-old linebacker has also struggled to stay healthy over the past two years. He ended each of the past two seasons on injured reserve, playing just two games in 2019.
Kirksey has also previously spent time playing under Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who was head coach of the Browns during his first two years in the NFL.
The Packers’ signing of Kirksey signals the end for previous defensive signal-caller and pending free agent Blake Martinez, who has spent his only four seasons in the NFL as a starter in Green Bay. Martinez was reportedly looking to get about $10 million per season on his next deal, several million more than what the Packers spent to land Kirksey.
According to salary-cap specialist Ken Ingalls, Kirksey is calculated to have a cap hit of about $4.125 million for the 2020 season. The Packers will also take a cap hit of about $4.812 million with their signing of new offensive tackle Ricky Wagner.
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Packers’ Deal on Kirksey Could be a Steal
The Packers signing Kirksey might not generate the same level of hype as it would if they brought in someone such as Los Angeles Rams star Cory Littleton, but it could end up being a steal of a move given how affordable it was to sign him.
Kirksey’s injuries have been hard to overlook over his past two seasons. He missed the final seven games of 2018 with a hamstring injury after having already missing consecutive games earlier in the year with shoulder and ankle issues. While he did recover and return for the Browns in time for 2019, he only made it partway through Week 2 before suffering a season-ending chest injury.
A would-be starter playing just nine games over two seasons is an ugly look, and the Browns evidently agreed enough to cut him loose with one year left on his four-year, $38 million deal, but it could just as easily be the perfect storm for the Packers if he stays healthy for a full season.
Kirksey can do the one thing the Packers have been craving on the defensive side of the ball: stop the run. According to Pro Football Focus, he received some of the best run-stopping grades among linebackers in his most recent healthy seasons in 2016 and 2017, during which he tallied a total of 129 stops and 30 pressures.
The Packers also inked a low-risk deal with Kirksey that allows for more flexibility if he proves to be less than spectacular in 2020. According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, his contract is heavy on per-game roster bonuses to safeguard against his injury history. In other words, the Packers would owe him less money than a typical contract if he went down with an injury early in the season.
Should he not work out and the Packers opt to release him after next season, they would pay just $2 million in dead cap opposed to taking a full-season hit of $8 million, according to Spotrac.