According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, Christian Kirksey is visiting Green Bay on Thursday to meet with the Packers, who will be the second team to meet with the former Browns starter since he was released on Tuesday. Kirksey flew to visit with the Las Vegas Raiders on Wednesday, but the 27-year-old left without a contract.
Kirksey was a third-round pick for the Browns and played every game of his first four seasons, racking up more than 135 tackles in both 2016 and 2017, but he finished each of the past two years on injured reserve and played nine total games during that span. He was limited to just two games and 11 tackles in 2019 after suffering a season-ending chest injury in Week 2.
The Packers are hungry to upgrade their linebacker corps this offseason after the position proved to be a weakness in their otherwise-improved defense last season. The two biggest contributors at the position — starter Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson — are also both set to become free agents in less than a week with the outlook not looking particularly strong on either returning for 2020.
Kirksey might not have the appeal of some of the bigger-name linebackers who are said to have the Packers’ interest — including his sturdier Browns teammate, Schobert — but his price tag would be much lower than some of the top-tier free agents with the potential to shine just as brightly on the inside if he can stay healthy for an entire season.
There is also Kirksey’s connection to Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who served as the Browns’ head coach for the linebacker’s first two seasons in the NFL.
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Health Remains Major Question for Kirksey
Kirksey certainly possesses the skill set to thrive in the Packers defense with sideline-to-sideline athleticism and speed in line with what Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has indicated he wants from his “evolving room” of inside linebackers. Considering how injuries impacted the group during the 2019 season, though, Kirksey’s injury history deserves an extra-close look.
Kirksey’s season-ending hamstring injury in 2018 often catches the most attention, but it is important to remember he also missed two games earlier in the year with shoulder and ankle injuries. And in all honesty, he didn’t play enough for the 2019 season — less than two full games — to show how much his previous injuries had affected his play. Maybe he made a full recovery from the hamstring, but there also are now new worries with his torn pec requiring offseason surgery.
Still, if the Packers find those concerns dismissable after their meeting, there is a lot to like about what Kirksey could bring to the middle of the defense.
Kirksey was set to earn base salaries of $7.75 million and $8.25 million in 2020 and 2021, respectively. The Browns were reportedly open to keeping him if he took less money, but he didn’t budge, suggesting his price range falls somewhere between $7-9 million per season on his next deal.
The risk would be relatively low if the Packers signed him to a prove-it deal that offered incentives for both performance and attendance. The question now is whether they like what they see or if they feel their money could be better spent on a top-shelf free agent.