Browns Compete With NFC Contenders For Pass Rusher, Former 1st-Rounder

Takk McKinley, Browns

Getty Takkarist McKinley #55 of the Cleveland Browns before the game against the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Browns have set the edge on defense for next season with one current and one former Pro Bowler, but their vaunted pass rush may be absent a key element in 2022.

Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney will disrupt quarterback play all year long, though they may have to do so without the help of rotational pass rusher Takkarist McKinley. Cleveland brought McKinley in from the Atlanta Falcons last season, where he racked up 17.5 sacks over his first four NFL campaigns, to bring extra pressure off the edge.

McKinley played in 11 of 17 games for the Browns, starting two of those contests, before tearing his achilles tendon against the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday, December 20. The outside linebacker amassed 18 tackles on the year, including three for loss, as well as eight quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble, per Pro Football Reference.

Under contract for only one season, the damaged tendon threw a hitch McKinley’s future with Cleveland. Now an unrestricted free agent coming off a serious injury, the defensive end/outside linebacker is meeting with multiple teams that will compete with the Browns for his services, beginning the tenuous process of crafting deals that are both acceptable to McKinley’s camp and offer some protection against further injury for the franchises moving forward.

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McKinley To Meet With Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals

Getty ImagesPass rusher Takkarist McKinley, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, is carted off the field with an achilles tendon injury during a game against the Las Vegas Raiders on December 20, 2021.

As of the final weekend in July, McKinley was set to meet with two NFC playoff teams from last season — the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals.

McKinley met with the Cowboys on Saturday, though he was not immediately signed by the team, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News.

“Following a positive visit, Cowboys won’t be signing ex-Falcons edge defender Takk McKinley at this time, two people familiar with the situation said,” Gehlken tweeted on July 30. “Nothing to be read into — this was original plan. McKinley intended to take multiple visits, and he will. The Cardinals are up next.”

Browns’ Plans in Mid-July Included Bringing McKinley Back Into Fold

Takkarist McKinley, Browns

GettyEdge defender Takkarist McKinley, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, strips the ball loose from quarterback Tyler Huntley of the Baltimore Ravens for a fumble during the third quarter of a game at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

As recently as two weeks ago, the plan on both McKinley’s side and the Browns’ side was to bring the pass rusher back into the fold for 2022, per Brad Stainbrook of The Orange and Brown Report.

“Source: Takkarist McKinley is going great rehab-wise. I’m told he has ‘transformed his body and is on a mission to be an impact player this season,'” Stainbrook tweeted on July 15. “Mutual interest exists between Takk & #Browns. The plan, as of now, is to join a team during camp if possible, or during season.”

The Browns made a trade with the New England Patriots in March, sending linebacker Mack Wilson to the AFC East Division in exchange for defensive end Chase Winovich — a move to help replace the pressure off the edge that Cleveland lost when McKinley went down.

Thus, if McKinley ends up with the Cowboys or Cardinals, it won’t be a loss the Browns can’t overcome. However, a revamped and rejuvenated McKinley would be a nice fit on a Cleveland defense that looks to be formidable again in 2022.

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