An offseason castaway for the Green Bay Packers will get another opportunity to prove himself next season in Houston.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Texans have reached an agreement with former Packers starting inside linebacker Christian Kirksey on a one-year contract worth up to $4.5 million. He is the third veteran player Houston has signed in the past few days, following center Justin Britt and running back Mark Ingram as Texan newcomers.
Texans and former Browns and Packers’ LB Christian Kirksey reached agreement on a one-year contract worth up to $4.5 million, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2021
Kirksey joined the Packers last offseason on a two-year, $16 million contract and made 11 starts at inside linebacker in 2020, notching 77 total tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. He also spent five games on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and saw playing time reduced in the back half of the season as rookies Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin took on greater roles in the system.
Ultimately, the Packers opted to move on from Kirksey in late February and create about $5 million in salary-cap space for the 2021 offseason.
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Kirksey’s Injury History Remains Questionable
The Packers knew injuries could be a concern when they signed Kirksey last offseason. The 2014 third-round pick had played just nine total games in his final two seasons with the Cleveland Browns due to season-ending injuries, including a chest injury that cost him 14 games in 2019. But Kirksey also presented them a veteran starter at a bargain price who could help them replace Blake Martinez as their four-year centerpiece.
All in all, the experiment didn’t go that poorly for the Packers.
While Green Bay was fortunate to find a gem in Barnes as an undrafted rookie, Kirksey helped buoy the position with a veteran presence and played some of his best football down the stretch after coming back from an injury. It helped that down the stretch the Packers made Barnes their true Mike linebacker and switched Kirksey to the Will, where he was able to make more of an impact on fewer reps — especially as a pass rusher.
Now, the Texans will take a chance on him to see if he can bring a similar impact to their roster in the midst of a rebuild. There will be doubts about his durability after he missed significant time in each of his last three seasons, but Houston is also supremely lacking depth in their inside ‘backer room and stands to gain quite a bit if he can remain healthy.
Will Packers Add Another ILB for 2021?
Barnes and Martin give the Packers some promising young options for their inside linebacker position, but Kirksey’s departure leaves their linebacker room fairly depleted behind them. The only other inside linebackers under contract for 2021 are Ty Summers, Oren Burks — who played more on special teams in 2020 — and practice-squad holdover KeiVarae Russell.
As such, the Packers could attempt to sign another linebacker off the free-agent market when free agency begins next week. They have more security than last year and wouldn’t need to spend as much as they did on Kirksey, but the flurry of cuts from teams could see an affordable veteran fall into their price range. There’s also the incentive of Green Bay being a contender to motivate some of the better free agents.
The more financially practical route, however, would be for the Packers to target some of the linebacker prospects in the 2021 NFL draft. Adding a significant talent in one of the early rounds or doubling-up on linebackers on Day 3 with one of their three compensatory picks could help solve their depth problem overnight. There’s also UDFA route, which can’t be discounted after it yielded Barnes for the Packers last year.