BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Christian Kirksey had 38 million reasons to smile Wednesday.
None of them had to do with the sun-splashed May afternoon either.
On Tuesday the ink dried on Kirksey’s 4-year, $38 million contract extension that included $20 million guaranteed and will keep him a Brown through the 2021 season.
“It means a lot that this organization put a lot of faith in me,” Kirksey said Wednesday.
The Browns selected Kirksey in the third round – No. 71 overall – of the 2014 NFL Draft, a draft that is remembered for the 2 players who didn’t make it and are already out of the NFL: Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel.
The Browns have won just 11 games and lost a boatload more – 37 of them to be exact – since he was drafted so why on earth would he want to stay when he could’ve hit the open market in March?
“I was drafted here, and I have a lot of loyalty to this organization,” Kirksey said. “This organization has been loyal to me. I love my teammates. I love the coaches here. I really believe that Cleveland has something special, and it could be bad for me to just try to play one year and walk away from this. I truly believe in my heart that we will do something good here so that is the reason why I stayed.”
Kirksey’s extension is the latest sign that things continue to stabilize for the Browns off the field.
Earlier this offseason the Browns signed linebacker Jamie Collins (4 years, $50 million) and left guard Joel Bitonio (5 years, $51 million) to contract extensions.
“We want to keep our core guys,” Kirksey said. “When you see an owner, GM and head coach being loyal to their guys, it just goes to show you that we’re working on something special. When I saw them sign Joel, when I saw them sign Jamie in my mind I’m like, they’re really trying to be loyal to us and that’s when you gotta be loyal back.”
The selections of defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers in the first round of the draft have him feeling even better about the direction of the franchise.
“There’s a lot of talent among those young guys,” Kirksey said.
Kirksey was one of very few bright spots in a dismal 1-15 season in 2016 that saw the team start 0-14 and not win a game until Christmas eve. As the losses began to pile up it was Kirksey who stepped forward to pledge the team would not go winless.
But Kirksey did more than just talk. He emerged as one of the team’s leaders in his third season as the 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker led the team in tackles and finished third in the league with 148.
With the business side of things handled, it’s now up to Kirksey and the rest of his teammates to get it done on the field.
“I have got to elevate my game and just make sure I get the job done,” Kirksey said.