(UPDATE 4:10 p.m. ET: Donte Whitner has signed a four-year, $28 million deal with the Browns.) San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner is expected to pack his bags and head to his hometown of Cleveland when the NFL free agency period begins at 4 p.m., according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
Whitner is expected to sign the deal immediately, assuming all goes well, and would likely replace Browns Pro Bowl strong safety T.J. Ward. The Browns were reportedly interested in keeping Ward, but are now likely to let him sign elsewhere with Whitner in the picture, likely joining free safety Tashaun Gipson.
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The 28-year-old won an NFC championship with San Francisco in 2012 and has career totals of 669 tackles, 10 interceptions and eight forced fumbles since being selected No. 8 overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2006.
Whitner, who played at Glenville High (Ohio) and later at Ohio State, was elected to his second Pro Bowl last season after recording 73 tackles, 12 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
The Browns' decision to let T.J. Ward walk in favor of Whitner is a confusing one that does not really float financially. That is not to say Whitner is a bad player or won't work in Cleveland -- he brings the hammer from safety and plays a similar, in-the-box game to Ward. But if Ward is a better player and the Browns made this move anyway, it's an odd and interesting move. -- Chris Burke