Browns release veteran safety Donte Whitner

CLEVELAND (AP) A punishing hitter, safety Donte Whitner got flattened by the Browns.

Cleveland released the 30-year-old Whitner on Saturday, the latest starter discarded by the team's new front office, which has spent the past month purging the roster.

Whitner's release follows that of linebacker Karlos Dansby, the team's leading tackler last season, and the departures of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, former Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson and wide receiver/return specialist Travis Benjamin, all of whom signed with other teams during free agency.

Whitner, who grew up in Cleveland and starred at Ohio State, started 14 games last season and 30 in his two years with the Browns. Cleveland signed him as a free agent in 2014 after he spent three seasons with San Francisco and five in Buffalo.

Whitner made the Pro Bowl in 2014 but didn't play as well last season, when the Browns' secondary was ravaged by injuries.

''It is important for us to thank Donte for all of his contributions to the Cleveland Browns over the last two seasons,'' Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said.

''His passion for this city and dedication to his craft was contagious. These are difficult decisions to make, but we felt it was the best decision for the Browns at this time. We wish him the best as he continues his career.''

After being informed of his release, Whitner went on Twitter, where he took a shot at the team's new emphasis on analytics.

''Love you Cleveland,'' Whitner wrote. ''My plan is in a different place. Their (sic) playing MONEYBALL now! Be blessed! I just wish they had common courtesy and would've done it weeks ago when free agency was going on... (hash)25thHour... But I'll bounce back!''

Whitner's exit and the loss of Gipson means the Browns are without their primary starting safeties from 2015. Jordan Poyer will compete for a starting job next season and the club will likely address the position in the upcoming draft.

The Browns also released defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a seventh-round draft pick last season.

Ekpre-Olomu didn't recover enough from a serious left knee injury sustained during his senior year at Oregon. The 22-year-old spent last season rehabilitating his surgically repaired knee and made progress, but he wasn't to the point where the Browns are willing to dedicate a roster spot to him.

He was released with a non-football injury designation because he hurt the knee before joining the Browns.

The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder was projected to be a first-round pick before he injured his knee as the Ducks prepared to play in the national championship game against Ohio State.

Ekpre-Olomu started 40 straight games in college before getting hurt.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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