Kirksey Joining Packers ‘Feels Like Cinderella Story’

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In 2016 and 2017 with the Cleveland Browns, Christian Kirksey was one of the most productive linebackers in the NFL. He had 281 tackles during that span, a figure that trailed only Seattle star Bobby Wagner. Between those seasons, he signed a four-year extension worth $38 million.

Kirksey, however, played in only seven games in 2018 and two games in 2019. In a cost-cutting move, the Browns released Kirksey to rid themselves of the $16 million in base salary due in 2020 and 2021.

Kirksey quickly signed a two-year contract with the Green Bay Packers worth up to $13 million. If he can return to form, he’ll be 29 and primed for one more big payday when he hits free agency again after the 2021 season.

“Individually, I want to get back to playing great football,” he said in a Zoom call on Wednesday. “I think that signing this two-year deal and re-establishing myself and getting my name back out there and letting people know Christian Kirksey is back, Christian Kirksey is a great linebacker in this league, that’s what I’m shooting for. I have an individual goal that I want to achieve, and that’s to be the best linebacker in the league. For those who may have slept on me or said, ‘Oh, he’s injury prone’ or ‘He’s not the same player he used to be,’ I’m here to prove them wrong and prove to myself that I’ve still got what it takes to be one of the best linebackers in the league. That’s the individual chip that’s on my shoulder.”

Kirksey spent the second of the 2018 season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury, and he played in only two games in 2019 following a torn pectoral.

With Green Bay, he has been reunited with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine; Pettine was the Browns’ coach for Kirksey’s first two seasons in the NFL. With no other established players at the position, he presumably will fill the every-down role manned the past few seasons by Blake Martinez.

“My mind right now, I’m in a good head space,” Kirksey said. “I look at it as going through those ups and downs, going through the injuries, I could look at it and say that was one more year to maybe learn more mentally, maybe one more year to take a couple of snaps off the load. I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, so me stepping away from the game of football, I had more time to prepare myself to be a father; I had my daughter in December. I just think of all the good that came out of my injuries. Obviously, it sucked because I wanted to be out there, I wanted to be playing. That’s what I am. I am a football player who loves the game of football, but it wasn’t God’s plan for me to play last year.”

Kirksey says he’s healthy again and thankful to have been signed by a “great team.”

“It couldn’t have happened in a better way, almost feels like a Cinderella story,” he said. “I get hurt and, the next thing you know, signing a deal with the Green Bay Packers. I’m excited about it.”

In six seasons in the NFL, Kirksey’s never been on a team that even finished with a .500 record. In six seasons, Cleveland went 24-71-1. With Green Bay, he’s joined a team that needs him to perform and reached the NFC Championship Game.

“I’m just appreciative that Green Bay took that chance for me and still understands that I can play football,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason that I’m in Green Bay. I’m going to take it full force, go out there and hit the ground running.”

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