Paul Kruger will be counted on to help restore glory to the Browns by giving them an elite pass-rushing presence they have lacked for the vast majority of the expansion era.
But daunting tasks like the one on the horizon shouldn’t bother Kruger. After all, he’s accustomed to conquering adversity.
The Browns entered free agency Tuesday afternoon with about $47.5 million in salary-cap space, the most in the NFL, and they nabbed Kruger right out of the gate. Less than an hour after the market officially opened at 4 p.m., the two sides had agreed to a five-year, $40 million contract, a league source confirmed for the Beacon Journal.
The source spoke on condition of anonymity because financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Browns, who confirmed the length of the contract. Kruger, an outside linebacker who helped the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl last month, is scheduled to address the media this afternoon at the team’s headquarters in Berea.
The Browns also agreed to terms with former Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Desmond Bryant on a five-year deal worth $34 million, including $15 million guaranteed, another league source confirmed Tuesday night. The Browns hope Kruger and Bryant will help lead their transition from a 4-3 system to a defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 multifront scheme.
“He is a talented linebacker who is going to make an immediate impact on our defense,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of Kruger in a statement. “When you put on the film, you see physicality, explosive pass rush and a high motor.”
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Kruger, 27, cashed in on his breakout 2012 season despite it being threatened by a back injury he suffered in the season opener. Although he experienced such excruciating pain that a trainer had to help him with his shoes for a while, Kruger only missed one game and compiled 13½ sacks, including 4½ in the postseason.
The example of resilience isn’t surprising considering Kruger’s history.
When he was 13, he lost his spleen and a kidney after his family’s Jeep flipped and rolled over onto his stomach during a four-wheeling excursion in the mountains. He has worn a special pad ever since to protect his lone kidney while playing football.
As a freshman at the University of Utah, Kruger, his younger brother, David, and a former teammate, Greg Newman, were attacked by a gang while walking home from a party in Salt Lake City. Kruger was stabbed in his ribs and stomach, and a subsequent four-hour surgery helped save his life. Surgeons used about 50 staples to close the incisions and wounds.
“He has guardian angels that he’s wearing out,” Kruger’s mother, Jennifer, told the Deseret Morning News after the incident in 2008.
Kruger went on to become a standout for the Utes and a second-round pick (No. 57 overall) of the Ravens in the 2009 NFL Draft. During the 2012 regular season, he established career highs in tackles (42), sacks (nine), passes defensed (six) and forced fumbles (one).
“I normally don’t say anything about religion or God or anything like that, especially when I’m being interviewed, but I really feel like I’m blessed, like prayers have been answered,” Kruger told reporters in January before the Super Bowl. “I’ve overcome a lot.”
A high school quarterback recruited by former Utah coach Urban Meyer, who now reigns at Ohio State, Kruger switched to defense in college and began tormenting opponents who played his former position.
Still, Kruger entered this past season with just 6½ sacks and only one start in three years. He isn’t viewed as a strong run defender, so the Browns will need him to improve in that facet and continue to produce sacks like he did while making a name for himself last season, when he started eight games, including two in the playoffs.
As for the 6-6, 311-pound Bryant, he will be added to the Browns’ mix of defensive linemen. Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin, both of whom could play nose tackle, are on the roster, so it’s unclear exactly how Bryant, 27, will be used. The Browns need help at end, but all eight of Bryant’s starts last season were at tackle in the Raiders’ 4-3 scheme.
Bryant, who signed with the Raiders in 2009 as an undrafted free agent from Harvard University, had 36 tackles, including four sacks, in 16 games last season. He posted 35 tackles, including five sacks, in 2011.
Last month, Bryant was arrested in Miami on a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief. He allegedly entered a neighbor’s house inebriated and caused a commotion, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Browns will continue to search for free agents in the coming days, and cornerback and tight end are among the positions they’re expected to pursue. They’ll also continue to seek help for their defensive front seven, even though Kruger and Bryant are on board.
Outside linebacker Quentin Groves, who played for Horton last season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals, has a visit scheduled with the Browns, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported. The 6-3, 265-pound Groves, 28, started seven of the 16 games in which he appeared and set career highs in tackles (46) and sacks (four).
The Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have expressed interest in trading for New England Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, though a deal seems unlikely at this point, the Boston Herald reported Tuesday.
In December, the Boston Globe linked Mallett, 24, to the Browns as a potential trade target partly because of General Manager Mike Lombardi’s relationship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots picked the 6-6, 245-pound Mallett in the third round (No. 74 overall) in 2011. Stuck behind Tom Brady, he has never started a regular-season game and has only thrown four passes.
The Browns have made it clear they will try to acquire someone to compete with incumbent starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, 29. Their options in the free-agent market, though, continue to dwindle, and CEO Joe Banner said last month at the NFL Scouting Combine that he doesn’t expect them to pick a quarterback in the first round.
According to reports, the Browns and Miami Dolphins were in the mix for top-rated tight end Jared Cook, but he agreed to join the St. Louis Rams. … Three-time Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs, the second-most tenured member of the Browns, is leaning toward signing with the Cardinals, Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com reported. … Browns free-agent linebacker Kaluka Maiava will visit the Raiders, NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.