Click the link for an updated version of this story: Release of Paul Kruger shocks Browns players; coach Hue Jackson says, ‘There is a performance that we want’
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger became the most recent victim of an aggressive youth movement by the Browns.
Kruger, 30, is the biggest name among the players cut by the franchise Monday morning.
He started all 46 games in which he appeared for the Browns the past three seasons and had been working as a starter throughout this preseason. Rookie second-round draft pick Emmanuel Ogbah or rookie fourth-round selection Joe Schobert could become the new starting outside linebacker opposite Nate Orchard. They also have third-year veteran Cam Johnson and undrafted rookie Jason Neill on the roster.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Kruger thanked the Browns but expressed disapproval with the way the team cut him.
"Although completely miss handled [sic], unfortunate and absolutely the wrong decision to release me I do wish the Browns, and especially my teammate brothers great success," Kruger wrote.
— Paul Kruger (@pkruger99) August 29, 2016
The Browns announced they terminated the contracts of Kruger, defensive end Nick Hayden and quarterback Austin Davis. They waived kicker Travis Coons, tight ends E.J. Bibbs and David Reeves, wide receivers Josh Boyce and Ed Eagan, fullback Robert Hughes, strong safety Sean Baker and offensive lineman Cory Tucker. They placed running back Glenn Winston (shoulder) and nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder) on injured reserve.
Kruger is the Browns' only major surprise cut so far. Coons was the team's incumbent kicker, but Patrick Murray dominated the kicking duel throughout training camp.
The Browns now have 76 players on their roster, so they need to make one more move before Tuesday's deadline. All NFL teams must trim their rosters from a maximum of 90 players to 75 prior to 4 p.m. Tuesday and from 75 to 53 before 4 p.m. Saturday.
Former Browns CEO Joe Banner and ex-General Manager Mike Lombardi signed Kruger in 2013 to a five-year, $40 million deal as an unrestricted free agent from the Baltimore Ravens. Kruger was scheduled to make base salaries of $6.5 million in 2016 and $7 million next year.
Kruger had 13.5 sacks, including 4.5 in the playoffs, during his final season with the Ravens and helped them win Super Bowl XLVII.
But Kruger's sack totals were disappointing in two of his three seasons with the Browns. He had 4.5 in 2013, 11 in 2014 and 2.5 in 2015. Last season, however, the previous coaching staff assigned Kruger to drop into pass coverage more than rush the quarterback for a good chunk of the year.
Defending the run was never considered a strength of Kruger and likely contributed to his demise. Still, he was the only proven NFL pass rusher left on the Browns' roster. Orchard is now the team's only outside linebacker who has registered a sack in the NFL. He had three last season as a rookie.
Kruger's exit came just four days after the Browns traded the first player drafted by Banner and Lombardi. The organization dealt outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round pick in next year's draft.
It's interesting that Ray Horton was the defensive coordinator of the Browns in 2013 when they made Kruger their most lucrative free-agent signing and drafted Mingo sixth overall. Horton is back in charge of the Browns' defense after spending the past two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
In the spring, Kruger admitted he was worried the Browns would cut him when they started their youth movement this offseason.
"I did, yeah," Kruger said in April. "Yeah, I was definitely, I guess anticipating something. Made me a little nervous. I’m not going to lie."
It took a few months, but Kruger's gut feeling turned out to be right.