Browns ink free agents Whitner, Dansby
CLEVELAND (AP) — With wads of money to spend, the Cleveland Browns didn’t waste any time shoving millions into two defensive holes they created this winter.
During the furious first few hours of free agency Tuesday, the team agreed to terms with strong safety Donte Whitner, a Cleveland native who can’t wait to play in his hometown.
“I must now embark on my intended journey and become a Cleveland Brown,” Whitner wrote on his Twitter account. “A place that’s very dear to my heart!”
Also, the Browns reportedly struck a deal with inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who resurrected his career last season in his second stint with Arizona.
The team has not made any announcements.
With $49 million of space under the salary cap to sign players, new Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer addressed two pressing needs after the club decided not to re-sign safety T.J. Ward or linebacker D’Qwell Jackson — the Browns’ top tacklers last season and two of their best players.
Whitner’s deal is reportedly worth $28 million over four years, and Dansby’s is for $24 million — $14 million guaranteed — over four years.
Farmer could be working on a blockbuster deal, with the Browns said to be interested in trading with Tampa Bay for shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis. If they can land Revis and pair him with Pro Bowler Joe Haden, the Browns would have arguably the NFL’s best tandem of cornerbacks. The Buccaneers are eager to part with Revis, who makes $16 million a year.
Revis has a previous relationship with Browns coach Mike Pettine, who coached him in New York.
The Browns didn’t ignore their offense on the first day of free agency, signing Cincinnati wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet. The Bengals have five days to match the contract or Hawkins will join the Browns, who need a replacement at slot receiver after releasing troubled veteran Davone Bess.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Whitner is returning to Cleveland to help turn around a franchise he pulled for as a kid. As word of his signing leaked out shortly after 4 p.m., Whitner, who played at Ohio State before he was drafted by Buffalo, tweeted “O-H” in a nod to both his alma mater and home state.
After playing 14 seasons in Cleveland, 49ers kicker Phil Dawson can appreciate Whitner’s excitement about the homecoming.
“If most guys are honest, they have a soft spot in their hearts for their hometown, and obviously Donte’s getting to go home,” Dawson said on a conference call after receiving a new two-year deal with San Francisco. “One thing I know about Cleveland is when you grow up there, you wear orange and brown. No matter where you go or how far you’ve been gone, if you’ve grown up in Cleveland, you’re a Browns fan.
“I’m sure it’s a special opportunity for Donte. Obviously we’re going to miss him. He’s a great player. He’ll be a huge addition to that organization.”
Whitner spent five seasons with the Bills, who selected him with the No. 8 overall pick in 2006. Nicknamed “Hitner,” the 28-year-old signed a three-year, $11.75 million free-agent deal with San Francisco in 2011 and played three seasons with the 49ers, getting to the NFC championship each year.
He’s been durable, missing just one game in the past four seasons.
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, another proud Clevelander, is thrilled to have Whitner as a new teammate.
“Great to have another hometown guy here to help us win! Congrats (at)DonteWhitner!” Hoyer posted on his Twitter account.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Dansby fills the void left by the surprising departure of Jackson, the respected captain and team leader.
Dansby, 32, had 122 tackles, 6 1/2 sacks and four interceptions with the Cardinals last season. He spent his first six years with Arizona, signed with Miami for three and then returned to the Cardinals as a free agent in 2013.
A speedster who played collegiately at Toledo, Hawkins worked out for Cleveland in 2008 before he signed in the Canadian Football League. The 28-year-old signed with the Bengals in 2011 and had a career-high 51 receptions for 533 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He was limited to eight games last season because of an ankle injury.