Browns add Walker, Jackson to bolster defense
Published 12:15 am Monday, March 22, 2021
CLEVELAND (AP) — Takk McKinley showed up at the Browns’ headquarters in a suit to sign his new, one-year contract. It’s part of the defensive end’s image makeover.
Cleveland’s defense looks spiffier, too.
General manager Andrew Berry continued his offseason overhaul of the Browns’ defense on Friday by signing free agent linebacker Anthony Walker to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. Walker spent the past four seasons with Indianapolis, anchoring one of the NFL’s top defenses the past three.
He’s the Browns’ third big defensive addition this week, joining safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill — teammates the past four seasons with the Rams.
The 25-year-old Walker started 46 games at inside linebacker over the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He visited the Browns’ headquarters on Thursday.
“We are adding another smart, tough football player to the fold,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “This is a guy that plays hard, plays fast, plays nasty. He can be a quarterback for the defense out there. Really intelligent, heady player.
“Just in spending some time with him, he loves diving into the X’s and O’s of this game. Also, he has just proven to be a tremendous teammate over the course of his career.”
Walker, who had 92 tackles and an interception last season, will replace B,J. Goodson and assume signal-calling duties for coordinator Joe Woods.
A few hours after landing Walker, the Browns agreed to terms with veteran defensive tackle Malik Jackson on a one-year deal. The 31-year-old was released by Philadelphia this week to clear salary-cap cap space.
He’ll give the Browns experience and depth up front, joining a rotation that includes Sheldon Richardson, Andrew Billings and Jordan Elliott.
In the past few days, Berry has totally revamped a defense that needed major work and needed to catch up to Cleveland’s offense.
Berry addressed a void in the secondary by getting Johnson and Hill, two key contributors for the Rams’ No. 1 ranked defense last season. He got another edge rusher in McKinley, a 2017 first-round draft pick who said Friday on a Zoom call that he was “lost” the past two years and has grown up.
And, Berry fortified the club’s linebacking group by landing Walker and re-signing Super Bowl 48 MVP Malcolm Smith and backup Elijah Lee. Jackson’s signing gives Cleveland more depth and experience up front.
McKinley has been on Berry’s radar for several years. He tried to trade for him and then put in three unsuccessful waiver claims for the 25-year-old last season.
“The fifth time was a charm,” McKinley joked.
McKinley had 13 sacks in his first two seasons with Atlanta, which selected him with the No. 26 pick in the 2017 draft — 25 picks after the Browns took star Myles Garrett. But McKinley’s production fell off and the Falcons released him four games into last season.
He failed physicals with Cincinnati and San Francisco with a groin injury. He got claimed by Las Vegas but ended the season on injured reserve.
Without getting into specifics, McKinley acknowledged past mistakes but said he’s learned from them.
“I feel like I am at the point in my career where if I want to be in this league, I need to start acting like it,” he said.
McKinley credited Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, who died in December, with helping him mature.
“He told me, ‘Takk, if you want to be in this league for a long time, you have to fix your image,’” McKinley said.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t really know me and a lot of people don’t understand me, but once you get to talk to me, you will soon realize there isn’t anything wrong with this dude at all.”
After signing his three-year, $33.75 million deal, Johnson said it’s exciting to join a rising team with young stars.
“You talk about coming from the No. 1 defense, you have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey,” he said. “I see Denzel Ward and Myles Garrett as the same thing. What I see right now is just a lot of guys who can play football, who love to football and who have played great football.
“I just want to come in and be a leader and just give them tips that I have learned over my career and things that I saw even last year that got us to such a great defense, a top-ranked defense.”
Berry didn’t forget about special teams and re-signed kicker Cody Parkey, who was steady and mostly straight for the Browns last season.
The 29-year-old Parkey took over the team’s kicking duties when Austin Siebert was released following a missed field goal and extra point in the season-opening loss at Baltimore.
Parkey is perhaps best known for missing a field-goal attempt for Chicago in an NFC wild-card game after the 2018 season that was partially blocked before it hit one upright and the crossbar in the final seconds.
He didn’t have any major issues for the Browns in 2020, making 19 of 22 attempts and going 3 of 3 and making all eight extra points in playoff games against Pittsburgh and Kansas City.