CLEVELAND The Browns opened free agency by sacking a Super Bowl winner.
Loaded with cash to spend, Cleveland reached agreement Tuesday with linebacker Paul Kruger, who led the Baltimore Ravens in sacks last season, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press.
The 27-year-old Kruger and the Browns agreed to a five-year deal, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been announced by the team. Kruger gives the Browns a proven pass-rusher as they transition from a 4-3 defensive scheme to a 3-4 under new coordinator Ray Horton.
ESPN first reported Kruger’s deal, which is worth $40 million. The Browns were quick to strike on Kruger, considered one of the top outside rushers in this year’s free-agent class.
He had 13 1/2 sacks last season, including two of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the Super Bowl as Baltimore held off the 49ers to win the title. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Kruger is the first signing by Cleveland’s new regime, which entered free agency $47.4 million under the salary cap and would like to add a starting cornerback during the signing period.
Kruger had a breakout season in 2012, when he started a career-high five games after starting just one in his first three NFL seasons.
Drafted in the second round in 2009 from Utah, Kruger was slow to develop and initially found it difficult to get playing time on a star-studded team with talented linebackers and pass rushers. However, with Terrell Suggs sidelined last season with a torn Achilles tendon, Kruger got a chance to play and became the team’s most efficient rusher.
Kruger made $615,000 last season, the final one of his original deal with Baltimore.
In getting Kruger, the Browns are not only hoping to strengthen their defense but weaken the Ravens, their AFC North rival who are undergoing a major makeover.
Horton, who spent the past two seasons with Arizona, intends to use multi-front formations with Cleveland’s defense. Kruger’s arrival could change the Browns’ draft plans. They were expected to be targeting a pass rusher with the No. 6 overall pick.