The Browns didn't land a top-tier edge rusher in the first wave of free agency, but they're hedging with a flier on a former first-round pick.
Cleveland is signing defensive end Takkarist McKinley to a one-year deal worth up to $4 million, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
The signing is a low-risk, potentially high-upside move for the Browns, who spend minimal cap space on an edge rusher who proved in the past he's capable of making a difference. Listed as the No. 85 free agent on Gregg Rosenthal's Top 101 list, McKinley still carries value because of what he'd accomplished in his first three season before the wheels fell off in Atlanta in 2020.
McKinley's time in Atlanta began with him clutching a framed photo of his late grandmother while on the draft stage, overcome with emotion at the reality of fulfilling his dream of becoming a first-round pick. He proved to be worth the selection, recording 16.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and 38 quarterback hits in his first three seasons.
Then, the Falcons declined his fifth-year option before the start of his fourth season, and McKinley struggled with injuries in 2020, dumping enough frustration on McKinley to drive him to lash out online, making public his request to be traded and Atlanta's unwillingness to do so.
The conduct -- which included the use of clown emojis to describe the Falcons' brass -- resulted in Atlanta waiving him in early November. His lingering injury caused him to fail physicals with the Bengals and 49ers before he finally landed with the Raiders, where he did not appear in a game.
Presented with a fresh start in Cleveland, McKinley will ideally take the place vacated by the departure of Olivier Vernon, who finally found a path to production in his final season with the Browns while playing opposite of freakish edge rusher Myles Garrett. McKinley could end up benefitting in a similar fashion, provided he's healthy and motivated to produce as he once did in Atlanta.
The latter remains the big question mark for McKinley, explaining why Cleveland was able to secure his services at a low cost. Should he answer that question in the affirmative, the Browns may have made a savvy move.