CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns have finally jumped into the free agency pool with both cleats.
After letting four starters leave and sign with new teams last week, Cleveland added its first notable player of the offseason by signing inside linebacker Demario Davis to a two-year contract.
Davis made 51 starts over the past four seasons with the New York Jets, who selected him in the third round in 2012. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Davis will likely start for the Browns alongside veteran Karlos Dansby. Chris Kirksey, too, gives the Browns depth in their inside linebacker core. Cleveland also signed linebacker Justin Tuggle last week.
Davis visited the Browns on Tuesday. They’re hoping he can help fix one of the NFL’s worst rushing defenses.
“It seems like they’re ready to take this organization in the right direction. I felt nothing but positive vibes from (executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown) all the way down to the defensive coordinator and the head coach,” Davis said. “I just felt like this was the best fit for me and my family.”
Davis started every game the past three seasons for the Jets, but he shared playing time last season when he finished with 90 tackles and two sacks. He recorded more than 100 tackles in 2013 and 2014.
The Browns are likely to lose linebacker Craig Robertson, who is also one of their best special teams players, and Davis can help fill that void.
“I just want to be able to come in and help as best as possible,” Davis said. “I take pride in being a run stopper. I take pride in covering. I take pride in playing in space, being a sideline-to-sideline backer. I take pride in getting after the quarterback. I just want to be able to do whatever the coach is asking of me.
In Cleveland, Davis will be reunited with new Browns linebackers coach Ryan Slowik, who spent last season with the Jets.
“I played for some great defensive minds,” Davis said. “I played with a lot of great players. Just everything I’ve been able to learn over the four years is going to help me as I enter into the next chapter of my career.”
Hours after making their first notable signing in free agency on Wednesday, Cleveland released veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, two players who don’t fit into the new front office’s rebuilding plan.
Mired in misery for most of the past 17 years, the Browns are starting over — again. Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have restructured the upper tier of their organization, changed the coaching, and are now overhauling the roster.
The release of Dansby was somewhat surprising because the 34-year-old has been valuable in his two seasons with Cleveland.
Bowe, on the other hand, was a major disappointment. He signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract including $9 million as a free agent in March and then finished the 2015 season with five catches — costing the Browns $1.8 million for each.
And now that Dansby and Bowe are gone, any player over 30 or nearing his 30th birthday could be in trouble. Safety Donte Whitner, wide receiver Brian Hartline and quarterback Josh McCown fall into that group and may be in the sights of a Harvard-educated front office leaning on analytics to revive a team that went 3-13 last season and hasn’t had a winning record since 2007.
Dansby thought Cleveland would be the final stop in his career when he signed a four-year, $24 million contract as a free agent in 2014. Never afraid to speak his mind, he played well, making 93 tackles his first season despite missing four games. He had 108 tackles last season and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
He’s the only active NFL player with at least 40 career sacks and 15 interceptions. Dansby, who also played for Arizona and Miami, could be scooped up by another team soon.
“We want to thank Karlos for his service to the Cleveland Browns during the past two seasons,” Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. “He was a dedicated, hard-working leader of our defense and we wish him the best as he continues his career.”
The team didn’t offer any such compliments to Bowe in the announcement they terminated his contract.
The 31-year-old arrived in Cleveland with high expectations after eight productive seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Bowe led the NFL with 15 touchdown receptions in 2010, when he received All-Pro honors from the AP.
But he sustained a hamstring injury in training camp and then barely got on the field for Cleveland’s coaching staff, which seemed at odds with former general manager Ray Farmer over Bowe’s role. He was inactive for eight games and did not make a start.
Bowe has 537 career catches for 7,208 yards and 44 TDs.