The Browns have a billboard displayed prominently on I-480 with a picture of Mike Pettine stating the Browns will be the ‘toughest team’ on the field.
It appears they have started that with the reported agreements of safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Karlos Dansby. Both players have the reputation of being hard-hitting play makers. Multiple outlets have reported deals were in place for the two players, but the Browns have not yet confirmed them.
Right after free agency officially began, Whitner told Cleveland.com "I’m coming home" and also tweeted:
Very similar to in 2013 when the Browns made a splash defensively by signing outside linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, it appears the Browns struck on the defensive side first once again.
Whitner (5-11, 205), will in effect, take the place of T.J. Ward, who also became an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, while Dansby would replace D’Qwell Jackson, who was released and signed by the Colts last week.
Whitner is a former Glenville High School and Ohio State star, who was rated as the fifth-best safety in pass coverage last year by Pro Football Focus, allowing 25 catches on 48 targets.
This is how Pro Football Focus summed up Whitner’s play:
"In 2012 the coverage of Whitner was arguably the weak link in the 49ers defense. Fast forward a year and the former first round pick has no such worries, really upping his game. It’s taken longer than you might think but he has become the player he was drafted to be."
Whitner, 28, was drafted 8th overall by the Bills in 2006. He played five seasons with Buffalo before signing a three-year $11.75 contract with the 49ers. Whitner has been selected to the last two Pro Bowls.
He will be entering his ninth NFL season, but was drafted at the age of 20. He started 113 of 116 games and has 497 tackles, 10 interceptions, as well as eight forced fumbles.
Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 13th best free agent available. NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport posted on Twitter that Whitner’s deal is for four years for an average of about $7 million a year.
Dansby (6-4, 250) was a second-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2004 from Auburn.
Dansby, 32, had his best two seasons in the last two years with 134 tackles in 2012. This past season, Dansby had 122 tackles with 6.5 sacks and four interceptions. He has 1,012 tackles in his career with 38 sacks playing for Arizona and Miami.
Pro Football Focus, who has Dansby ranked as the 17th best free agent available, says this about him:
"Dansby put up big numbers and made a boat load of plays when he returned to Arizona, yet criminally got next to no attention. An every down linebacker who can be counted on to drop into coverage, meet blockers head on and blitz when called upon."
The Browns were also rumored to be in the mix for cornerback Darrelle Revis and running back Ben Tate as free agency opens.
It is believed the signing of Whitner would take the Browns out of pursuit of Jairus Byrd and Ward. There is also speculation the Browns are considering quarterback Matt Schaub seriously if the Texans release him.
Not long after reports surfaced connecting Whitner and the Browns, Broncos vice president John Elway announced via his Twitter account that Ward has become a Bronco.
Excited to announce we've agreed to terms with strong safety T.J. Ward. He'll bring energy and toughness to our secondary.