Dansby: Browns cutting Whitner late in free agency ‘wasn’t cool’

Strong safety Donte Whitner was the Cleveland Browns' second-leading tackler with 81 last season.

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Karlos Dansby is appreciative that the Cleveland Browns released him early in the free-agent process so he had a better chance of finding a new team at a good salary.

Dansby just wishes the Browns had provided the same courtesy to fellow veteran Donte Whitner. He was cut last Friday, well after many clubs in need of strong safety help already had filled their needs and salary-cap space dried up.

"To see it happen like that late into the free agency, man, it just wasn’t cool,” Dansby told co-host Bill Polian and me Tuesday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "It wasn’t cool at all … Just respect him and let him go."

A Browns press release issued last Saturday offered no insight into the timing of Whitner’s release.

"It is important for us to thank Donte for all of his contributions to the Cleveland Browns over the last two seasons," Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said in the statement. "His passion for this city and dedication to his craft was contagious. These are difficult decisions to make but we felt it was the best decision for the Browns at this time. We wish him the best as he continues his career."

Dansby thought Whitner’s career would continue with the Browns following his own release in mid-March. Instead, the new Browns regime decided to part ways with both 30-something veterans who were locker-room leaders and the franchise’s two leading tacklers in 2015.

The move was especially stinging for a Cleveland native like Whitner and prompted him to take a social-media shot at the franchise’s new front-office "Moneyball" approach.

Dansby said he warned Whitner about the possibility of being cut well before it happened.

"I said, ‘As soon as I get released, I’m going where I’m going to get a ring,’" said Dansby, who signed a one-year deal with Cincinnati last week after being courted by other teams in free agency. "He was like, ‘Man, you think they’re going to let us go?’

"I said, ‘Let’s keep it real. We’re 3-13. There’s going to be a new coach, a new scheme … All the vets gotta go. It’s just how the game goes, man. We’ve both been on that side of the stick before.’"

Accepting such logic, it’s still fair to question whether the handling of Whitner’s release reflects that dysfunction continues in Cleveland even after the firing of head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer. The duo was replaced by Hue Jackson and Brown, ostensibly, following a disastrous 2015 campaign marred by the incessant controversy surrounding now-released quarterback Johnny Manziel, as well as offensive and defensive units that ranked among the league’s worst.

Dansby thanked the Browns for his two seasons there along with his early release, but expressed disappointment in a squad he felt was talented enough to make a playoff run falling so far short of that goal.

Dansby called it "the worst season I’ve ever had to experience as a team" since entering the league with Arizona in 2004.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby is coming off a 108-tackle, three-interception season in Cleveland.

"There was just too much going on and guys having their own agendas," Dansby said. "(There was) plenty of talent across the board — a lot of talent. Young talent, too. But we just couldn’t put it together as a team.

"If you can’t and guys don’t believe in the system and the program, then you’ll never be successful as a team because this is an ultimate team game.  It takes everybody on the field working as one — one common goal — and we just couldn’t put it all together to have everybody on the field on the same page."

Coming off five straight playoff appearances, the 2016 Bengals are far more viable as a Super Bowl contender than their AFC South rival. Dansby hopes he is one of the reasons Cincinnati finally ends its streak of first-round eliminations and makes its first Super Bowl appearance since 1988.

There is the chance Dansby will replace weak-side linebacker Vontaze Burfict as the latter opens the 2016 season serving a three-game NFL disciplinary suspension. Dansby, though, said his "understanding" is the Bengals will play him primarily at strong-side linebacker and keep him on the field with Burfict in nickel packages following his return.

"I’ve got to go earn that," said Dansby, who is coming off a 108-tackle, three-interception season in Cleveland. "There’s nothing given in this game. I’m up for that challenge."

The change of scenery did prompt Dansby to take a playful jab at his former team that he now will face twice in 2016.

"You know that saying, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’?" Dansby said. "Well, you know what — that’s what just happened.

"I just joined ’em."