It wasn't much of a surprise when it was announced the Cleveland Browns had signed free-agent linebacker Paul Kruger on Tuesday (per Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer). His five-year, $41 million deal (with $20 million guaranteed) is now signed and sealed, and, if you'll indulge my terrible wordplay, it's now up to Kruger to deliver.
Kruger comes to the Browns from the Baltimore Ravens, where he was the team's sack leader in 2012, with nine in the regular season and 4.5 through their Super Bowl-winning playoff run. That season also saw Kruger take on the heaviest workload of his four years in Baltimore, playing 1,068 total snaps at both right and left outside linebacker; he played only 373 snaps in 2011 as a situational pass-rusher.
In fact, "situational pass-rusher" was Kruger's primary job in Baltimore before 2012, when he had to step in and start in place of Jarret Johnson, who left the Ravens last year in free agency, as well as fill Terrell Suggs' shoes while he continued healing from his partially torn Achilles tendon.
He handled the additional workload well, with 38 total defensive stops (including his sacks) and only one touchdown allowed in coverage, and though he allowed 13 of the 17 passes thrown his direction to be caught, he gave up just 100 receiving yards on the year and also had an interception. While the sample size is small, Kruger definitely proved that he could be a three-down linebacker when given the chance.
With the Browns transitioning to a 3-4 defense after spending the last two seasons in the 4-3, the addition of Kruger is a vital one that will not only beef up their ability to rush the passer but also provide them with valuable insight on how a successful AFC North 3-4 works. There's no doubt that Kruger is an instant starter, and the length of his deal indicates the Browns are in it with him for the long haul.
Though Kruger is mainly prized for his pass-rushing skills, he'll again be asked to take up coverage and run-stopping duties as he did in his last year in Baltimore. The learning curve looks at first to be steep—not every defender on the Browns roster has experience in the 3-4, and this was a somewhat struggling group as it was in 2012, especially in the pass rush.
However, Kruger's learning curve was just as steep last year, if not more so than it will be in Cleveland this year. He was thrust immediately into a position that few were certain he could handle, and while he wasn't perfect—his performance against the run needs to be a bit stronger—he was good enough to become one of the hottest free-agent linebackers on the market, with all of that hype fully warranted.
The Browns have a lot of talent remaining in their front seven and Kruger should only make it that much stronger, while at the same time also helping him become a success in Cleveland. While he'll be looked to foremost for his ability to get to opposing quarterbacks and create havoc, he's well-rounded enough to warrant the Browns' money and time.
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