Browns executive vice president of football operations and general manager Andrew Berry offered a statement on the move:
"Christian Kirksey has been a vital member of our organization for the last six seasons because of his contributions on and off the field. He has been a strong leader both in our locker room and in the Cleveland community. These are difficult decisions and, in Christian's case, more challenging because of how well he has represented our team. We thank him for his dedication and wish him nothing but the best in the next phase of his career."
Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot added that the Browns' decision to release Kirksey came after the sides "failed to restructure his deal."
Kirksey still had two years remaining on a four-year, $38 million contract, per Spotrac, with $1 million roster bonuses included for 2020 and '21. His 2020 base salary is set at $7.75 million with a $9.95 million salary-cap hit. That would have increased to $8.25 million and $10.45 million, respectively, in 2021.
Kirksey has played his entire career in Cleveland since the franchise drafted him in the third round of the 2014 draft out of Iowa.
Overall, Kirksey recorded two interceptions, four forced fumbles, 11.5 sacks, 16 passes defended and 484 tackles (304 solo) across 73 games (54 starts) in Cleveland.
Kirksey acknowledged his departure from Cleveland on Twitter and Instagram shortly after the Browns announced his release:
Christian Kirksey @Kirko58
FOREVER GRATEFUL! Thank you Cleveland for the amazing years! Thank you to the entire organization, my teammates, the Haslems for giving me an opportunity of a lifetime and most of all thank you to the city of Cleveland for accepting me as their own! Forever Love, Kirkoland Out! https://t.co/vjcA4nMSZL
The 27-year-old's Instagram caption read:
"CLEVELAND!!!! First off, DAWGGG CHECCK!! I love you all! I want to thank you all for the last 7 years. You are the best fans in the world and have been so loyal through all the ups and downs. Being drafted to the Browns was one of the greatest moments of my life. I've poured my heart and soul into this team and this city. I'll forever be grateful for my experience here but it's now time to move on. Can't wait to see what my future holds. FOREVER KIRKOLAND! KIRKO OUT"
Injuries derailed his past two years.
In 2018, Kirksey was limited to seven games due to a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve in early November. "I didn't think it would cost me the rest of the year, but I got the MRI and it was worse than I thought," he said at the time. "So I'm on IR. But whatever is best for the team."
Last season was even shorter for Kirksey. A team captain since 2017, he was forced to undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral tendon that was suffered during the Browns' 23-3 Week 2 win over the New York Jets.
The St. Louis native started all 16 regular-season games for the Browns in both 2016 and '17.
The Browns ultimately chose to clear cap space owed to a recently injury-prone veteran ahead of the league's 2020 free agency period that opens at 4 p.m. ET on March 18.