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Free Agency

Takkarist McKinley calls signing with Browns 'easy decision' for fresh start 

McKinley, a four-year veteran, will look to revive the success he had in his first two seasons when he totaled 13 sacks 

Takkarist McKinley didn't need to see a contract offer from the Browns to know Cleveland was interested in his talents.

McKinley, a defensive end who spent most of his first four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, chuckled when he recalled how many times the Browns attempted to acquire him last season: four.

Three of those attempts came via waiver claims. McKinley was waived by the Falcons in November and claimed by the Cincinnati Bengals, waived by the Bengals and claimed by the 49ers and was waived a second time. All of those moves happened after McKinley failed team physicals due to a groin injury he battled through all of last season. He ultimately signed with the Las Vegas Raiders and spent the rest of the season on Injured Reserve.

The Browns placed a waiver claim on McKinley all three times he hit the market, and McKinley said the Browns even attempted to trade for him at one point last season, too.

Now, McKinley is officially with the Browns. He signed his contract Friday, sported a black suit as he spoke with local reporters for his introductory Zoom call and discussed why he viewed the Browns as a chance to set his career straight.

"Fifth time was the charm," McKinley said. "It was a really easy decision for me. I know (Browns Executive Vice President and GM) Andrew Berry has the highest confidence in me and we believe I'm a great defensive end."

McKinley is eager to prove that the Browns' desires to add him to their roster will be worth it. 

After recording 13 sacks in his first two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, McKinley, a 2017 first-round pick, saw a decline in his production. He produced only 4.5 sacks his next two seasons and dealt with injury troubles in that stretch, which led to his roller-coaster journey through the waiver wire at the end of last season.

The hardships took a toll on McKinley, who struggled to grasp the uncertainty of where his career was going to go next. 

"I felt like these last couple of years … I kind of lost myself," he said "I lost the way I play the game. I just lost a lot. But now I'm back and I've got a great mindset, and I've got a great team around me."

He's on a team that certainly believes in him, too. The attempts to acquire McKinley last year prove that, but it's notable he was the first player Berry picked to address one of the biggest positions of need the Browns had this offseason.

Cleveland released veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn while nine-year veteran Olivier Vernon remains a free agent. Both played most of the defensive end snaps opposite from Pro Bowler Myles Garrett on the defensive line in 2020, and if the Browns were going to move on from either Clayborn or Vernon, they needed to find a viable replacement.

McKinley was their first addition. He's fully healthy and embracing a fresh start for a team that believes he can flourish in its defensive schemes.

"It means a lot," he said. "This league is not promised. To know that a team sees what I'm worth, sees what I can do and really believes in me, that means the world." 

It's easy to see why McKinley could be a great fit for Cleveland. With Garrett, who recorded 12 sacks last season and is among the best defensive players in the NFL, on the other side of the defensive line, an offense's main focus will never be exclusively on McKinley.

That's not a knock on any of his talents. But if a team chooses to double-team Garrett, that's one less person who will have to block McKinley, who proved in his first two NFL seasons he has plenty of explosiveness to drive through one player. 

"You've got a dog on the other side of you," McKinley said about himself. "You've got someone who is going to battle for you, go hard, go 100 percent. I've been showing a lot of flashes in my career, and it's all about being consistent now. I'm excited to team up with Myles, Sheldon Richardson and this defense and continue to get better."

It took some waiting, but the Browns finally acquired their guy. They're offering McKinley the opportunity he was searching for, and he's confident he won't let them down.

"I can't wait to get out on the field," he said. " I can't wait to prove it to myself and show everyone that it was a smart decision to bring me here."

Check out photos of defensive end Takk McKinley

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