September 21, 2014

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Browns start free agency by inking Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant

Bryant

Kruger

In the first hour of free agency, in their first year with the Browns, owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner landed their first major acquisition.

Then they added their second.

Outside linebacker Paul Kruger signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $40 million Tuesday. An agreement was reached about 40 minutes into the new league year, and the team announced a finalized deal a few hours later.

Kruger looks like he was the first priority of Banner and new general manager Michael Lombardi, who entered free agency about $45 million under the salary cap. They didn’t stop there, agreeing to a five-year contract with former Raiders defensive lineman Desmond Bryant reportedly worth $34 million.

The team didn’t announce the Bryant deal Tuesday night, but The Chronicle-Telegram confirmed the agreement through a league source.

“Paul is the type of player we were looking to bring on at the outset of free agency, and we are thrilled that we were able to sign him,” Banner said in a news release. “Not only do we feel strongly about his ability as a football player, but he will add a great deal from a leadership standpoint as well. He has exhibited marked improvement each year of his career and we believe he can help the Cleveland Browns for many years to come.”

Kruger (6-foot-4, 270 pounds), who spent his first four seasons with the Ravens, fills a giant need at pass rusher as the Browns convert to a 3-4 system. He had nine sacks during the 2012 regular season and added 4.5 in the postseason as the Ravens marched to the championship. He sacked San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick twice in the Super Bowl.

Kruger, 27, didn’t become a starter until 2012 when he opened six games. He has 15.5 career regular-season sacks.

Bryant (6-6, 310) was viewed by some throughout the league as a sleeper of free agency because of his versatility and pass-rush ability, but defensive line seemed to be one of the few areas of strength for the Browns. The move to the 3-4 requires fewer linemen — although the Browns plan to use a multiple-front scheme — and the addition of Bryant could prompt the Browns to part with one.

The Browns reportedly committed $15 million guaranteed to Bryant, 27, who has 18 starts in four years with 10.5 sacks and 93 tackles. He went to Harvard and was undrafted. He was arrested in Miami last month on a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief.

The Patriots were also in pursuit, according to the Boston Globe.

Bryant had five sacks in 2011 and four in 2012.

Kruger will be introduced to the media this afternoon at Browns headquarters, with the time to be determined.

“We are very excited about the addition of Paul Kruger to our team,” coach Rob Chudzinski said in the release. “He is a talented linebacker who is going to make an immediate impact on our defense. When you put on the film you see physicality, explosive pass rush and a high motor. He has been very productive for the Ravens, and proved it at the highest level last season in the playoffs.”

Kruger was a second-round pick of the Ravens (No. 57 overall) in 2009 out of Utah. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer recruited him to Utah as a quarterback, before he quickly switched to defense.

Kruger appeared in 51 games with the Ravens with seven starts. He totaled 70 tackles, 15.5 sacks, two interceptions, 14 passes defensed, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. He set personal bests in 2012 in tackles (42) and sacks (nine), and added 14 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass defensed in the postseason.

Kruger and Detroit’s Cliff Avril were considered the top pass rushers on the market, and the Browns focused on Kruger. He joined inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Dolphins) and receiver Anquan Boldin (49ers) as key pieces to leave the Ravens this week.

“Kruger is a beast you can’t take that away from him,” Cleveland guard Jason Pinkston tweeted.

“welcome bro! Lets get it! #GoBrowns,” defensive lineman Phil Taylor tweeted.

The biggest question mark surrounding Kruger is how he will perform outside of Baltimore, where he was a complementary piece surrounded by stars Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. Kruger will be in the spotlight with the Browns, but has experience in the 3-4 and is considered a pass-rushing specialist.

“He’s not a natural pass rusher, he’s an effort player,” said ESPN analyst Bill Polian, former GM of the Colts. “That’s fine, because he gives you 100 percent effort all the time.

“He has good strength and can overpower people. He is relentless trying to get to the passer. It’s a really good signing.”

The Browns likely aren’t done in free agency, as they have holes to fill and millions left to spend.

NFL.com reported Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves will visit Cleveland. He is 6-3, 265 pounds and will turn 29 in July.

Groves has 6.5 sacks in five seasons with three teams. He had four sacks in seven starts and 16 games in 2012 and could follow defensive coordinator Ray Horton from Arizona.

If the Browns sign Groves in addition to Kruger, it could affect their plans with the sixth pick in the draft. They appeared headed toward a pass rusher but could look elsewhere.

The Browns didn’t land all their targets Tuesday. Tight end Jared Cook chose the Rams over the Dolphins and Browns. He would’ve filled a significant hole on offense.

The Browns may shift their attention to Oakland’s Brandon Myers or Dustin Keller of the Jets. They are believed to have a genuine interest in Myers (6-3, 256 pounds), who caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He’s 27 and a four-year veteran.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.