Just minutes after free agency began this afternoon at 4 o’clock, ESPN reported the Browns had agreed to terms with strong safety Donte Whitner and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. The team won’t confirm any deals until they’re official.
They were the first notable additions under first-year general manager Ray Farmer, and filled a pair of holes recently created by Farmer moves.
Whitner, a two-time Pro Bowler who starred at Glenville High School and Ohio State, takes the spot of T.J. Ward, who wasn’t re-signed and became a free agent this afternoon. Dansby replaces D’Qwell Jackson, who was released rather than be paid a $4 million roster bonus.
Jackson and Ward were the team’s leading tacklers in 2013 and are younger than their replacements. But Whitner, 28, and Dansby, 32, are coming off productive seasons and bring a tough attitude.
The Browns didn’t ignore the offense, as they later agreed to an offer sheet for a four-year contract with Bengals slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, according to multiple reports.
Because he’s a restricted free agent, the Bengals have five days to match after the offer sheet is signed. Because of the low tender placed on Hawkins by the Bengals, the Browns wouldn’t forfeit any draft picks if the Bengals decline to match.
Hawkins, who turned 28 on Monday, is 5-foot-7, 180 pounds and attended the University of Toledo. He missed half of last season with an ankle injury, catching 12 passes for 199 yards in eight games.
In three years, he has 86 catches for 995 yards and four touchdowns.
Whitner (5-foot-10, 208 pounds) is known as a ferocious hitter and even considered changing his last name to “Hitner” last year. His deal is reportedly for four years and $28 million with $10 million guaranteed.
He entered the NFL at 20 years old as the No. 8 overall pick of the Bills. He played five years in Buffalo before spending the last three with San Francisco. The 49ers went to the NFL championship game in all three of his seasons, and he was named to the Pro Bowl the last two years.
Whitner has missed only one game in the last four years. In 16 starts in 2013, he tied a career high with two interceptions and added 12 passes defensed and 73 tackles.
Whitner is only a year and a half older than Ward, but has played four more seasons.
“Great to have another hometown guy here to help us win! Congrats @DonteWhitner!” Browns quarterback and North Olmsted native Brian Hoyer tweeted.
Dansby (6-4, 250) is a 10-year veteran who still runs well and had 6.5 sacks and 122 tackles last year with Arizona. Pro Football Focus rated Dansby third in pass coverage, leading inside linebackers with four interceptions and 10 passes defensed.
He’s been described as a great leader, and his deal is reportedly worth $24 million, with $10 million due in the first year and $14 million guaranteed.