When the Browns were sliding toward a winless 2016 season, Christian Kirksey stepped forward.
The linebacker boldly predicted a victory, which came a few weeks later.
On Tuesday, Cleveland locked up Kirksey for what the club hopes will be better seasons ahead.
Kirksey signed a four-year, $38 million extension with the Browns, who will have their leading tackler under contract through the 2021 season. The deal includes $20 million guaranteed.
“Christian Kirksey brings a lot to this football team,” said Sashi Brown, the club’s executive vice president of football operations. “He’s another example of a young talented football player that we want to be part of our organization for the long term. Chris reflects the hard work and commitment we want in our locker room. He has done everything asked of him since he was drafted and has developed into an impact starter. We look forward to watching him continue to emerge as a leader of our team and establish a culture of winning here in Cleveland.”
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder was one of the few positives last season when the Browns went 1-15. He led the team in tackles and finished third in the league with 148.
Kirksey, who made at least nine tackles in 10 games and played all but two defensive snaps last season, would have been eligible to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
But now he’ll anchor a defense that should be more aggressive after coach Hue Jackson hired Gregg Williams as his coordinator.
“Hue Jackson has been telling me from Day 1 that I have a chance to be a great player in this league and for them to offer me this contract speaks volumes,” Kirksey said. “I am glad to be here and to be a Brown for a long time. This is my home. This is where I want to be. I love my teammates and we are ready to get this thing rolling. I am excited for the future.”
The Browns selected the former Iowa standout in the third round in 2014. He has appeared in 48 games for Cleveland and made 29 starts.
Kirksey’s extension is the latest by the Browns, who signed linebacker Jamie Collins (4 years, $50 million) and left guard Joel Bitonio (5 years, $51 million) to new contracts earlier this offseason.