GREEN BAY(WBAY)- The Packers signed their first unrestricted free agent from another team this week in receiver Devin Funchess. But the first to sign with them this offseason was Christian Kirksey, who replaces Blake Martinez at inside linebacker. Kirksey spoke with WBAY-TV on Friday via Zoom.
After being released by the Browns following two injury-plagued seasons, the 6-year veteran visited the Bills, Raiders and Packers before the NFL shut down all visits due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Two things greeted Kirksey upon his arrival at Lambeau Field; his former head coach in Cleveland, current Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine; and the large Lombardi Trophy replica inside the American Family Insurance gate. They made Kirksey feel at home.
“That organization is all about winning, and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said Friday. “Just walking around, meeting the different people, it felt like a family atmosphere; you just feel it in the air.”
Pettine was the Browns head coach when Kirksey was drafted out of Iowa. Kirksey started 13 games in his two seasons under Pettine. That relationship is being rekindled in Green Bay. Kirksey even evoked a rarity from the usually stoic and stern coach. “I saw Pett smile when I walked in the door in Green Bay, I seen him smile from cheek to cheek. You know Pettine he's got a sense of humor, you just got to get to know him.”
The two still know each other well, even though Pettine’s tenure in Cleveland ended after the 2015 season. “He kept tabs on me just checking in here and there, and then when he saw that I was up for grabs he immediately went for it. When you build a relationship outside of football it definitely helps you on the field; it definitely made my decision leaning towards the Packers.”
In 2016 and 2017, Kirksey started all 32 games. He totaled 186 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Those are the kinds of numbers the Packers will be hoping for, and the Browns didn’t see the last two seasons as hamstring and pectoral injuries limited Kirksey to just 9 games. “Injuries happen, it's part of the game. I'm just glad that working with the trainers that I'm working with, and my team, we're getting myself to one hundred percent. I'm ready to show the Packers what I've got.”
They know one thing he has, and that’s leadership. Kirksey was well-respected by his teammates in Cleveland, even being voted a captain in 2018. Chemistry was a huge part of the Packers’ success in 2019, and Kirksey should have no problem checking that box. “I'm a personable person. I feel like I know when to step outside of myself and to look at things in a different light or a different angle. I know how to pull other people toward me. I lead by example, I'm the type of guy that if I'm going to say it I have to do it as well. I think my teammates will really appreciate me in Green Bay, I know my teammates in Cleveland did.”