Unrestricted free agent linebacker Willie McGinest has found a new home with an old friend.
The former New England Patriots linebacker, released last week for salary cap reasons after 12 years with the team, reached a contract agreement with the Cleveland Browns on Wednesday afternoon, ESPN.com has learned. He will be reunited in Cleveland with Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, an assistant in New England for seven of McGinest's 12 seasons there.
McGinest, who visited with Browns coaches and team officials on Tuesday as his first stop in free agency, will sign a three-year, $12 million contract that includes $6 million in bonuses and guarantees.
The two-time Pro Bowl performer and three-time Super Bowl champion should provide the Browns with the outside pass rush dimension the team sorely lacked in 2005. His familiarity with the 3-4 defense, the scheme in which he enjoyed so much of his success in New England, is also a huge plus. McGinest told ESPN.com last weekend that while he felt he could play in a 4-3, he hoped to sign with a 3-4 team.
McGinest, 34, has 78 career sacks and his six sacks in 2005 were one more than any Cleveland player managed in Crennel's first season, as the Browns struggled to create pressure. As a team, the Browns registered just 23 sacks, the fewest in the NFL. Crennel and general manager Phil Savage had publicly reiterated the need to improve the Cleveland pass rush. McGinest also had 4½ sacks in the postseason, all of them coming in a wild-card round victory over Jacksonville (he had eight tackles in all).
Cleveland officials were negotiating earlier this week with unrestricted free agent Kalimba Edwwards, a defensive end with the Detroit Lions who would have moved to linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The Browns felt he could fill a McGinest-type role for them. But when Edwards re-signed with the Lions, the Browns turned their attention to McGinest, and it didn't take long to strike a deal.
Several other teams had contacted agent Gary Uberstine to inquire about McGinest. It is unknown how many other teams would have met with McGinest had he not completed an agreement with the Browns. Among the interested teams were the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys and the New York Jets.
It is certainly no coincidence, though, that his initial trip was to Cleveland. Along with the presence of Crennel, the Browns have been among the league's most aggressive teams in the opening days of the free agency period. McGinest becomes the seventh player acquired by Cleveland since Saturday morning. He is the second new defensive starter, joining nose tackle Ted Washington.
McGinest was scheduled to make $7 million in 2006 with the Patriots between his base salary and a roster bonus. But the Patriots felt that compensation was a bit too rich for them. Although there was speculation the Patriots might contact McGinest about signing a more palatable deal, there were no such discussions after he was released.
The Browns, who have posted just one winning season since returning to the league in 1999, and who were 6-10 under Crennel in 2005, certainly present the kind of challenge McGinest seems to be seeking at this late juncture of his career.
"That's part of what excites me, really, is the chance to maybe help a team and help other players achieve some of their goals," McGinest said during a Saturday interview. "You name it and I've pretty much been there and done that. At this point in my career, the individual [accomplishments] aren't as important, not any more. I'm developed. I'm primed. I'm a team guy who knows his role. If that role is with a new team, well, so be it."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.