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Whitner returns home, joins Browns

From the Boss to The Hit Man. Or something like that.

The Cleveland Browns chose not to sign T.J. Ward before he hit the free-agent market, then agreed to terms with Donte Whitner to replace him. Both are high-impact hitters known more for physical play than coverage, but in Whitner the Browns may have upgraded.

Which is saying something because Ward -- whose Twitter handle is @BossWard43 -- was pretty good in 2013.

Whitner -- who calls himself "Hitner" -- is a Cleveland native, a product of Ted Ginn at Glenville High School. He's also an Ohio State guy.

He's leaving a team that's been to the last three NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl for one that hasn't won more than six games in any of the last six seasons. To agree to join the Browns he was given a reported four-year, $28 million deal, an average of $7 million per season -- or $2 million less than Buffalo's Jairus Byrd wanted.

Whitner has been in the league eight seasons but is only 28 -- one year older than Ward. He's joining his third team after playing for Buffalo and San Francisco.

Though he's similar to Ward, most NFL folks feel the move is an upgrade because Whitner is slightly better in coverage. He has 10 interceptions in eight seasons, while Ward has five in four. Whitner has been to two Pro Bowls, Ward one.

The move may not have a dramatic impact on the Browns because one safety is replacing another. But it does give the Browns an aggressive safety who is quick to the ball -- though one whose aggressiveness has led him to occasional mistakes.

In signing Whitner and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, the Browns replaced departed players, so in a sense they're treading water -- and getting older in both spots.

But the team likes the aggressiveness Dansby and Whitner bring and believe they are upgrades.