BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Gary Barnidge provided production, leadership and a community presence for some brutally bad Browns teams the past four years.
On Friday, they cut him.
A former Pro Bowler, Barnidge was released in a surprising move by Cleveland, which used one of its three picks in the first round Thursday night to select Miami tight end David Njoku.
Following the pick, Barnidge, who made 134 catches for 1,655 yards over the past two seasons, went on social media to greet his new teammate.
“Welcome to the TE room @David_Njoku80 looking forward to getting started,” Barnidge posted on Twitter.
Just 14 hours later, he wrote a thank-you note to Cleveland fans after being let go.
“I want to thank the Cleveland Browns for giving me my opportunity and looking forward to seeing the change,” he said. “Time for the next step.”
The Browns did not give any reasons for cutting Barnidge. Nor did Cleveland try to get something for him on draft weekend when teams are willing to deal.
Barnidge signed a three-year extension with the club late in his 2015 Pro Bowl season, when he had 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We’d like to thank Gary for all he has done for the Browns and the Cleveland community in his four seasons with our organization,” said Sashi Brown, the team’s executive vice president of football operations. “He has been a fine representative of our team, and we wish him the best going forward.”
Barnidge was Cleveland’s Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient in 2015 for his play on the field and dedication off it.
The 31-year-old tight end signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2013 after five seasons with Carolina — he missed one year with a broken ankle — and blossomed into one of the league’s top targets. He finished with 55 catches for 612 yards and two touchdowns last season, becoming only the third Browns tight end with multiple 50-catch seasons.
It appears the Browns want to get younger at tight end. They traded a second-round pick to Green Bay on Thursday and moved into the first round to select Njoku with the No. 29 overall pick. Cleveland also has second-year tight ends Randall Telfer and Seth DeValve on its roster.