A few themes have developed for the Cleveland Browns in the opening weeks of free agency.
The first is that general manager Andrew Berry has gone about fixing positions of need, most notably in the secondary and defensive line, doing so with a nice mix of contracts that leave the team with much-needed cap flexibility in the coming years.
Berry also targeted and retained a few of the team’s own free agents, such as wide receiver Rashard Higgins, kicker Cody Parkey, and linebacker Malcolm Smith, among others.
One of the more interesting themes, however, has been the shift in how veteran free agents view the Browns.
No longer are players signing with Cleveland just to cash a going-away paycheck at the end of their NFL career. Now, players are coming to the Browns because they want the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. (The accompanying paycheck is obviously nice as well, we’re not naive here.)
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson spoke about that very topic during a media session on Wednesday (quotes from a team-provided transcript):
“A Super Bowl-contender team, and that is what I was looking for, especially with the climate of this free agency and a lot of one-year deals. I did not want to go anywhere that was trying to rebuild. I wanted to go somewhere with a consistent team, somewhere I could come in and not have to be the guy and I could just be a supporting role and have opportunities to fight for a job starting and third downs. That is all I could ask for.”
“What made the Browns stand out to me was just the upbringing, where they are right now and where I used to see them at when I was living in Ohio, watching them on Sundays and just being able to see this program is turning it around. What other place would I want to be other than home when they go win that Super Bowl? It is an opportunity for us to go win a Super Bowl.”
Linebacker Anthony Walker on March 22? Yep, you guessed it:
“At the end of the day, we play this game to win the biggest trophy in it and that is winning the Super Bowl. That is my No. 1 goal. It will always be my No. 1 goal, whatever team I play for, it is to win a Super Bowl. Honestly, when you have that mindset, everything else comes after. You play good defense, everybody is going to get the accolades and all of that stuff. It is just what happens. My No. 1 goal is to help this team win a Super Bowl and the next part of that would be to help us become the No. 1 defense in the NFL and whatever that takes. Whatever happens after that, it is all gravy. At the end of the day, I want to win and that is why Cleveland is the place I chose.”
There is one more takeaway here, one that applies to the entire team and that Jackson touched on.
The Browns are likely to enter the season with high expectations and a considerable amount of hype - just like they did in 2019. But unlike that team, which proved unable to live up to those expectations, this year’s team is different.
Not only do the Browns have a front office and talented front office working together, but there are several players still on the roster who lived through the nightmare of 2019 and bounced back with a playoff run in 2020.
That experience will serve the team well this fall. Plus, as Jackson pointed out, there is nothing to fear about having expectations as long as you put in the work needed to meet them:
“No, there is no such thing [as setting your expectations too high]. I think if you are not seeing yourself in January and if you are not saying to yourself the day after the Super Bowl, ‘My team is going to the Super Bowl next year,’ then you are wrong. I think you have to put yourself in the mindset of being great, expecting to be great and letting things fall where they may after 17 weeks. I do not think it is bad for guys to have expectations. I think it makes you work harder to put expectations on you that you want to meet. I think it is the right thing to do.”
The opening weeks have shown that times are changing for the Browns, and with that comes increased expectations.
Now it is up to the coaches and players to work to meet those expectations.