CLEVELAND, Ohio — Defensive tackle Malik Jackson invited Jadeveon Clowney to come join him on the Browns train possibly bound for the Super Bowl.
“I don’t think I have to [recruit him], to be honest with you,’’ Jackson said. “It’s one of those things that the team speaks for itself and what we’re trying to build speaks for itself. If you want to hop on board, come hop on board. I understand the free agency market is not what he probably wants, but things are bigger than monetary value. You get a chance to be on a good team and set yourself up in the future.”
The Browns hosted Clowney, 28, on a free agent visit last week, and he left without a contract. But the Browns are still interested in signing him at the right price, providing they have a comfort level with his health. He’s coming off surgery to repair a torn meniscus that cost him the second half of last season, and the Browns undoubtedly want to make sure they’re protected in the event he misses time again.
Clowney, on the other hand, must decide if this is a fit for him, especially at whatever amount the Browns have in mind, which is likely considerably less than the one-year, $13 million deal he got from the Titans last year.
But Jackson is confident that Clowney would soon realize what he did when he agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $4.5 million: that the Browns have what it takes to make it to the big show. And Jackson would know. He won a Super Bowl in Denver after the 2015 season, when current Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods was secondary coach there.
“A Super Bowl-contender team. … that’s what I was looking for, especially with the climate of this free agency and a lot of one-year deals,’’ Jackson, 31, said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere that was trying to rebuild.”
He’s also not worried about the Browns hype-train derailing with all the Super Bowl talk from the new players — and from some in the local and national media.
“There’s no such thing [as setting your expectations too high],’’ he said. “If you’re not seeing yourself in January and if you’re not saying to yourself the day after the Super Bowl, ‘My team is going to the Super Bowl next year,’ then you’re wrong. You have to put yourself in the mindset of being great.’’
It’s what the Broncos did throughout the 2015 season en route to their 24-10 victory over the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
“Yeah, we talked it up,’’ he said. “[But it’s] more in the actions than the words. I see guys on Instagram, and I know (LB) Malcolm Smith very well, I saw him the other day working hard. I see the actions behind the words, and that’s what’s important.”
A fifth-round pick of the Broncos out of USC in 2012, Jackson got to know Woods well when they were in Denver, which is a major reason he’s here. They’ve remained close, and are eager to be reunited.
“He’s consistent,’’ Jackson said. “He knows what he’s talking about. He’s been through the fire. He’s honest. Being with someone who won a Super Bowl [with me], they understand who I was when I was younger and see that I’m the same guy. I know Joe Woods is going to give me the opportunity to go out there and fight and try to earn things.’’
Jackson had chance to get to know Browns GM Andrew Berry well too, but fate thwarted those plans. He signed a three-year free agent deal with the Eagles in 2019 when Berry was VP of Football Operations there, but suffered a Lisfranc foot injury in the season opener and was placed on injured reserve. He returned last season and started six games, but was limited to 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
“When you get a chance to go back out there again, you’re nervous about doing what you just did,’’ he said. “It was a little tough early, but with the D line there, I was able to just get reps mentally. It was tough early, but it got better. I don’t think I’m far away of how long it will take to get back. I think I’m there.’’
Naysayers predicted he wouldn’t make it back from the complex injury, especially at his age.
“Those things still creep in your mind,’’ he said. “Last year, I was able to get sure with it. It got cold and nothing happened, so I know I;m good now. All of those little ‘what ifs’ or ‘oh my gosh, I am nervous to do that’ are out of the window.”
Berry envisions Jackson lining up not only as a traditional three-technique, but also a “Big End’’ in sub-defenses. When he’s on his game, he explodes off the ball.
“What we love about him is his length, quickness and tenacity as an interior rusher to give us more of a presence in passing situations over guards and centers,’’ Berry said in a release last week.
In three of his eight seasons (not counting 2019), Jackson had six sacks or more, including eight in 2017 when he was in the second of three seasons in Jacksonville.
“I pride myself on getting to the quarterback,’’ he said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here. I know I have a good opportunity to get back to where I was three years ago when I had eight sacks. I’m coming here to put pressure up that middle so the D ends can get the sacks when the quarterback falls out and vice versa. I’m coming here to be a team player.”
Jackson, who will be part of a tackle rotation that includes Sheldon Richardson, Andrew Billings, who’s coming off of his COVID-19 opt-out and 2019 third-round pick Jordan Elliott, is eager to help Myles Garrett be even more of a beast than he is.
“He has to just keep doing what he’s been doing, bringing that edge, getting to that quarterback and making them step up,’’ he said. “I’m just coming in trying to add a little bit more oomph. I know Richardson has been doing a great job over there. [I’m not trying] to do too much or act like I am an end-all, be-all.’’
Jackson also plans to help two other newcomers, safety John Johnson III and cornerback Troy Hill, do their jobs.
“The pass rush and coverage go hand in hand,’’ he said. “I’m excited for the guys who we are bringing in, but I am just excited to get there and do my part to show them my work.”
And if they live up to expectations, he’ll be the wise Super Bowl sage in the locker room.
“The team went far last year, so I’m hoping I’m just a little bit of a push to help them go even farther,’’ he said. “That way my knowledge deep in the playoffs can really shine.”
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