Record contract in hand, Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett says, 'I have to assert myself as the top dog'
Myles Garrett realizes his historic contract extension only raises the enormous expectations Cleveland Browns fans have had for his career since he became the first overall NFL draft pick in 2017.
The star defensive end acknowledged Thursday there is a greater degree of pressure being heaped on him because he signed a five-year, $125 million deal Wednesday, thereby becoming the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history with an average annual salary of $25 million in new money. Chicago Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack held the previous record at $23.5 million per year.
“Now I have to assert myself as the top dog, and I feel like I'm confident and ready to do that,” Garrett said during a Zoom video conference, speaking with Browns beat writers for the first time since he received a season-ending suspension from the league Nov. 15.
New general manager Andrew Berry bet on Garrett bouncing back after the latter became known as one of the most controversial figures in sports. The league forced Garrett to sit out the final six games last season because he hit Mason Rudolph over the head with the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback's helmet on Nov. 14 in the final seconds of a “Thursday Night Football” game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The mega-extension is the Browns’ most significant show of support for Garrett since he became embroiled in drama.
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A day after the league reinstated Garrett on Feb. 12, he told ESPN's Mina Kimes that Rudolph called him a “stupid N-word” in the buildup to the helmet swing, an accusation Rudolph has denied.
Garrett had 10 sacks through 10 games when the league doled out its punishment, but no one truly knows whether he will be the same player in the aftermath of the ugly incident.
“I don't want to be the same player I was last year,” Garrett said. “I want to be better in all aspects. I mean, even on that trajectory, I was in the defensive player of the year conversation. So I don't want to make it a conversation anymore. This next year, I want to ball out, win that award, but I want to take my team to the playoffs and even higher than that.”
Garrett, 24, is as comfortable with his goal to lead the Browns to their first Super Bowl as he is with a long-term commitment to a franchise whose identity since 1999 is best defined by losing and dysfunction. He had two years remaining on his rookie deal so, with the extension, he's under contract for the next seven seasons – through 2026.
“There was no reservation for me because I kind of like that the history is what it is because later it'll only make it so much sweeter when we turn this thing around and actually start winning big games, winning playoff games and finally get to that last one,” Garrett said. “So I'd like to be a part of that. I'd like to lead the pack for that. So whenever we do that, whether it starts next year or however many years it takes, I want to lead Cleveland to that promised land.”
Garrett acknowledged challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic will make it difficult for the Browns to hit the ground running under the guidance of first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski and his staff. The entire offseason program was conducted virtually. Garrett and other team veterans are scheduled to report to training camp July 28 in Berea, Ohio, but the start of camp could be delayed because the NFL Players Association and league have yet to agree on returning to work.
The NFLPA's website revealed 72 players in the league were known to have tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 10.
Garrett is hopeful football will be played this year partly because he ended his 2019 season with unfinished business. The Browns lost four of their six games without him, finished 6-10, blew up the John Dorsey-Freddie Kitchens regime and hired Berry and Stefanski.
“We had a chance to make a run at the playoffs, and I had a chance to solidify myself as a top-two defensive player in the league and hopefully not be considered No. 2,” Garrett said. “I have that to prove next year, and we have to show that this talent can come together, win some games and win big games.”
Garrett knows the pass rush and defense as a whole struggled mightily during his suspension. The Browns had 30 sacks in their 10 games with Garrett and eight sacks in their six games without him.
“I make plays all over the field, and I feel like I have been effective at changing the game plans of some of the offenses that attacked us and kept them from opening too much of their playbook,” he said. “That hurts you before you even get on the field.”
In Garrett’s three seasons, he has played 37 games and has 104 tackles, including 30½ sacks and eight tackles for loss, to go along with six forced fumbles, four passes defensed and a fumble recovery. He posted a career-high 44 tackles, including 13½ sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes defensed in 2018, when he made his lone Pro Bowl.
His extension contains $100 million in guarantees, $50 million fully guaranteed at signing and a $21 million signing bonus, per NFL Network.
Yet Garrett and the Browns believe he hasn't peaked as a player. He also insisted the team is talented enough to be good for a long time.
“I feel like I can only get better, and you will see that this year,” Garrett said. “Cannot talk it into existence. Just got to do it ourselves. Who we have on the D-line, who we have acquired and the guys we have now, the meeting room will feel like the sky is the limit, not only for me, but for everybody.”
Garrett revealed he plans to reward himself for his big payday with a new car. The Texas A&M product wants to buy his family a new home in Texas, too.
He also intends to convince everyone the Browns made a wise investment.
“I'm just going to do my best to make it worth it for them,” he said.
“They have faith in me, and now I have to give them a reason to have that faith.”
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