Jadeveon Clowney after signing with Browns: 'I can still dominate' in NFL
Jadeveon Clowney used the word "elite" to describe the type of player he still believes he can be in the NFL.
The Browns are obviously confident in Clowney. They signed him Wednesday to a one-year contract worth up to $10 million with incentives, a person familiar with the deal confirmed.
Clowney, 28, told Browns beat writers on Zoom he hasn't reached his potential since entering the NFL in 2014 as the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Houston Texans.
"The funny thing I tell people about my career is it started off slow because I got hurt my first game [and had to undergo] a microfracture [surgery on my right knee]," Clowney said. "It's probably the worst thing you can have in this game. I don't think everybody got to see the person they drafted yet. I think I'm working back toward that, but I'm well on my way now.
"I made three Pro Bowls, and it's funny 'cause I ain't never really been all the way healthy to the point where I felt like nothing's bothering me. But I still can dominate in this league. I know that. If I ever reach my max potential or get back there like I feel now, they say the sky's the limit, but it's probably higher than that. They've got footprints on the moon. That's what we're trying to reach."
Clowney added he has faith he could become an NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but the key for him will be playing a full season. He's coming off Dec. 6 surgery on torn meniscus cartilage in his left knee, but he said he feels great now.
“I stopped playing last season because of a meniscus,” he said. “I'm glad I did [stop] when I did stop and it didn't get worse, and then I went to get surgery. I feel great now. I'm looking forward to this season and prove to guys that I'm back healthy and I still can dominate in this league. That's all I'm here to prove this year.”
Clowney knows what an NFL Defensive Player of the Year looks like. In Houston, he played with J.J. Watt, who has won the award three times.
Now Clowney is eager to line up opposite All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett, who led the Browns with 12 sacks last season despite missing two games with COVID-19. Garrett has made two Pro Bowls. Clowney has made three, each season from 2016-18. He had a career-high 9½ sacks and 21 quarterback hits in 2017.
“I've been getting double-teamed an awful lot in this league and in my career,” Clowney said. “I'm looking forward to playing with somebody who's dominant on the opposite side like a Myles Garrett, who can draw a double team. Maybe I can go one on one more.”
Clowney said an opportunity to play with other great defenders was a factor in his decision to sign with the Browns, who also pursued him last offseason before he signed a one-year, $13 million contract with the Titans. Clowney added he'll avoid stepping on Garrett's toes and he doesn't mind at all if the focus remains on Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017.
“It might take some pressure off of myself,” said Clowney, who has only talked to Garrett a couple of times.
Everyone involved with the Browns has been focused on Clowney since news of his second visit to team headquarters surfaced Sunday night. Quarterback Baker Mayfield turned 26 on Wednesday and reacted to the franchise signing Clowney by writing on Instagram, “This is a nice birthday present.”
Clowney said he didn't think about uniting with the likes of Mayfield and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., though.
“I didn't even think about the offensive side. I was just thinking about the defense,” Clowney said. “If I was thinking about offense, I would probably start with that running game – the two-headed monster [of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt] is really what gets me. Those guys in the backfield are hard to tackle.”
The words of Super Bowl-winning defensive tackle Malik Jackson left an impression on Clowney, too. Jackson signed with the Browns last month.
"I don't think I have to [make a pitch to Clowney], to be honest with you," Jackson said March 31 on Zoom. "The team speaks for itself and what we're trying to build speaks for itself. So if you want to hop on board, come hop on board.
"I understand the free-agency market isn't what he probably wants, but things are bigger than monetary value, and you'd get a chance to be on a good team and set yourself up in the future."
Clowney, 28, listened.
“I caught some of the words [Jackson] said and some of the words [safety John Johnson III] said about, ‘He hasn't played with anybody in his career’ and ‘come and join a good defense.’ That kind of caught my attention,” Clowney said. “They're hungry. I can tell you that. They're hungry and they feel like they're on a winning team, too. That's why I jumped on board.”
In five of Clowney's seven NFL seasons, he has been a member of a playoff team. He has played in five postseason games and missed two others because of injuries. He has never advanced past the divisional round, where the Browns were eliminated in January by the eventual AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Now they're hoping Clowney and other free-agent acquisitions will boost their defense and aid their quest to reach a Super Bowl for the first time.
“Since we have a lot of new pieces, we're going to have to get to know each other and have a feel for each other, so we know how each other plays,” Clowney said. “It's going to come during training camp, when we're all out there together. I think we're going to find out how special of a group we are when it comes down to it and training camp gets here.”