This past week, Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson received a five-year contract extension from the team. Recently the franchise has not extended contracts from draft picks (especially earlier ones) from a few years earlier, Joe Thomas being the main exception. The D’Qwell situation is interesting based on what the man has gone through and the franchise’s confidence in the player in both the present and future.
Coming out of the state of Florida and the university of Maryland, D’Qwell Jackson was not a household name to many people from the Cleveland area. However, after then general manager Phil Savage traded up for the athlete in the second round of the 2006 draft, fans were intrigued at what the linebacker was able to do in the National Football League.
His rookie season was met with moderate results – 93 tackles and no interceptions or sacks. The team went 4-12 and instead of keeping the momentum going following the 2005 season, (a 2 win increase) the franchise regressed. However the 2007 seasons brought hope for the team and fans alike. The ten win season marked the Browns’ best record since 1994, while D’Qwell compiled 101 tackles with a sack and interception. Although some people said coming out of college he was not suited for the 3-4 defense (which the Browns ran at the time) Jackson was making strides.
Unfortunately for the team, they did not qualify for the playoffs that year; injuries and inconsistent quarterbacking play led to another dismal season for the franchise in 2008. Individually, D’Qwell had 154 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 interceptions though – by far his best year. After playing two seasons for Romeo Crennel and being drafted by Phil Savage, Jackson would have a few new bosses in town and was unsure of what was to come.
Eric Mangini’s first year with the team was tumultuous for both the team and D’Qwell Jackson. Against Pittsburgh in the sixth game, he tore his pectoral muscle and went on injured reserve – prematurely ending his 2009 season. The defense never was consistent the remainder of the season, however the team managed to win a few games at the end.
That offseason (August of 2010), Jackson took a trip to Africa. He noted it as life changing and helped deliver goods and supplies to some of the more poverty-stricken areas near Sierra Leone. The residents were extremely gracious, but what resonated with the NFL player was how they were able to live their lives on so little. After returning, D’Qwell said he came away “a better man”. This enhanced one of his many examples of internal drive to make the most of what was given to him and always give everything he has.
Coming off an injury-shortened season in 2009, Jackson was determined to get back on track and improve his on the field performance following his trip. However, another unfortunate injury occurred in training camp for the linebacker. Before the regular season got underway, D’Qwell tore his other pectoral muscle. After much speculation and debate whether he could return during the year, the team decided to once again place the athlete on injured reserve once again ending the season.
What makes is so heartbreaking was the excitement in Jackson’s voice as he vowed to return to form during the 2010 season. When the injury occurred, D’Qwell had a look on his face where he knew what had just happened. The player was deeply saddened and depressed by what information was to come by a doctor. Nonetheless, Jackson once again continued to rehab during the offseason in hopes to get another chance to play in 2011.
For the Cleveland Browns, there were once again a few personnel changes following the 2010 season. Eric Mangini was released which led to the hiring of Pat Shurmur, while then general manager George Kokinis was fired in 2009 and was replaced by Tom Heckert. D’Qwell Jackson was five years into his career but was already on his third coach and general manager.
However, at this point, the rookie contract of Jackson was set to expire in March of 2011; with new personnel entering the franchise it was difficult to speculate who was going to be kept and who was not. Fortunately for D’Qwell, he was given a one-year contract with the team that drafted him a few years earlier. It was most likely a difficult decision as some people likely felt that Jackson would never be a productive NFL player after two severe injuries.
The end result was not a good season win-loss wise, but D’Qwell made the most of his opportunity to impress the new personnel in the front office. He had 158 tackles (second most in the entire NFL) along with three and a half sacks and an interception; his new best season as a pro. Despite one of the better performances in the league, Jackson knew he was going to be a free agent this March if a new contract was not signed prior.
Last week, D’Qwell was given his five-year $42.5 million dollar extension from the Cleveland Browns. The following emotional press conference with Jackson and Mike Holmgren was a powerful one; D’Qwell thanked the team several times for sticking with him and never giving up. A few tears were shed and Jackson lost his composure after mentioning he would retire as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
Over the past season, D’Qwell has become a fan favorite of many of the Browns fans. They want to see him continue to succeed; he has shown to be a quality individual on and off the field. For the several athletes who routinely make judgment errors, Jackson has been the opposite. It was quite refreshing to see the franchise go all in with D’Qwell; he said he wants to be a part of the Browns when they finally win a Super Bowl. And as a Browns fan, I hope that comes true – and sooner rather than later.