The Cleveland Browns signed their prize linebacker, D’Qwell Jackson, to a multi-year contract extension Monday.
Questions surrounding Jackson’s health concerned many Browns’ fans for the 2011 campaign, as the last previous 26 consecutive regular season games (prior to the 2011 NFL season), he missed due to two separate pectoral injuries.
Jackson had his questions as well.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” said Jackson, according to the team’s press release. “As I sit here today, I can remember dating back over a year ago when I didn’t know whether or not I was injured, I was rehabbing, I was doing the necessary things to get myself prepared for an upcoming season and when Coach Holmgren (Browns’ general manager) and his staff gave me an opportunity to come back and plays that’s all I needed.
“I just wanted an opportunity,” he continued. “Now, I sit here, I’ve been through a lot, prepared for and ready to lead this team into a postseason and carry the young guys on this team.”
The former Maryland Terp linebacker bounced back in a huge way for the Browns as he led the AFC and ranked second in the NFL with 158 tackles, while setting a career-high with 3.5 sacks.
“You can’t think about it,” said Jackson when asked about if he had doubts about returning back to form. “You have to think about getting healthy. Once you get an opportunity, once you get the opportunity then it’s just – you don’t think about, ‘Okay, well am I going to be back to this form?’ When you’ve been broken down like I have, you build yourself back up.”
In addition, Jackson posted three defensive fumble recoveries, an interception, one forced fumble, and three passes defensed, helping the Browns’ defense to finish 10th overall. Jackson was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, earned a first alternate for the AFC Pro Bowl squad and was honored as the club’s recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.
Ultimately, Jackson finished second to Detroit Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford in the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Jackson has answered his critics, and himself.
“Maybe one day when it occurred, but to come back from an injury like that back-to-back years you have to be mentally strong,” said Jackson. “It’s tough to do. Once I made that decision, you know what? This is my plan of action, this is what I’m going to do and not sway from that. It’s a great feeling to be sitting here today, it’s a great feeling to play 16 games, to get that behind me and my goals are going to continue to increase.
“What it did for me was, I’ve matured as far as how to take care of my body better, how to do whatever I could,” he added. “I have a motto to myself, ‘whatever I put into my body is either going to help you or hurt you.’ At that point, being at the time which I thought was the lowest of the low, I was able to get out of it, dig myself out of the hole and it wasn’t the end of the world. Not being able to play football would not have been the end of the world, but that’s my life right now and I was going to put my best foot forward doing it.”
Jackson was the Browns’ top priority this offseason. Cleveland has other needs of concern, but they are not far off to where they want to be. On both sides of the ball, the Browns have talent. While quarterback Colt McCoy develops with the offense, the Browns’ defense will continue to give the offense opportunities – with Jackson leading the way.
“It’s my privilege today to bring to you our starting middle linebacker and team leader, D’Qwell Jackson, and announce that he has just signed a contract extension to be with the Cleveland Browns for many years to come,” said Holmgren. “Most of you, I dare say all of you, know this man very, very well. You know how important he is to this team. You know how important he will be in the development of the team in years to come.
“Signing this extension was a number one priority for us as an organization this offseason. I have to compliment Brian Mackler, his agent, and D’Qwell on the business side of this and conducting the negotiation,” he continued. “They were tremendous… Having him with us is a big deal for this football team in the developmental stages that we’re in. I’ve talked to you about building the foundation, and building the foundation with the young guys in the draft. That’s all well and good.
“But what you also need, the component every successful team needs is leadership from players that the younger players look up too,” he added. “By having D’Qwell sign with us again for an extension, we have one of the pieces of that puzzle in place because there’s not a finer guy on our team as a person and you guys all know what a great player he is.”
It’s safe to say that Jackson will finish his career with the Browns, becoming a staple for a franchise at the middle linebacker position like the Ray Lewis’ of the NFL and the Mike Singletary’s before him.
“It’s a feat that a lot of guys around my age and the years that I have in the league can’t say,” said Jackson. “It’s something (they’re) not able to say they can do, is to start somewhere and finish somewhere. That has become important each and every day that I think about me being here for next year, the year after, the year after that so it’s important just to prove anybody wrong.
“I always carry a chip on my shoulder, I always want to put my best foot forward and I’ve never been dealt the great hand growing up,” he added. “I’ve always had to go above and beyond it and that’s been my life and that’s how I’m wired and that’s who I am… This fan base and this community have been great. They’ve shown me nothing but love over the years. They love you when you win and they’ll show you how they feel when you lose, so it’s a good happy medium so to say.
“I feel like now we have a good staff intact, we have a stable of players here to build off of moving forward. I would say this last year, the guys who know me, getting to the postseason is very important. That’s number one over anything. Winning games and obviously winning a Super Bowl, so we’re moving in the right direction.
“When I was building myself back up, hey, I was just wishing for an opportunity and I can’t thank this man enough (points at Mike Holmgren). Just for the opportunity. It’s definitely a blessing.”