The revolving-door nature of NFL life should temper any emotional response to such an announcement, but hearing that the Browns released D’Qwell Jackson on Wednesday was enough to bring about more than a tinge of sadness.
Sure, it was understandable. At 30 and after eight NFL seasons and on a team that is introducing yet another new defensive scheme and looking to get younger and faster, Jackson was at the high end of the vulnerability scale. He was due to receive a sizeable roster bonus, so cutting Jackson now rather than making the inevitable move later gives him the opportunity to join another team.
Still, it isn’t easy to see him go.
Jackson was one of the fixtures in a Browns locker room that has undergone rampant turnover since he joined the team as a second-round draft pick in 2006.
As much as anything else, so many of us admired the man’s ability to survive the constant change around him. With each new coach, general manager, president, chief executive officer, and owner, Jackson managed to be a constant presence. You expected him to adapt and overcome.
He did so, first, with his talent and smarts and hustle. Jackson was the cornerstone of the Browns’ defense. He was the one who relayed the signal calls from the sidelines to the rest of the unit, and made the necessary adjustments based on what he saw across the line.
But Jackson did so much more. He might not have had the answers the Browns needed to avoid last year’s 4-12 finish or the other losing seasons of which he was a part in the past eight years. However, he knew the right things to say to his teammates and when to say them. As with any great leader, he didn’t operate in a vacuum. He paid attention to all that he saw and heard around him.
For instance, as the Browns, through a bizarre set of miscues, were in the process of giving up 31 second-quarter points on the day when their defense actually was performing well enough for the team to win at Cincinnati last November, Jackson searched for ways to reverse the wicked tailspin. As he explained to me afterwards, “My job during those times is to kind of look around and see what the temperament of the team is. If guys are kind of feeling sorry for themselves, it’s my job to keep that morale up and just talk our way out of it.”
Unfortunately, the Browns couldn’t talk their way out of a 41-20 loss to the Bengals. But Jackson did make a point of speaking up the next day in a team meeting, reminding everyone about importance of holding each other accountable.
Ray Farmer, the Browns’ new general manager, nailed it in a statement released by the team when he described Jackson as “epitome of class, leadership and professionalism.”
Jackson wasn’t just someone who served as an excellent ambassador for the Browns. He was someone who, after moving from Largo, Fla., via the University of Maryland, proudly represented Cleveland. He willingly gave back to the community and lovingly embraced the many fans who embraced him as one of their own.
The Browns will miss Jackson as a leader, but they have reason to believe that others, such as cornerback Joe Haden and offensive tackle Joe Thomas, can do their part to fill the void.
They also have created a clear vision that linebacker is a primary area of need to address in the draft and free agency. The college crop figures to offer a couple of very good ones in Alabama’s C.J. Mosley and Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.
But that’s something to discuss more thoroughly in the weeks and months ahead.
For now, it is time to say thanks to D’Qwell Jackson for being everything the Browns could have wanted in a player and a person.