Browns Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson Embracing New Outlook
Mad at his situation. Mad at the Cleveland Browns. Mad at the NFL. Mad at the world.
"I'm not going to lie," Jackson told FanHouse last week. "The whole thing, for me, was a huge distraction. But I've put all that behind me now and I'm looking ahead to what I can control."
Like having a big, big 2010 season.
Since being selected out of Maryland with the second pick in Round 2 of the 2006 draft, Jackson has been a highly productive inside linebacker for the Browns when healthy. Two seasons ago, he led the club with 188 tackles, the most during any of his four seasons.
Key point: Four seasons.
Jackson was one of more than 220 NFL players who fell victim to the quirky -- and unfortunate -- free-agency rules in the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement. Because the CBA for the pending uncapped season extended the necessary years of tenure to reach unrestricted free agency, Jackson was classified as a restricted free agent this offseason. The Browns assigned him a second-round tender, meaning a one-year deal worth $1.759 million. Both Jackson and his agent spent the offseason stewing over their situation, claiming the Browns made verbal promises to give Jackson a contract extension. That, however, was before new president Mike Holmgren was hired and cleaned house in the front office.
As it turned out, Jackson, one of the team's co-captains, was one of five Browns that made noise about their RFA status and protested by boycotting organized team activities and mini-camp, and even threatened to hold out of training camp.
"It's utterly ridiculous," agent Brian Mackler told the National Football Post last month. "I'm tired of excuses. The team made promises of a new deal it has not kept. What they're doing is wrong. That we're even having this conversation about a tender is utterly ridiculous."
Sometime over the last five weeks, however, Jackson found it equally ridiculous investing so much frustration in something he can't control. When he reports for camp with the rest of his Browns teammates July 30, Jackson will be at peace with it all -- and in the best shape of his life, he said.
"I have a plan for everything I want to do, from now, all the way to the end of the season. And it starts, first and foremost, with me being healthy for a full 16-game season," said Jackson, who has finished two of his four pro seasons on injured reserved, including '09 when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in a Week 6 loss at Pittsburgh. "I'm shooting for the clouds, man. I definitely want to help get us to that postseason, but I also want to take what I've learned on and off the field and become a leader of this team; the best pro I can possibly be, all the way around."
Jackson credits his offseason work at IMG Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla., about an hour from his hometown of Largo, with his tip-top conditioning and positive outlook. He's been working out here since January and is so encouraged by the across-the-board results that he'll consider buying a condominium on the IMG property next year.
He certainly took his work at the IPI mental training center to heart.
Trevor Moawad, director at IPI, saw a change in Jackson over the course of their six months together, especially together they went through tape of Jackson's pro career and had the player pick out his favorite highlights, thus reinforcing all the positive things he'd done on the field -- and how he was capable of even more.
"Everything relates to another, so there's always a root source of your frustration," Moawad said. "One of the things in the evolution of D'Qwell over these months, I think what you saw was a sense that he had more and more control over his future."
Translation: the big contract will come.
Instead of channeling anger toward the CBA and his RFA status, Jackson now wants to be a part of the solution and become active on the player representative front as the league and players' union look to head off a potential lockout when their contract expires next March.
"We should never be in the situation where you have a select group of players being affected like they were [with RFA status] this year," Jackson said. "We're already in a profession where there's only a short period of time to make the money we can make. Granted, we make more than most. We're all blessed. But there's entirely too much money and too many smart people involved for us to be in this mess. I think I can help."
The subject turned to rookies getting mega-contracts while proven veterans players -- ones making, oh, say, 188 tackles in a season, for example -- are being restricted in their earnings.
"There's no reason in hell the No. 1 overall draft pick should make more money than Peyton Manning. I mean, c'mon!" Jackson said. "Now, I don't want to take away from the players who came before me, who made less so I could make more. But [the Browns] had the seventh overall pick [and took Florida cornerback] Joe Haden. I'm not going to sit here and say Joe Haden is not a great player. He's a heckuva talent. But all that money going to guys right out of college could be helping my situation and the situation of my teammates and balancing everything out. The game's about production, and guys who produce should get paid. Younger guys should know that they have to come in, bust their tails and their time will come."
In the interim, Jackson must deal with the system as is. Accepting that, rather than playing the ol' chip-on-the-shoulder card, may be the best way to get where he wants to go.
The starting point, though, is training camp. The Browns may be coming off a 5-11 season, but they won their last four games to finish on a high note. Jackson wasn't on the field to enjoy it. He wants to make up for lost time, which just might lead to making up for some lost money.
"From being injured to being tendered, hell, it's all part of a big plan," Jackson said. "I'm of the mindset now that I'm going to enjoy the journey, wherever it takes me. Because you know what? I think it's going to have a helluva ending."