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The curious case of Jadeveon Clowney and how it impacts the culture within the Browns organization

Jadeveon Clowney
Posted at 6:51 PM, Jan 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-06 19:27:02-05

BEREA, Ohio — On Thursday afternoon inside the Cleveland Browns locker room, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney stood at his locker talking with Cleveland.com reporter Mary Kay Cabot in a one-on-one interview. After his comments made in the interview were published in an article, they prompted him to be dismissed from practice.

The interview with Cleveland.com dove into his future with the team, and Clowney said that he was "95% sure" he wouldn't re-sign with the team after the offseason. He also brought up qualms he had with the way the Browns defense was utilizing him, claiming fellow pass rusher Myles Garrett was getting favorable matchups to boost his production while Clowney was left with the short end of the stick.

RELATED: Browns DE Jadeveon Clowney sent home after comments made in interview

However, the issue with that is Garrett is double-teamed at one of the highest rates in the league and has still outproduced Clowney, notching 15 sacks to Clowney's two and 53 tackles to Clowney's 28, although Clowney has missed three games. Even with more offensive linemen to shed, Garrett has worked himself into more productive situations.

Clowney's biggest issue was specific to a single game, the Baltimore Ravens matchup back in October where he voiced his frustration about his usage after the game, yelling in the locker room and beyond in frustration.

"Moving Myles to the left side, so that is where he obviously voiced his frustration after the game. It was something that we dealt with. For his two years here ...we have always tried to match up Myles on their weaker links and JD on their weaker links and move both of those guys around. We have always done that," said defensive line coach Chris Kiffin. "He was frustrated with the way we used him in that game and putting Myles on the weak link. We addressed it, we moved on and we tried to scheme the best we could to get him favorable matchups the rest of the year.

"He hadn’t said anything since then. Would it catch me by surprise? No, because he hasn’t had the production he had last year. Again, it was a frustrating season for all of us – everybody in this organization, defensively and for him. Obviously, he didn’t have the production he had last year, so he is frustrated. The way he went about it I don’t agree with, but we are here today dealing with it," Kiffin added.

Even if the comments Clowney had were valid concerns, the problem his team had with them wasn't that he had them at all—it's how he addressed them.

While head coach Kevin Stefanski said he's had conversations with Clowney frequently, and Kiffin knew the frustration existed, Clowney didn't have those conversations directly with Garrett. The two have become close since Clowney arrived in Cleveland, priding themselves on being a strong pass-rush duo capable of disrupting any offense.

So the fact that Clowney failed to talk to Garrett about his concerns rubbed No. 95 the wrong way.

"This is our team, he's my brother, he's my teammate and I wish we could have talked about this man-to-man and to us as coaches as well. Could have sat us all down and had just a conversation and that would've probably been the way I would've handled it. But hindsight is 20/20," Garrett said "He's feeling a lot of emotion towards what has been a season of ups and downs and there's no perfect way to handle things. But I wish he would've handled it a little bit differently."

The inflammatory interview Clowney gave was enough to prompt the team to send him home for the day before practice began. But it wasn't the first time something like this has been seen in Clowney. Sources familiar with the situation shared that he's had moments like that throughout his tenure with Cleveland that have been overlooked.

In fact, Kiffin had previously dealt with Clowney refusing to play on anything but third downs, attributing his inability to go on first and second with lingering injuries.

"Working through that Baltimore game, yeah, he came off the field, said that he was hurting and he said that, first third down came after that moment, I said, 'Can you go on third?' He's like, 'Yeah.' And he went and then next series said he couldn't go on first, so that's where we were, he played third down that game," Kiffin said.

Only Kiffin found out later that he wasn't actually in pain and it may have just been his response to having Garrett moved into a position he wanted to be in.

Clowney is a veteran on this team and as such is expected to be a leader. Having situations like the one facing him this week is something the Browns can't afford with such a young roster. It sets a precedent that the Browns don't want. Stefanski and his staff have worked hard to keep issues like this internal, but Clowney didn't follow suit, which couldn't be tolerated.

"I think you guys know me and you know what I am about. I am going to keep all of those discussions internal. What I would tell you is nothing comes above the team," Stefanski said. “We have talked about culture before, and you guys have heard me say this, culture is about people, bottom line. When you have the right people, you have the right culture. You are constantly trying to make sure that within your locker room, guys are living up to what you believe in, but we do that every day.”

For guys like rookie defensive end Alex Wright, the moment is not something he will let impact him or his game.

Sitting at his locker with his headphones on after practice, Wright was very much tuning out the hustle and bustle of a loaded locker room with media looking for more information about Clowney's comments. Even set to have a bigger role should the Browns rule out Clowney for Sunday's game against the Steelers (which appears to be a growing possibility), Wright was only interested in what he can control.

"You're going to have bumps in the road as always but that's just testing how you are, just testing your character. What don't kill you makes you stronger, that's how I look at it for real," Wright said. "I just try to pay attention to who we have on Sunday and at practice, just do what I need to do to get ready. Other than that, it just makes us stronger in the locker room."

Wright is new to the NFL locker room but not a football locker room. He's seen things that can test a culture before, and he believes that keeping his head down and staying hard at work is the best course of action to negate any negativity from rubbing off on him or others new to the team.

Garrett, however, hopes that while young guys keep their heads down and focus on themselves, they'll also learn a lesson from Clowney about how to handle these types of situations.

"How we respond will show what the culture is. It's all in action and if we're a brotherhood like we say we are, then we'll rally together and we'll put up a hell of a fight and we'll get a win in Pittsburgh. So we got to show it," Garrett said. There's gotta be better communication across the board and there's gotta be a steady dose of leadership from the top down and we've gotta squash all this before it comes to a head like this.

"And there shouldn't be a lot of instances where stuff like this happens, especially with this group of guys, how talented we are and the level of leadership that we do have here from all across the board. Older guys and veterans coming from different places."

Coach Kiffin believes "culture is everything," and after addressing the comments the defensive end made with the position group in the morning meeting before he was dismissed from the building, he took exception to this situation and how Clowney handled it.

"I'll just say I addressed the room that I thought he handled it the wrong way as a man," Kiffin admitted. “The disappointing part is the last two weeks around this building, we have kind of had a really good thing going with the competition out at practice. Obviously, no one is happy with the situation we are in but making the best of it. Guys around the building, flying around and having fun out there on the practice field. Obviously, you saw what it did and lead to the result it did against Washington. We are ready to do the same thing Sunday, and we are dealing with this 48 hours before kickoff, it is not good."

Clowney has stirred a pot, whether it was intentional or not, and may be ending his time with the Browns on a truly sour note. With the defensive end set to become a free agent once the season ends, should the Browns continue his dismissal discipline into the trip to Pittsburgh, it's very likely Clowney has played his last snaps in orange and brown.

It's been a whirlwind two years and Clowney has had moments that seemed like he was the perfect fit in Cleveland. That doesn't seem to be felt on his end, though, and his confessions in the interview Thursday may be an unfortunate goodbye to his team.

Camryn Justice is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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