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Browns Preview 2022: Jacoby Brissett’s ready to make the most of his opportunity as starter

Jacoby Brissett made it clear he’s not a victim of circumstance and didn’t become the Browns’ starting quarterback by happenstance. Brissett knew what would come with accepting Cleveland’s contract offer and jumped at the chance anyway.

Because he’s got the chance to start.

“That’s what pushed me here,” he said last week in an interview with The Chronicle-Telegram. “That was the main reason why I wanted to come here, because of that opportunity.”

Brissett’s focus is on being a full-time, albeit temporary, starter for the first time since 2019 in Indianapolis. He’ll let everyone else worry about the chain of events that created the messy situation.

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Brissett’s name rarely comes up without an accompanying mention of Deshaun Watson. Brissett is atop the depth chart because Watson agreed to an 11-game suspension, $5 million fine and to be evaluated by behavioral experts and follow their treatment program after he was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage therapy appointments.

The Browns knew a suspension was likely when they traded for Watson on March 18 and quickly signed Brissett to a one-year, $4.65 million contract. For Brissett, that meant a return to the emergency starter role he stepped into in 2017 and 2019 with the Colts.

He didn’t get complete clarity until five months later.

Watson took nearly all the first-team practice reps during the offseason and the first two-plus weeks of training camp. The announcement of a six-game suspension didn’t come until Aug. 1, and it was increased to 11 after an appeal by the NFL and a settlement.

The entire situation seems unsettling.

Not for Brissett.

“Because I just know myself, I know what I’ve been through,” Brissett said. “I’m very comfortable with who I am, not only as a man, but as a player and my abilities and that puts me at ease.”

Brissett (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) will open the season Sunday in Carolina. Despite outside discussions of trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, the Browns never wavered in their support of Brissett. With Super Bowl aspirations and a well-rounded roster, general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski trust Brissett to keep them in contention until Watson is due to return Dec. 4 against Houston.

The pressure will be intense. Without at least a handful of wins from Brissett, the Browns will be all but eliminated from the playoff chase.

He’s good friends with linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. from their days with the Colts and discussed the situation in Cleveland.

“He definitely understood that he’d have the opportunity to play,” Walker told The Chronicle on Monday. “And I know what he can do, what he’s capable of as a starting quarterback in the league. So for him to have that opportunity to put that on display with a new group of guys, I think is great for him.”

History is part of the reason the Browns turned to Brissett.

He became an emergency starter as a rookie in Week 3 in 2016 with the Patriots, who drafted him in the third round out of North Carolina State. Tom Brady was suspended and Garoppolo was injured in Week 2.

The Colts traded for Brissett before the 2017 season, and he stepped in for Andrew Luck, who was out with a shoulder injury. Brissett took over in Week 2 and started the rest of the season, going 4-11.

His next chance came in 2019 when Luck shocked the NFL world by retiring before the season. Brissett and the Colts got off to a hot start before injuries hit and they finished 7-9.

The situation with the Browns seems similar.

“No, it’s not the same,” Brissett said. “I was playing the whole year then.”

JUST GETTING STARTED

Brissett is proud of his reputation as the ultimate team guy and will step aside upon Watson’s return. He did the same when the Colts signed Philip Rivers as a free agent in 2020.

But there was an admission when he brought up not playing the whole season. The labels — journeyman, confirmed backup, placeholder — may stick but he refuses to be defined by them, or the first stage of his career.

“I have a story, that’s for sure,” Brissett said. “But that’s what makes me so excited, man, because I know the story’s not done yet. And I don’t even think we reached the climax of the story.

“It’s been just a lot of stuff building up in this story and I’m excited for this next chapter. I’m only 29. It’s kind of just getting started, right?”

No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper knows how excited Brissett is for another chance to start.

“This league is all about opportunity. Life’s really about opportunity,” Cooper said. “I don’t even know many people who aren’t eager for the opportunity they’ve been waiting for basically since they were young kids.

“Of course, you can see it’s there. That’s why we prepare, that’s why he prepares. We all believe in him. We see what he does in practice. We see his preparation.”

“Any time you’re able to get that opportunity to put your work, your talents on display, you live for that,” Walker said. “He’s always kept the right attitudes for when his opportunity came he’d be prepared.”

Brissett was never going to stick as the starter in New England. Brady took care of that.

His first chance in Indianapolis was temporary, as Luck returned from injury in 2018. The second shot with the Colts ended with the acquisition of Rivers. Brissett played with the Dolphins last year, starting five games off the bench, then signed with the Browns.

He hasn’t wowed in his opportunities but has been solid, proving he will protect the ball and keep his team in games. In 2017, he completed 58.8 percent for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 81.7 passer rating despite being sacked a league-high 52 times. In 2019, he completed 60.9 percent for 2,942 yards, 18 touchdowns, six interceptions and an 88.0 rating. He was sacked 27 times.

For his career, he’s 14-23 as a starter with a 60.2 completion percentage, 36 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and an 83.0 rating.

“The coaches I talked to about Jacoby first of all raved about him and raved about the person,” Stefanski said. “Then when you start to dive into the things that he has been through and the situations he has been in and around, it goes to show you this is a player who has seen a lot in his young life and young career and I think has shaped him into a really resilient person and a really, really solid leader for this football team.”

Brissett has never had an agent. Contracts for draft picks are slotted, so he thought it was a waste of money as a rookie and didn’t change his mind when he became a free agent. Without someone selling him to teams, he relies on recommendations from former coaches and teammates.

“It’s always about the guys that I’m in the locker room with. And they kind of tell my story for me,” he said.

Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was Brissett’s coordinator with the Colts and couldn’t say enough good things.

“He’s the best,” Sirianni said during the joint practices in August. “He’s just a great leader and a great guy to be around. I love the man.”

LEARNING FROM LEGENDS

Brissett was only with the Patriots for a little more than a year but soaked up plenty. He remains friends with Brady, who’s won seven Super Bowls and is still going strong at 45 years old.

The biggest lesson Brissett learned was confidence in preparation.

“He used to prepare like no other. He always took his preparation to the field and that’s very hard to do,” Brissett said, pointing to the Super Bowl win over the Falcons following the 2016 season. “He stuck with his plan even though the game wasn’t going how he wanted it to be.”

The Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit to win in overtime, further cementing Brady’s legacy. Brissett realizes how special it is to say he played with the greatest of all time.

“Oh, man, it’s crazy,” he said. “Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be able to say that. He is every bit of that, plus more. Him as a friend and as a person, it sounds cliche, but it’s way better than him as a player.”

Brissett considers New England’s Bill Belichick the “greatest coach of all time,” so his introduction to the NFL was doubly meaningful.

“I learned so much football from both of them, but definitely Belichick,” Brissett said. “And being in those quarterback meetings where he would kind of just go through the defenses and the DBs and from a defensive mindset.

“It’s just so much stuff that you go to other places and you see a lot of carryover from Belichick.”

The lessons continued in Indianapolis with Luck and Rivers. Brissett called Luck one of the smartest players he’d been around, and Rivers complimented Brissett for welcoming him when it could’ve been an uncomfortable situation.

“That professionalism is why guys in the locker room really respect and admire him,” Rivers said. “He could have gone the other way this year and he chose not to and has been a real pro.”

MAN AMONG MEN

Rivers’ comment came during a video put together by the Colts when Brissett was their pick as Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2020. His off-the-field work was recognized by teammates and his reputation preceded him to Cleveland.

“That was definitely one of the highlights of my career,” Brissett said of the award.

He organizes a community bike ride in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where he won football and basketball state championships at Dwyer High School, to create unity and promote community dialogue with local police. More than 300 bikes, 200 backpacks and 400 meals are given to kids in need.

He’s also an advocate for the right to vote for every citizen and helped 100 percent of the Colts players and coaches register in 2020, brought awareness to the Indianapolis Urban League through the My Cause My Cleats initiative, donated $50,000 for internet hotspots for Indianapolis Public Schools and held a Q&A with other athletes focused on Black history, the importance of Black athletes and how people can make a difference in their communities.

“I love my bike ride back in my hometown every year. That’s something that’s very dear to me,” Brissett said when asked to pick a favorite. “And then I do a Halloween costume party with kids with cancer. That is a lot of fun that I’m very excited about.”

He plans to continue the tradition of community involvement in Northeast Ohio.

“For sure. Now that all the dust is settled a little bit, it’s kind of the time to put those bugs in people’s ears and things of that nature,” he said. “So I’m excited about that.”

TAKING A SHOT

Brissett said he wants the best for the team “no matter what.” The best for the Browns must include an improved passing game from a year ago.

Brissett’s reputation as a conservative decision-maker proved true in training camp, as most of his passes were short or intermediate. That likely won’t cut it with defenses loading up at the line of scrimmage to stop Cleveland’s run game. Brissett’s best chance to win games will be to connect on deep passes off play-action.

“That’s a little bit of what Kevin’s system is. Run the ball and when they come and stack the box, then you’ve got to take the shots to make them pay for coming up. I’m excited for it,” he said. “And learning when to take the shot and when not to take the shot, because it’s always different with every team. Some guys want you to be super aggressive. Some guys want you to, if it ain’t there, just check it down or give this guy a chance. That’s kind of what we’ve been working on is just trying to find the thin line.”

Walker has seen him excel in this area.

“In Indy we had a great play-action pass game with him as the quarterback,” he said. “We were able to get the run game going a lot and then take some shots off of it.

“We’ve got two of the best running backs in the game, one of the best O-lines in the game and playmakers outside. Definitely going to be able to open up that play-action shot game.”

A defense expected to be among the best in the league and a run game with plenty of pieces to grind out yards is a strong foundation. But the NFL in 2022 requires quarterbacks to make clutch plays on third down, in the red zone and in the fourth quarter to turn narrow defeats into thrilling victories.

“He comes in, he does everything the right way, he has a good grasp of what we’re trying to do on offense, he understands who he is as a quarterback,” Cooper said.

And he knows where he’s been and where he hopes to go.

“There’ve been so many unique situations. The one underlying constant factor is just me being ready to go when my opportunity comes,” Brissett said. “Like I said, I don’t even know where I’m at in the story, but I just know the story hasn’t even reached to climax yet.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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