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Give him one reason? Jordan Hicks had plenty for joining the Browns

Top-ranked defense? Yep.

Former teammates? Got ’em.

Former coordinator? Sure.

Playoff team, two-year, $8 million contract, chance to start? Check, check, check.

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Linebacker Jordan Hicks listed a roll call of reasons the Browns were an attractive destination last week during the start of free agency.

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“First and foremost, what the defense and this team was able to do last year and the historic nature of that,” he said Thursday. “I know guys like Rodney McLeod, I know guys like Dalvin Tomlinson, Za’Darius (Smith). I have followed their careers and obviously got to play with them personally. And just watching them, talking to them, obviously, is a huge part of free agency and just understanding different situations.

“And then you look at (coordinator) Jim Schwartz and the ability to get back to playing with him, having success with him in Philly and then watching his success here. With the opening at linebacker and the talent that this group has and this organization has, I think it’s a recipe for something special. When an opportunity like this presents itself, you can’t say no.”

Hicks, who’ll turn 32 in June, is a key piece of Cleveland’s linebacker transformation. Starter and captain Anthony Walker Jr. signed with the Dolphins and Sione Takitaki with the Patriots, while Devin Bush signed a one-year contract with the Browns.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah returns following a breakout season of 20 tackles for loss, two interceptions, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble, so he and Hicks are expected to be on the field in the two-linebacker nickel package preferred by Schwartz. Bush will compete to join them in the base defense.

“I’ve seen his game over the years just continue to excel,” Hicks said of Owusu-Koramoah. “And you watch him, he’s all over the place. Just his ability to understand how to attack the ball, how to just use his natural ability, his instincts to find the ball. And obviously his speed and strength is God-given, something you can’t teach. So excited to get around him. I’m excited to get around the entire group.”

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Hicks, a third-round pick of the Eagles in 2015, has started 119 of 122 games, totaling 13 interceptions, 49 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, two touchdowns, 14.5 sacks, 874 tackles and 47 for loss. In 13 games last year, he reached 100 (107) tackles for the fifth straight season, adding an interception, five passes defensed, a sack, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown.

Just as general manager Andrew Berry had a plethora of resources to inquire about Hicks, the linebacker could scroll through his phone and find someone with information about the Browns. He played with Tomlinson and Smith in 2022 with the Vikings and played for Schwartz from 2016-18 with the Eagles, winning the Super Bowl after the 2017 season.

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“One thing about Jim and his defense is it’s concise,” Hicks said. “You know your role and you know how offenses are going to attack you. When I look back on my career and I look back at the times and the years that I played as clear-minded as I ever have, it was those years with Coach Schwartz. And I think that’s just due to the preparation that he brings, the understanding of the defense, the understanding of how offenses are going to try to scheme you up and then just executing at a high level.”

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Schwartz joined the Browns last season and turned the defense into the NFL’s top-ranked unit. In addition to leading the league in yards allowed, it led in passing yards, first downs and third-down conversions. The defense helped the Browns survive a series of season-ending injuries and using five starting quarterbacks to go 11-6 and reach the playoffs for the second time in four years.

“Excited to be a part of it,” Hicks said. “That’s what you play this game for. I’m going into Year 10. I want to win. I played on teams that don’t win, and it’s not fun to play this game.
“So when you’re in an organization that takes it as serious as the Browns do and have an expectation of doing more than what is just acceptable, that’s what good teams do.”

Culture and chemistry were key pieces to the success last year, and Hicks will be counted on to help continue to cultivate the winning environment.

“It’s kind of been my role since I was in Philly, as more of a young guy still took on that leadership role,” he said. “But I don’t force anything. I try to just be who I am. I try to be authentic. I’m here to aid in other people’s maturation and grow all our IQs and our ability to play together.

“When you have 11 guys on a defense who are playing with that type of mindset to serve and to help each other to grow, to excel, I think that’s what makes certain defenses special.”

Hicks joins several players in their 30s as the Browns try to seize the opportunity to chase a championship. Left guard Joel Bitonio, defensive end Za’Darius Smith, defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris, kicker Dustin Hopkins, long snapper Charley Hughlett and tight end Jordan Akins will be joined by receiver Amari Cooper and right tackle Jack Conklin, who will turn 30 before the season.

“It just speaks to the culture that I think they’re trying to build and then also the fact that they’re trying to compete right now,” Hicks said. “It’s not always about looking ahead and always going younger. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have a job right now. So appreciate that. Very much so.

“It’s a testament of what’s being built here, and I think it’s good to have a good blend of veteran leadership along with young energy and young players.”

Hicks got quite a scare last year when what seemed like an ordinary shin bruise during a game Nov. 12 wound up being compartment syndrome, a painful condition when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels. He was taken to the hospital and had surgery. He missed four games but returned to finish the season.

“When I woke up on the table, I was told by the doctor it was a good thing we cut it open because I could have lost my leg, at worst,” he said. “And then from there, it’s like, OK, you could have had muscle damage, you could have had nerve damage, you could have had a whole list of things on top of that. So everything went exactly the way you could ever hope for it. But being a veteran in this league and seeing a lot of injuries, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen that one firsthand. And so things definitely get put into perspective. I’ve got three children. I got a wife, I got a family that if something would have gone south — you think about those thoughts. And so count your blessings.

“But for me, there was a lot of opportunity to show the amount of grit and the amount of fight that I try to instill in my kids and my family through that injury and was able to get back.”

RUN IT BACK

Berry retained several of the team’s free agents and is close to doing the same with McLeod, a 33-year-old safety, according to multiple reports. Berry already re-signed Smith, Harris, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst II, punter Corey Bojorquez and offensive lineman Michael Dunn.

McLeod signed with the Browns last offseason and was the No. 3 safety until a torn biceps against the Steelers ended his season Nov. 19. He had 29 tackles, two for loss, and a pass defensed.

McLeod is a respected leader who stayed with the team following the injury.

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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