CLEVELAND (AP) — For eight seasons, D’Qwell Jackson did everything for the Browns.
He overcame serious injuries to play at a high level. He led the team tackles. He became a locker room leader, showing the way for younger players. And, he did it all without complaint despite almost constant losing and change in Cleveland.
Jackson’s run ended Wednesday.
The Browns released the veteran linebacker, cutting ties with one of their most popular players due a $4.1 million roster bonus next month.
The 31-year-old Jackson, who made 96 starts in eight seasons with the Browns, is now a free agent and can sign with any team. Jackson’s agents and Cleveland’s revamped front office tried to restructure his contract, but couldn’t come to terms and decided to part ways.
“We had positive discussion with D’Qwell and his agent over the last several days, and we came to the mutual agreement to go in different directions,” said Browns general manager Ray Farmer, who was promoted into that role last month and had to make a tough decision on Jackson. “D’Qwell is the epitome of class, leadership and professionalism. Every day of his NFL career, D’Qwell has been a solid representative of the Browns and the city of Cleveland, both between the lines on Sundays and off the field in our area community.
“We wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”
Jackson overcame two serious chest injuries earlier in his career. He missed most of two seasons, but recovered and was a mainstay on Cleveland’s defense despite playing under four head coaches and four defensive coordinators.
He signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension last year through 2016. The deal, which included $19 million in guarantees and bonuses, would have paid Jackson $3.93 million this season. He was set to make $7.73 million and $7 million the next two seasons.
However, the Browns looked at his age and increasing salary, and although they’ve got room under the salary cap, decided to make the change. The team wants to get younger, stronger and faster in its linebacking corps and Jackson no longer fit into their plans.
Near the end of last season, Jackson said he would be “shocked” if he didn’t come back. But now that the day has arrived, he can get a fresh start elsewhere.
He thanked the Browns and their fans in a statement.
“To the people of Cleveland and Browns fans everywhere: Eight years ago I began a journey that blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful organization and community,” Jackson said. “I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for opening your arms and hearts to my family and me, and for making Cleveland an easy place to love and call home. It’s been an honor playing in front of you. I also would like to thank the Browns players, coaches and staff for their tireless work and commitment.
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all and will always carry you with me. For opening your arms and hearts to my family and me, and for making Cleveland an easy place to love and call home. It’s been an honor playing in front of you.”