Jarvis Landry's career has been built on getting every ounce of ability out of his body combined with an unmatched passion and toughness. Add in accessibility and kindness with young fans and it gave him an every man appeal that endeared him to fans of all ages during his four seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
Landry was a good player with one great season whose contributions weren't limited to the field, but there was always a hyperbolic aspect of the fanbase desperate for a hero that tried to elevate him into being more than was possible because of his blue collar approach, a top contract and a fateful clip from HBO's Hard Knocks, which helped produce a fundamental misunderstanding of how the culture of a football team works.
The 2019 season was Landry at the peak of his powers with the Browns. If it wasn't the best season of his entire career, it was second to 2016 with the Miami Dolphins. Despite playing through a painful hip injury the entire season that would require surgery and limited his ability to practice, Landry was able to catch 83 passes for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 8.5 yards per target and 14.1 yards per reception. Not only was it his most productive season with the Browns but it was his most efficient.
Landry was also a valuable mentor to young wide receivers, an area where he not only shined, but will be missed. From almost the moment a wide receiver was drafted, Landry was flying them down to Jupiter, Florida to stay and workout with him. Not only was he showing them what it took to make it in the NFL in terms of work ethic, but he showed them how to be a professional.
The shame of it is that the Browns largely acquired dysfunctional receivers or players that were simply not talented enough to truly benefit from his wisdom, at least as it might help the Browns. Landry was brought in with two dysfunctional receivers in Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon already on the team. The Browns would draft another receiver who couldn't get out of his own way in Antonio Callaway the following year. It was as if the Browns had this misguided view that in addition to playing for the team, somehow Landry would also fix these other problematic players. Rashard Higgins was here, but he wasn't impactful enough and was allowed to walk in free agency anyway.
The only receivers still with the team that could benefit from Landry's tutelage include Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz and Ja'Marcus Bradley. Jones clearly has talent while Schwartz has a long way to go. It's a little disappointing the Browns didn't get more out of Landry's presence in setting up the future of the position, but much of that was a product of mismatched pairing of the Browns and Odell Beckham. Should Jones realize his potential and Schwartz become a contributor, it may bolster Landry's footprint in Cleveland. Maybe someone will follow Landry's lead and take on that role, but it simply will not be the same.
Landry's commitment to charity has also been commendable and a great example for anyone, whether they are a professional athlete or not. He's spearheaded initiatives along the path of his life, including around Baton Rouge, Miami and Cleveland, the communities football has taken him. Just in his time with the Browns, his softball game for charity in Lake County became a notable event.
Landry was also one of the first players to use his platform speak out against institutional racism in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, both of which were caught on video. He joined with other players to make a powerful video speaking to the NFL directly as well ass the country at large. As a community in Buffalo is just the latest to suffer this brand of racially based violence, it's worth revisiting. Deshaun Watson, now the quarterback of the Browns also appears in the video.
It forced NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to respond, conceding to many of the points this video demands.
If Landry could have simply been the good player and person this all illuminates, the reaction to his departure might be more unified, celebrating the time he had with the Browns. Instead, at least partly due to some deeming the source of the culture change. the "heart and soul of the team" as well as just how long for his free agent status to be resolved, a portion of people were able to process his departure and move on.
2019 was a great season for Landry. It was his only great season with the Browns. 2018 and 2020 were average and this past season was just plain miserable. Part of the reason Landry was heralded is because the Browns have had such a bizarre history with that position over the last 15 years.
While so many teams routinely find great receivers, including the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals just within the division, the Browns have struggled to find pass catching playmakers. Going from Braylon Edwards to a run of receivers including Dwayne Bowe, Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon's All-Pro 2013 season and a random 1,000 yard season from Terrelle Pryor in 2016. Given that journey, Landry's stability was a breath of fresh air even if it wasn't the end goal.
In reality, Tyler Boyd is a properly rated Jarvis Landry. Boyd is a good player and should've gone to the Pro Bowl in 2018. He's not a star nor is he expected to be. The Bengals can function without him and he's not being paid over $15 million per season (5 years, $44.3 million). He's simply an asset to their team and helped them reach the Super Bowl last season without much fanfare.
Even just compared to Browns history, Landry's production is in line with that of the aforementioned Braylon Edwards, who might have been a great talent but was never viewed as a great player outside of a spectacular 2007 season. Edwards will always be considered as a disappointment because he was the third overall pick of the 2005 draft. He's the polar opposite of Landry because he was viewed as someone squandering his immense gifts as opposed to maximizing the few they had as was the case with Landry. Landry was also more likable, more relatable than the haughty Edwards, but the numbers speak volumes.
|Name||Year||Receptions||Targets||Yards||TDs||Yards per Target|
The overall totals paint a similar picture.
The wildcard game against the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed Landry a well deserved moment he nor Browns fans will soon forget. A 40-yard catch and run for a touchdown opened gave the Browns a two-score lead, providing an indelible memory that could represent his tenure with the Browns. Just as it was the first postseason victory for the Browns since 1994, it was also the first of Landry's career.
Landry was a valuable member of the locker room, but he wasn't the start of a culture change. Even if fans and some media may have watched his Hard Knocks clip hundreds of times on a loop, players likely didn't, including those in the meeting room when he gave the speech. And not a single person who was in the room to hear that speech is still with the team. It always meant more outside the the building than in it.
Even as teammates loved Landry, some also bristled at the notion that he was the one responsible for changing the culture. There were players that were already here that were trying to change things for the better as well as other players that were added with or after Landry that were important in that effort.
Having one person singlehandedly responsible might make for the better story, but it takes a village and it's an ongoing process that will to be a factor in how the Browns evaluate both players, seeking good fits in addition to high end talent. The Browns have brought in dozens of players in that effort. It was a major aspect in signing Anthony Walker, a free agent addition ahead of last season for example. It was just as important when they re-signed him this year.
That being said, the presence of Landry may have helped grease the skids on free agent signings such as John Johnson III, Troy Hill and Jadeveon Clowney. Landry brought some credibility to a franchise that needed it coming out of 1-31 with a head coach for every day of the week. Landry helped the Browns look like a more legitimate destination.
Unfortunately, as Landry is leaving four years later, the Browns are still dealing with culture and chemistry questions. The team is significantly more talented, but every time the team runs into even modest challenges, stories about locker room strife find their way to the public. Some of that is the nature of losing, but the Browns are still trying to establish an identity that can sustain more than three years.
This past year was likely the most challenging in Landry's football life. Finally healthy for the offseason, he changed his body to become lighter and quicker, believing he was setting himself up for a great year alongside his close friend Odell Beckham only to suffer a knee injury the second snap of week two against the Houston Texans. After missing games to injury for the first time in his career, he wrenched the same knee when he tried to come back against the Denver Broncos, the only game he and Beckham would be on the field together that season. Beckham then forced his way off the team Landry expressed some of his frustrations at his Thanksgiving food drive, the last time he would ever speak publicly to anyone in the Cleveland media, which may have been a signal the end was near.
Landry has opened up about the challenges being injured can have on a player's mental health, something else he did that warrants credit, so this past year had to be awful for him. Like a number of players on the Browns this past season, Landry wasn't always his best self, which led to friction and damaged relationships, some of which will take time to repair. Add money and egos into the mix and it can produce a toxic mixture where making a clean break becomes an appealing option for the organization.
Meanwhile, if the heart and soul of the Browns is with the New Orleans Saints this year, does that mean the team is in serious trouble? It's definitely possible, but it seems like another situation where his presence was needlessly embellished.
Heading into this offseason, opinions regarding Landry ran the gamut. Some were suggesting the Browns should keep him and pay him the full $16.6 million he was due on his contract for all he brought to the team. Others wanted the Browns to move on entirely while the majority were in the middle liked Landry and would have preferred to keep him, but acknowledged the salary wasn't commensurate with his on-field ability.
Even after Landry was released, the divide remained as many hoped the Browns continued to hope the team would bring him back, especially as it was constantly being reported the two sides were in contact with each other. That continued all the way into the NFL Draft where the Browns selected David Bell with the 99th pick. Some were ready for him to step in and replace Landry immediately. The Browns may have the same idea.
So if the Browns believe they can replace Landry with a third round rookie, it doesn't paint the most flattering picture of Landry's current ability. However, it's also unrealistic to expect Bell to come in and immediately replace Landry's production. Maybe Bell can become that impactful over time, but it's not fair to expect it to be a seamless transition even if the offense might be better for the move.
The newly acquired Amari Cooper will headline the group, but the move away from Landry likely signals leaning into other options like tight end David Njoku and perhaps Donovan Peoples-Jones, Harrison Bryant and Anthony Schwartz if they continue developing. Bell may be find himself as the Browns third receiver this season, but he's going to have to prove he deserves to be their third option.
The reason Landry has been able to achieve as much as he has in the NFL, including a lucrative contract and five trips to the Pro Bowl, is the same reason the Browns moved on from him and there was tepid interest in signing him as a free agent. Landry is the ultimate grinder and a tireless worker, because he had to be. He refused to let injuries keep him off the field.
With the Browns, that included hip surgery, broken ribs and a pair of knee injuries, the last of which contributed to the worst year of his career in 2021. After his release, teams simply weren't sure what Landry could offer, which resulted in signing a one-year deal with the Saints with a base salary of $3 million that could be worth up to $6 million. He's hoping to have a strong year and earn better offers next offseason.
None of that changes the fact that Jarvis Landry was a good wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns or reduces his achievements. He was a true professional who offered leadership, was a willing mentor who tried to leave the team and community better than he found it, had one great season and was paid handsomely for his efforts, earning around $60 million in the process. That's a great legacy that doesn't require hyperbole.