Isaiah Crowell put on the happy face Wednesday.
Frustrated over his current contract situation, Crowell tried to keep his focus on the field and the season that lies ahead but it was easier said than done as he fielded question after question about his contract.
“I feel like everybody wants a long term deal,” Crowell said. “That was one of my goals, but I’m just here right now trying to get better with my team and trying to have a winning season so I’m just focused on myself and my team.”
Crowell didn’t sign an offer sheet as a restricted free agent this offseason and instead ended up signing the second-round tender the Browns placed on him worth $2.746 million.
Earlier this year, Crowell’s agents tried to hammer out a new contract for Crowell but the 2 sides couldn’t get on the same page and so he hit the restricted free agent market that did not net him a deal.
If he does not get an extension from the Browns, Crowell can hit the market next March as an unrestricted free agent.
“I can’t speak on that right now,” Crowell responded when asked what he looked forward to most – hitting the market or a new contract with the Browns. “I’m going to do what’s best for me when the time comes, but everybody wants a long-term deal. That’s the goal. That’s what I’m aiming for. I’m just trying to focus on winning and getting better right now.”
After finishing 48 yards shy of the coveted 1,000 in 2016, Crowell hopes he’ll get there this year.
Head coach Hue Jackson took some of the blame for Crowell not hitting the mark a year ago despite the former Alabama State back averaging a career-high 4.8 yards per carry.
“Have got to run the ball more. I will be the first to tell you that,” Jackson said. “I beat myself up about that. I am a coach that likes to run the ball.
“I think Crowell is poised for a big year. He deserves it. He worked extremely hard a year ago, him and Duke [Johnson] both. Our running game needs to come to the forefront.”
Those words are music to Crowell’s ears.
“I feel like it’s going to be a monster year,” Crowell said.
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2014, Crowell has totaled 2,265 yards on 531 carries and scored 19 touchdowns while averaging 4.3 yards per carry over 3 seasons combined in Cleveland. There’s no question that lousy offenses and lousy football teams that have combined to win just 11 games have hurt his production.
This offseason the Browns invested heavily in their offensive line signing right guard Kevin Zeitler from Cincinnati, center JC Tretter from Green Bay and extending left guard Joel Bitonio in an effort to keep Browns quarterbacks off of gurneys and to open some lanes for Crowell.
“I was happy about it because I know how strongly Hue wants to run the ball and we talked about it at the end of last year and he told me we would be way better running the ball this year,” Crowell said. “I’ve got faith in him and I believe him.”
He has no other choice. With no new contract in hand, Crowell is once again in prove-it mode.
“I’m used to that because all my life that’s what I’ve had to do,” Crowell said. “I’ve always been the underdog so I always had to prove myself, prove that I’m as good as I am, so it’s not a problem for me. To your question, yes, it’s always been like that. Coming in, that’s how it was, so I just take it in stride.”
Although a deal doesn’t appear imminent, Crowell hopes he’ll be here to stay for a long time.
“I’m comfortable here, I like my teammates, the coaches, just the atmosphere, everything about being in Cleveland,” Crowell said. “I’ve been here, this is going on my fourth year now. I’m comfortable and really just my teammates and just being around everybody up here. I enjoy it.”