BEREA — Desmond Bryant didn’t know just how big the numbers on the check would be, but he believed from a young age he would have an NFL career that allowed him to pose for the cameras holding the jersey of his new team.
Bryant realized that dream Thursday when he stood between Browns CEO Joe Banner and coach Rob Chudzinski and showed off a brown No. 92.
“I’ve always had a vision, even as a young boy, that I was going to play in the NFL,” said Bryant, who’s expected to start at defensive end. “As I got older and I got to the league I saw what other people were making and that was always a goal of mine: to be paid like the elite I think I’ve developed into.”
The first hurdle to fulfilling his prophecy was a move from Delaware to North Carolina in high school that hurt recruiting. He wound up at Harvard, went undrafted and spent his first two years as an unknown backup in Oakland.
The final obstacle before the five-year, $34 million contract he agreed to Tuesday was a misdemeanor arrest for criminal mischief Feb. 24 and the accompanying mug shot that went viral. The shirtless man with eyes half-closed and tongue sticking out was miles removed from the soft-spoken, well-mannered new employee Thursday.
“I obviously made a mistake. I apologize for everything that happened, but I feel like I’ve learned from it and moved on from that,” said Bryant, who will receive $15 million guaranteed. “I think I’ve done enough over the years I’ve been in the league to exhibit that’s really not the kind of person I am. I think in time I’ll be able to show you guys and whoever else wants to know that’s really not indicative of me.
“It was a mistake. It was an accident. I’ve moved beyond that and hopefully everybody else will be able to.”
The arrest came in Miami, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported he entered a neighbor’s house, was inebriated and caused a commotion. The arrest picture was so popular, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel mentioned it.
“I’ve seen the picture and I’ve heard that it’s out but I really don’t know to what extent,” said Bryant, who referred to it as an ongoing legal matter.
Banner and Chudzinski have continually stressed the importance of character in their vision for the franchise in their new roles under new owner Jimmy Haslam. They weren’t scared off by Bryant’s public misstep.
“We looked at everything we could, we know people that know Desmond very well,” Banner said. “So we evaluated the situation, we looked at his history and felt very comfortable that he fit the profile of what we’re looking for here.”
“What he’s done with his career is a testament to his hard work and he’s a self-made man in that way,” Chudzinski said. “So those are the type of guys that we want to be here that have that type of attitude, that chip on their shoulder to be a great player and be the best.”
Bryant, 27, is 6-foot-6 and 311 pounds. He said he was 75 pounds lighter coming out of high school and Duke and Harvard were the only schools interested. He picked the Ivy League, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of NFL talent or a common destination for scouts.
“Coming out of Harvard it’s difficult to get to the NFL,” said Bryant, who’s a credit shy of a psychology degree. “But I felt if I was given a chance (and) able to make it to a training camp, then I would be able to handle the rest because I feel like I’m a good player on the field and I can exhibit that to whatever coaching staff.
“The kind of player I am is passionate. I’m out there giving 100 percent on every play. I love to be on the field as much as possible and trying to make something happen as much as possible.”
Chudzinski said Bryant will start at end in the base 3-4 scheme but praised the versatility that will allow him to play tackle or end in four-lineman sets. Bryant said he played enough 3-4 in Oakland that the transition should be smooth.
“You watch him on tape and you see the physical attributes as he’s sitting next to us — his size and his athleticism show up on tape,” Chudzinski said.
The signing was a bit of a surprise given Cleveland’s depth on the line and switch to the 3-4. The Browns also have Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn, John Hughes and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.
“I don’t think you can ever have enough quality defensive linemen,” Chudzinski said.
“Our purpose has been to get a really strong unit, have some depth so we can rotate, so if we have any injuries, the line will still be one of the primary assets of the team,” Banner said. “That’s what we feel like we’re achieving. We’re not looking to be trading anybody.”
Chudzinski said he needs to see Rubin and Taylor on the field and in coordinator Ray Horton’s system before determining who plays nose tackle and who plays end.
Banner tried to sign Bryant out of Harvard but he chose Oakland. Bryant started 18 games the last two years with nine sacks. Pro Football Focus rated him the sixth defensive tackle/nose tackle last season with a sack, quarterback hit or hurry every 18 snaps.
Four years later, Banner finally landed his man.
“We feel very lucky to get him,” he said. “There were a very significant number of teams interested in him and I think it speaks well to the progress we’re making and the optimism that people think where the team is headed that we’re attracting players of his caliber.”
Bryant said he did his homework before picking the Browns.
“I’m ecstatic to be here working with this new group of guys,” he said. “I really feel like they really know what it takes to build a winning team. It’s exciting in this building. I can feel an energy in this building like things are really moving in the right direction.”