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Devaroe Lawrence built 'lifetime' bond with Saints players, but there's 'nothing friendly' about his return


Devaroe Lawrence found out on cut day he'd no longer be a member of the New Orleans Saints.

Within minutes, his phone didn't stop buzzing. Text after text poured in from his former teammates, ecstatic for a player who's dealt with adversity in all shapes and sizes throughout his journey to the NFL.

Lawrence's story, dating well beyond this particular day, isn't a typical one in any way, shape or form.

Lawrence wasn't released by the Saints. Instead, he was traded, shipped off to the Browns in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Two weeks later, at the age of 25, Lawrence made his NFL debut, logging two snaps in the Browns' 21-21 tie with the Steelers.

"Went to sleep a Saint, woke up a Brown," Lawrence said. "I've never been in a situation like that when I was traded or been traded for. When the guys that are in the locker room, even when they found out, they were excited for me. It was a big deal to them. That doesn't happen to guys in my situation.

"I just thank the Cleveland Browns organization for believing in me and giving me a chance, giving me a locker and a number."

Lawrence was one of seven players to join the Browns' 53-man roster in the time between cutdown day and the season opener. He was among the few active for Sunday's game, albeit in limited fashion.

One more week in the system could lead to a more expanded role for Lawrence, who is listed as a second-team defensive tackle behind Trevon Coley.

"I'm still learning," Lawrence said. "Learning so I can go and play like I can play. Play my assignment, play my technique and play as fast as I can and show them I know what I'm doing. Just contribute."

Lawrence's path to those two snaps against the Steelers has been long and winding.

After a rough-and-tumble upbringing in Greenville, South Carolina, that ultimately led him to be taken in by one of his high school assistant coaches, Sam Kelly, Lawrence began his college career as a walk-on at Georgia Military College. One year later, he earned a scholarship at Auburn, where he spent three seasons. In the final regular season game of his college career, Lawrence tore his ACL, an injury that short-circuited any hope of being drafted.

Signed by the Saints as an undrafted free agent after the 2017 draft, Lawrence was promptly sidelined for the season when it was learned he needed another knee surgery. Back at full strength for the 2018 preseason, Lawrence was one of the Saints' top playmakers, recording 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.

It wasn't enough to stick with the Saints, but the Browns were impressed enough to part with a draft asset in order to assure he'd become a member of their 53-man roster.

"I'm blessed. I'm blessed beyond measure," Lawrence said. "God's been good to me. It's what I tell everybody. I thank God and that's all I'm going to continue to do."

Asked to name which of his former teammates was happiest for him, Lawrence rattled off about 20 names. He left an impact inside New Orleans' locker room, remaining in constant communication with his closest friends ever since his departure.

For a few hours Sunday, that goes out of the window.

"This is personal. Nothing friendly about it," Lawrence said. "When I walk in that stadium, if I don't walk in the same color as you, we aren't cool. After the game, we can chop it up, holler at each other and shake hands and all that. Before kickoff? Nah."