Malik Jackson knew exactly what he was signing up for when he signed a new contract with the Browns on March 23.
He knew he'd be joining a team that established itself as one of the best in the AFC in 2020. He knew he'd be one of several new pieces added as part of a free-agency overhaul to the defense. He knew he'd be one of the most experienced players on the team.
Not everything, though, is known for Jackson, a nine-year defensive tackle veteran. He's not sure if he'll be a Week 1 starter or if he'll serve as a rotational piece to a defensive line already full of other veterans. That question is usually an important one to know for a player of Jackson's caliber, but he's content with finding the answer closer to the start of the season.
He's just happy he's with a team full of talent.
"They're a Super Bowl contender," Jackson said. "That's what I was looking for. I didn't want to go anywhere that was trying to rebuild. I wanted to go somewhere with a consistent team where I didn't have to be 'the guy.' (I wanted to go somewhere) where I could have a supporting role and have opportunities to fight for jobs and start on third downs. That's all I can ask for."
The Browns were the most viable suitor for Jackson, who's 31 and entering the final part of a successful NFL career. His best seasons were built from 2015-2017 as a core interior lineman for the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he recorded 18 sacks in three seasons and established his skills as a defensive tackle capable of reaching the quarterback.
The last two years haven't been as smooth. His 2019 season with the Philadelphia Eagles lasted just one game after he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury. He returned in 2020 and registered 2.5 sacks, his lowest in a season since his rookie year when he barely saw the field and didn't record a single sack.
The Browns believe Jackson is primed to return to his best level of play in 2021. Jackson said he's feeling no lingering issues with the Lisfranc injury — he cited how he was able to play through cold weather games last season without feeling any pain — and is capable of meeting those expectations.
"(The injury) was tough early, but it got better," he said. "I think I'm (back to full health). You just have to build confidence in yourself. When I got hurt, people said 'Oh, it's going to take forever to come back. You're not going to come back.' Even though you're working your butt off, those things creep in your mind. I'm good now. All those 'what-ifs' are out the window."
Regardless of how much he's on the field, Jackson always will have a significant role with the Browns defense. His Super Bowl-winning pedigree as a 2015 champion with the Denver Broncos makes him a bonafide leader with any team, and he'll have several young defensive players around him at all levels of the field who could benefit from working with a player who won the sport's biggest game.
But that Super Bowl connection also allured Jackson to reunite with a former coach: Joe Woods, Browns defensive coordinator. He was the cornerbacks coach with the Broncos that season, and even though Jackson played at a different position, he built a strong relationship with Woods that played a factor in his decision to sign with Cleveland.
"He knows what he's talking about," Jackson said. "For me, being with someone that won the Super Bowl, they understand who I was. They can see me play and understand who I am now. I know Joe Woods is going to give me an opportunity to fight and try to earn things."
That opportunity was all Jackson was looking for in his new team. His focus hasn't been about how many snaps he'll receive each week or where he'll pencil in on the depth chart.
Jackson is confident he can earn those roles when team reps begin. As a free agent, he just cared about joining a team with winning potential. That would provide Jackson all the comfort he needed for his 10th NFL season.
He's found his comfort in Cleveland.
"I am just a little bit of a push to help them go even farther," Jackson said. "I'm coming here to be a team player."
Check out photos of defensive lineman Malik Jackson