Odell Beckham’s mid-season/season-ending torn ACL was not season-derailing for the Cleveland Browns in 2020, thanks to Rashard Higgins, who stepped into the breech and became a key member of the Browns’ offense.
Though just 26-years old, Higgins is the senior member of the Browns’ receiving corps.
A fifth-round pick by Cleveland in 2016, when the team’s quarterbacks were Cody Kessler, Josh McCown and Robert Griffin III, Higgins wasn’t even the first wide receiver drafted by the Browns that year (Corey Coleman), or the second (Ricardo Lewis), or the third (Jordan Payton).
Since joining the Browns, Higgins has played for four head coaches in five years. He had a chance to leave this year as a free agent, but chose to stay in Cleveland, a decision he called “a no brainer.”
He recently signed a one-year, $2.38 million fully-guaranteed contract with the Browns, for whom he played a huge role last season. Higgins caught 37 passes for 599 yards and four touchdowns, most of those numbers accumulated while replacing the injured Beckham.
With Beckham expected back in 2021, Higgins’ status in Cleveland seemed unsettled as he entered the free agent market. But he eventually re-signed a one-year deal to return to the Browns.
“I’m here because this is the best possible situation for me,” Higgins told reporters on a Zoom call Friday. “This is where I want to be. We’ll see how the year plays out. I got my quarterback. We’ve got a coach (Kevin Stefanski) who’s here to stay, the Coach of the Year. I haven’t had that since I’ve been here. I’ve always had a different coach every year.”
Most importantly, though, Higgins has quarterback Baker Mayfield. Indeed, Mayfield and Higgins seemed to form an immediate chemistry to the point that Higgins tended to be targeted by Mayfield in many big moments of games in the second half of the season.
During his brief stay in the free agent pool, Higgins said he kept in contact with Mayfield.
“Whenever a team hit on me, I would ask him what he thought, and he told me to weigh all my options,” Higgins said. “Obviously he wanted me to be a Brown, but he said I should do what’s best for my family and me.”
In addition to his chemistry with Mayfield, Higgins said the Cleveland fans were a big factor in his decision to return to the Browns.
“The fan support for me in Cleveland was unbelievable. Some of them were even reaching out to me from Canada,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a better fan base anywhere. They definitely had input in my decision. I love the fans and they love me.”
It is a business, however, and Higgins said he went into his free agent period with an open mind. He said he turned down more money from other teams to come back to Cleveland, but only on a one-year contract. So, it’s possible he could be on the free agent dance floor again a year from now.
“Going to another team, how does that benefit me?” Higgins said. “Obviously, for the money, you could say that. But the cap is down. To go somewhere for another million or two million, then you start over with another quarterback, and a whole new play book.”
By staying in Cleveland, where he knows and has confidence in the coach and the quarterback, Higgins feels he has a better chance of fattening his portfolio for another trip into free agency in 2022.
“Everyone’s goal is to get paid,” he said. “That’s why we play the game. So why not bet on myself again? I’ll bet on myself every year. The cap will be better next year. So, we’ll see what happens.”
For the coming year, Higgins feels very comfortable in his decision to dance with who drafted him.
“I know where I want to be,” he said. “A lot of teams hit on me but why not be a Cleveland Brown? I feel like all the pieces to the puzzle are in place. We just made an historic run that hasn’t been done (in Cleveland) in 20 years, or something like that. We’ve got everything we need, so it’s like why not Cleveland?”