CLEVELAND — As the Cleveland Browns' Week 11 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers neared its end, Myles Garrett found himself firmly in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year race -- if not the front-runner.
But with one swing of the helmet during a skirmish with Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, Garrett's campaign would come to an end, as he earned an indefinite suspension that lasted through the end of the 2019 season.
Despite the misstep, the Browns have rewarded Garrett with a 5-year, $125 million contract extension, making him the highest-paid defender in NFL history. And while the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft may not currently own the honor, he's eager to prove that he is in fact the best defensive player in the entire league.
"I don’t want to be the same player I was last year; I want to be better in all aspects,‘' Garrett said during a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday. "Even on [last season's] trajectory, I was known to be in the [Defensive] Player of the Year conversation. So I don't want to make it a conversation anymore. This next year, I want to ball out and win that award, but I want to take my team to the playoffs and even higher than that."
Considering his new contract, anything less than such success would likely be viewed as a disappointment; with the Texas A&M product now the league's highest-paid non-quarterback, the second and third highest-paid defenders in the league (Chicago Bears pass-rusher Khalil Mack and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald) have combined to three of the past four Defensive Player of the Year awards.
That's not to say that Garrett's not well aware of the lofty expectations that accompany his new deal. In fact, he welcomes them.
"I already felt like I was in their league," Garrett said of Donald and Mack. "Now that the banner is on me. I have to assert myself as top dog and I feel like I'm confident and ready to do that."
In re-signing with the Browns, Garrett becomes the first-round pick since Joe Haden in 2014 to sign a contract extension with the team. Cleveland's recent track record -- which includes an NFL-high 17-season postseason drought -- isn't lost on Garrett, who said he had no reservations about his long-term commitment.
"It will only make it so much sweeter when we turn this thing around and actually start winning big games, winning playoff games and finally getting to that last one," he said. "I'd like to be a part of that. I'd like to lead the pack for that. So whenever we do that, whether it starts next year or how many years it takes, I want to lead Cleveland to that promised land."