CLEVELAND — Rashard Higgins insists he has moved on from his critical game-swinging fumble in the playoffs.
He couldn’t leave the Browns.
Higgins, who made a costly turnover while trying to score in last season’s playoff loss to Kansas City, recently turned down more money in free agency from other teams to sign a one-year, $2.3 million contract and stay with Cleveland.
“I knew where I wanted to be,” the wide receiver said Friday on a Zoom call while sitting in his car at the team’s facility in Berea, Ohio. “We’ve got everything that I need here as a Cleveland Brown. So it’s just like why not?
“At the end of the day when I did weigh my options, it only made sense. Here I am. I am a Cleveland Brown, and I am looking to run this thing back.”
Immensely popular with Cleveland’s fans, Higgins, who has developed great chemistry with quarterback Baker Mayfield, wants to “run it back” with the Browns after they ended their long playoff drought, beat Pittsburgh in the wild-card game and had the then-defending champion Chiefs on the ropes before losing in January.
When free agency opened, Higgins, drafted by the Browns in 2016, looked around and realized he was in the right place.
“We just made a historic run, something that hasn’t been done in 20 years,” Higgins said. “It’s just like going to another team, how is that really benefiting me? Obviously for the money, you can say that, but the (salary) cap is down.
“To go somewhere for another million or $2 million, then you start over with a whole other quarterback, then you start over with a whole new playbook. It’s just like, what in another team would you be looking for?”
Higgins consulted with Mayfield throughout free agency as other teams “were hitting me up.” While he could have made more elsewhere — he acknowledged the Browns sweetened his deal with guaranteed money —- the chance to stay with the team that drafted him was a major factor.
So was the fact that Cleveland has found consistency after so much chaos.
“That weighs in on the judgmental aspect of things on making the decision,” said Higgins, who had 37 catches and four touchdowns last season. “You have a coach that is here to stay — the Coach of the Year — I have not had that since I have been here. There has always been a different coach. Just knowing (Kevin) Stefanski and believing in him and his group and making a playoff run his first year here, that is the start for me.
“Let’s run it back.”
Higgins spoke to reporters for the first time since the 22-17 loss to the Chiefs. The outcome could have been different if not for a play at the end of the first half that Higgins insists he has put behind him.
After catching a pass from Mayfield inside the 5, Higgins turned and made a diving reach toward the pylon before being blasted from the side by Chiefs safety Daniel Sorenson. The helmet-to-helmet hit jarred the ball loose and it bounced out of the end zone for a touchback.
The turnover stole Cleveland’s momentum.
“It was just football,” Higgins said initially, dismissing the idea his mistake was a motivator in returning to the Browns. “Looking back at it, it was a helmet-to-helmet hit. Not too much we can say about it. It is football at the end of the day. Move on.”
Higgins is right, but it was a huge play, one that could have propelled the Browns to an upset, and maybe even into the Super Bowl.
Higgins believes the rule, which benefits the defense, should be “looked at.” He didn’t use Sorensen’s hit as an excuse, but said the illegal blow caused the fumble.
“Obviously, it was clear as day,” he said. “The ref might not have had a good angle at it. I do not know how it was, but you have to move on from it. It is a new year. It is football at the end of the day. I was just trying to make a play for the team. That is all that was.”