BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Jadeveon Clowney's last move with the Cleveland Browns happened off the field — a public bashing born of frustration and disappointment.
The team countered accordingly.
Clowney was sent home from practice on Friday, one day after he harshly criticized the organization and coaching staff in an explosive interview that effectively ended his second season in Cleveland just ahead of the finale in Pittsburgh.
Coach Kevin Stefanski refused to directly address Clowney's status — or provide any specifics about his decision to punish the defensive end — as the Browns (7-9), who always seem to be embroiled in drama, prepared to face the Steelers (8-8) on Sunday.
However, Stefanski did indicate Clowney won't be on the trip.
“Nothing comes above the team,” he said.
Angry that he wasn't being showcased more in Cleveland's defense, Clowney said in an interview Thursday with cleveland.com that he didn’t feel appreciated and was “95% sure” he wasn’t coming back for a third season.
Clowney further claimed the Browns have given four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett preferential treatment and were focused only on getting him to the Hall of Fame. He added he needs to be around “somebody that believes in me and my ability.”
Clowney made it clear he has no personal issues with Garrett, who has 15 sacks going into the Week 18 matchup with Pittsburgh.
Garrett said he understood that Clowney wanted to be more productive, but was disappointed in how his teammate ultimately expressed it.
“This is our team,” Garrett said. "He's my brother. He’s my teammate and I wish we could have talked about this man-to-man and to us as coaches as well. Could have sat us all down and had just a conversation and that would’ve probably been the way I would’ve handled it.
“But hindsight is 20/20. He’s feeling a lot of emotion towards what has been a season of ups and downs and there’s no perfect way to handle things. But I wish he would’ve handled a little bit differently.”
Garrett said his relationship with Clowney remains “cordial” and he didn’t take the comments to heart.
Asked if he would welcome Clowney back at any point, Garrett said: “We want volunteers, not hostages.”
“If you feel like no one believes in you here,” Garrett said, “then go where you feel like you’re wanted and loved and appreciated.”
Clowney revived his career last season in Cleveland, recording nine sacks — his most since 2018 — and pairing with Garrett up front to give the Browns one of the NFL's most feared pass rushes.
He re-signed as a free agent for $11 million with the Browns in May, but Clowney's second season didn't go the way he or the team had hoped. A few games in, he expressed disappointment that the Browns were changing his assignment during in games in order to give Garrett more favorable matchups.
Because Garrett is one of the game's premiere players, it made sense for the Browns to move him to expose an opponent's weakness. Clowney didn't see it that way.
Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin revealed that Clowney refused to play on any down other than third in the Oct. 23 game at Baltimore. He was benched for the first series the following week against Cincinnati for his behavior.
Kiffin said the decision to move Garrett around is natural.
“We’re going to put our best player in the best position to win,” he said.
Kiffin also disagreed with Clowney's assertion that Garrett was treated differently.
“It was a frustrating season for all of us — everybody in this organization, defensively and for him,” Kiffin said. "Obviously, he didn’t have the production he had last year so he is frustrated. The way he went about it I don’t agree with, but we are here today dealing with it.”
Clowney came to the Browns' facility and attended a position meeting with his fellow defensive lineman before being told to leave.
Kiffin said he spoke with Clowney before he was dismissed by Stefanski.
“l’ll just say I addressed the room that I thought he handled it the wrong way as a man,” Kiffin said.
The upheaval surrounding Clowney is similar to last season's messy situation with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was suspended by the Browns and eventually traded after weeks of drama.
Stefanski doesn't think there's a disconnect between his players and staff.
“Every team, all 32, we all deal with things throughout the season,” he said. "Sometimes they stay in house and you deal with them, and sometimes they don’t. That is very similar to family. That is what we do. We operate as a family. Sometimes you make tough decisions, but that is what we are trying to do.”
Clowney was the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 by Houston. He spent five seasons with the Texans before playing one year with Seattle and Tennessee.
NOTES: Starting RT Jack Conklin will miss the finale with an ankle injury. He'll be replaced by James Hudson, who was beaten by Steelers star T.J. Watt for four sacks in last year's game at Pittsburgh. ... CB Denzel Ward is questionable with a shoulder injury
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