Nate Burleson believes he brings a lot to the Browns – leadership, experience and a 1,000-yard season if healthy.
He wouldn’t have come aboard unless he thought they were poised to get over the hump and make a run at the playoffs.
“I see them as a team that’s ready to take that next step,” said Burleson, who agreed to a one-year deal Sunday night. “The talent is there. Not only is the talent there, there’s been some great moves made this offseason. I’m looking forward to the draft and piecing together something that can be special.
“This isn’t a program that’s rebuilding. I’m not coming here to deal with losing.”
Burleson is penciled in as the No. 2 receiver opposite All-Pro Josh Gordon. The situation’s fluid and could change before the season, depending on the draft picks in May and the performance of others already on the roster.
Burleson said he wasn’t promised a specific role, and didn’t expect to be.
“Just like anybody else that’s coming in, earn my keep and try to compete for a job,” he said Monday on a conference call. “They’re not going to hand me anything.”
He plans on making himself indispensable.
“I’ve been in 11 years because I’ve been able to compete for every spot,” he said. “In 11 years I’ve been everything from a No. 1 to a No. 3.
“So I can care less what they label me. What I’m more concerned about is helping this offense be productive and that’s moving the chains, catching tough balls over the middle, being able to take some pressure off the other wide receivers and other playmakers on offense.”
The expectations don’t stop with his performance. He said he chose the Browns over the Dolphins, whom he visited last week, because the perennial loser is on the cusp of winning.
“Year 12, I can say I want to get as many touchdowns and catches as I can, or I can say I want to be productive in a winning program,” said Burleson, who will turn 33 in August and has 457 catches, 5,630 yards and 39 touchdowns. “Injuries have kind of hurt my success over the last couple years in Detroit. I’m trying to give Cleveland a healthy Nate Burleson, and a healthy Nate Burleson in 16 games can tap dance around 1,000 yards easily.
“With the features that they already have and with some of these young guns that they have on this team, I’m just a guy that wants to be a part of it. I’m not going to come in and try to be the man, I just want to be one of the guys that’s part of a great winning program.”
Burleson missed 10 games in 2012 with a broken leg. Last year, he missed two months after breaking his arm in a car accident when he tried to stop dinner for his family -- pizza, ribs, salad, pies -- from sliding off the front seat.
“Once I faced the concrete median, I realized in my head, ‘Oh, no, man. You don’t got this,’” he recalled. “So I braced myself. I grabbed the steering wheel as hard as I could, and that’s how I broke my arm. Because of the impact, my hand was wrapped so tightly around the steering wheel that when I hit the median, it pretty much fractured my arm.
“It was unfortunate because at that point, I feel like I was playing as consistent as any receiver in the league. Being that I’m a gladiator in the sport of football, when you do get injuries, you just hope it’s in the arena of football.”
Burleson spent the last four years in Detroit with Calvin Johnson, who’s widely considered the best wideout in the league. Gordon broke a couple of Johnson’s records last season and passed him for the receiving title.
Burleson said he doesn’t know Gordon well enough to give an informed comparison.
“He’s a talent, though,” Burleson said. “I can tell you this, when talking about him with Calvin, Calvin basically said, ‘That young boy is good.’ And for a guy like Calvin, who has very little words, for him to kind of give that credit to a young guy, it basically tells everybody in the world to watch out, the next big thing’s here.
“It’s up to Josh to compete and play at a high level and stay consistent and I think he has the right mindset for that.”
Burleson fills a leadership void in the receiver room and should serve as a mentor to Gordon. Burleson embraces the role, but knows actions speak louder than words.
“What I’ve always learned from veterans is you give back to the league what was given to you,” he said. “I’m going to earn respect by how I work as an individual, how I show up and be a professional and more importantly make plays. Guys respect playmakers, and with talented receivers already there, I’ve got to go out every day and show this is a legit wide receiver.”
First-year general manager Ray Farmer met with Burleson over the weekend, then got him to agree to a deal.
“We added Nate because we believe he can play like a Brown, with the added veteran presence that can help young players reach their potential,” Farmer said. “He’s a pro’s pro. He’s the quality-character person that understands the NFL from all angles and sides.
“He can play, which is evident in his beginning to last season prior to missing time, with production and value. He will improve our roster and overall competition at the wide receiver position.”
Burleson was in Seattle with his family but plans on returning soon for the offseason program, which began Monday. Teams with a new coach got a two-week head start on the rest of the league.
Coach Mike Pettine was allowed for the first time to formally meet with his players. The first phase of the league’s offseason program is limited to classroom instruction and strength and conditioning.
Gordon, Brian Hoyer, Paul Kruger, Jordan Cameron, Donte Whitner, Joe Thomas, Jabaal Sheard, Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant and Travis Benjamin were among the players who participated.