The Browns rolled out the red carpet for Rashard “Hollywood’’ Higgins again.
A favorite target of Baker Mayfield, Higgins is coming back to the Browns on a one-year deal, the receiver tells cleveland.com. The deal is worth $2.38 million fully guaranteed, a league source said.
As soon as the agreement was reached, Mayfield tweeted ‘what are we doing Hig?!?
Higgins replied: “Let’s run it back.’’
The two formed a dynamic duo in training camp in 2018, when they took rep after rep together on the second-team offense and developed an unshakeable chemistry.
In 2020, Higgins stepped in after Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a torn ACL and caught 37 passes for 599 yards and four TDs. The receptions were fourth on the team, but the yards were second. The TDs were also tied for second behind Kareem Hunt’s five.
Higgins, 26, hoped to sign a multiyear deal with a large signing bonus, but in a depressed market, the desired offer apparently never materialized. Spotrac.com estimated his market value at about $6.25 million a year for four years, but he obviously didn’t come close to that.
Heading into free agency, the Browns informed him that they’d love to have him back on a one-year deal. The Browns’ fifth-round pick out of Colorado State in 2016, Higgins attracted interest from multiple teams, but ultimately decided to come back and keep his great thing with Mayfield going.
The front office also knows how important Higgins has been to Mayfield: His passer rating when targeting Higgins was a team-high 126.1.
Higgins made it clear last month that he wanted to be back, and that money wasn’t everything.
“Listen, don’t give up on me. I never gave up on y’all,’’ he said in an interview on ESPN 850. “Tell Andrew [Berry] to send the papers and I’m signing wherever I’ve got to sign.’’
It was the second straight season that Higgins tested the free-agent waters, only to wade back to the Browns. Last offseason, he received a slightly higher offer from at least one team, but re-signed a one-year deal with worth $910,000 to stay with the Browns.
The Browns weren’t able to shell out big bucks to a third receiver this offseason because Beckham and Jarvis Landry take up more than 16% of the salary cap, with $15.75 million and $14.753 million cap hits, respectively. The Browns also gave KhaDarel Hodge the right of first of first refusal tender at $2.133 million for 2021, and have 2020 sixth-round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones on his rookie contract.
But they always wanted Higgins back. His agreement came on the same day the Browns reached a one-year deal with their own free-agent linebacker Malcolm Smith and let tight end David Njoku’s $6.013 million option-tender Cheap Cleveland Browns Jerseys become fully guaranteed. It also came on the day they announced agreements with safety John Johnson III and defensive end Takk McKinley.
Besides, Higgins wanted to come back and write a happier ending to his season. In the 22-17 AFC Divisional loss to the Chiefs, Higgins was involved in a controversial play in which he reached for the goal line after a catch but fumbled through it for a Chiefs touchback when he was struck helmet-to-helmet by safety Daniel Sorensen, who wasn’t flagged or subsequently fined.
Coach Kevin Stefanski reminded Higgins that he violated the Browns’ rule not to extend the ball in that situation, but praised his effort. Higgins finished with a team-high 88 yards on five catches to keep things close with the defending Super Bowl champs.
“Let me be very, very clear: Rashard Higgins is a warrior,” Stefanski said after the game. “He has battled all season long. He has done everything that I have asked him to do from the moment we get together in July. I am never going to doubt that kid’s effort. He is a team player all the way.”
It’s been a long Browns journey for Higgins, who was waived in 2017 and signed to the practice squad the next day. But he keeps coming, and keeps catching touchdown passes — about one for every 10 receptions.
He’s also perfected walking the red carpet in the end zone after every TD, while his teammates serve as the paparazzi. Mayfield, who’s more than happy to play the part, executed a perfect slide and spin into the end zone to snap imaginary photos of Higgins after a TD catch against the Titans.