The Cleveland Browns have bolstered their defense this offseason, and one of the newest additions wants to do something the team has not done in its history: win a Super Bowl.
Coming off a Pro Bowl season, defensive end Za’Darius Smith is looking forward to lining up next to his new teammate Myles Garrett in Cleveland. Both players have a chance to win Defensive Player of the Year next season with their talents, but Smith has his focus on a team-oriented goal in 2023.
"I feel like it is, but my main goal right now is get a (Super Bowl) ring," Smith said, via the Akron Beacon Journal’s Chris Easterling. "That's something that I never have experienced. So that's the No. 1 goal is help this team win a Super Bowl. Well, first of all, win the (AFC) North, well, win the division, sorry, and then go on and play in the Super Bowl."
Since the NFL reorganized its divisions in 2002, the Browns have not won the AFC North title. Although the Browns made the playoffs in 2020, Cleveland lost in the Divisional Round to the Kansas City Chiefs. It is clear to Smith that winning the division is an essential milestone toward making it to the Super Bowl in February.
"Cause that's where it starts," Smith said. "I feel like if you set goals, it got to start from there. If you don't win a division, it's really not a possibility of going to the Super Bowl. … A lot of guys don't focus on that, they just talk about the Super Bowl, but the main goal is to win the division first, be on top and hopefully go the playoffs, get a bye and go from there."
The Smith-Garrett duo could lift Cleveland over the hump this season. Smith, a three-time Pro Bowler, recorded 10 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 24 quarterback hits in 2022. Similarly, Garrett tied a career-high 16 sacks to go along with 18 tackles for loss and 26 QB hits.
While Smith was acquired in a trade with the Vikings, safety Juan Thornhill decided to sign with the Browns after spending four seasons in Kansas City. After winning two Super Bowls with the Chiefs, Thornhill doesn't mind that his new squad is being overlooked by many heading into the 2023 season.
"I like to be the underdog a little bit going into the season," Thornhill said. "Not everyone thinking that you're going to be, like, the No. 1 team. Kansas City, everybody put them up there, No. 1, they think they're going to win every year. But me coming here, I feel like I can add something to the team and bring something to the team to get us to that top level, and I just will feel accomplished if we did that well."
Thornhill, a second-round pick in the 2019 draft, is coming off his best season. The 27-year-old had a career-high 71 total tackles, three interceptions and two QB hits last year. Thornhill's experience is much needed after the team moved on from John Johnson III.
With the Browns not having a deep playoff history, Thornhill is determined to forget about the team's past and work toward building a new foundation in Cleveland.
"It's all good," Thornhill said. "Like I said, it's a new start. Whatever happened last year is last year. This is a new year and this is what we're working for -- to get to the Super Bowl this season."