On Thursday, we got word that the Chiefs had come to terms with former New York Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne. The former first-round pick came into the league as the sixth overall selection of the 2012 NFL draft for the Dallas Cowboys. He showed great promise in his rookie season, but over the last four years of his Cowboys career, he missed half of the team’s games with injuries.
But over the last two seasons with the New York Jets, the 5-foot-11, 192-pound cornerback has been far more durable — starting 15 games in each of the last two seasons — and has demonstrated much of the ability he displayed as a rookie. His 2018 season was probably his best as a pro. He tallied a pair of interceptions — one for a touchdown — along with 57 tackles (44 solo, 13 for loss) and 14 passes defensed.
Claiborne, however, has some baggage. Just last Monday, the NFL announced that he will serve a four-game suspension to start the 2019 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. That’s part of the reason why the Chiefs were able to sign him to a one-year prove-it deal worth $3 million — a deal that includes $1.5 million in incentives.
Meeting with the Kansas City media for the first time on Monday, Claiborne said that part of what attracted him to sign with the Chiefs was the team’s willingness to see past his history.
”They knew what I was going through, and they wanted to help me through it,” he said. “That was part of the reason that really made up my mind to come here. I could see that these guys not only care about me as a football player, but they care about me as a man and as a person.
”He was just trying to put pieces together,” he said of his conversations with Chiefs general manager Brett Veach. “He felt like I was a good piece — a fit — in the defense to get us to the next level, and I feel the same way. Once I learn this defense, I can come in and take over. That’s what my mindset is: to come in and play. I feel like I have nothing to lose and everything to gain in this situation — and I feel like I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
But he also said the idea of playing for a contending team was appealing, too.
“They’ve got a good ball club,” he said. “They’ve got one of the best offenses in the league. [They] added a couple of pieces here in the offseason on the defense. I just feel like it’s a good club, and it’s a good chance to play in a playoff and play for a Super Bowl.”
In all probability, Claiborne wouldn’t be a starter when his suspension concludes after Week 4; he’s more likely to be competing with players like D’Montre Ward and rookie sixth-round pick Rashad Fenton for the fourth cornerback spot behind Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward and Kendall Fuller. But based on what he told the press, the 29-year-old said he doesn’t mind being in the mix with younger players.
“You know, I’m learning something new each and every day,” he said. “I’ve been in this league going on eight years now, and you never get enough. You’re always leaning new things each and every day. Everybody can teach you something — a rookie coming in can teach you something. You just have to be open-minded, and that’s how I am: I’m open to any advice from anybody. I take it, and if I can use it, I use it. But if I can’t, I still take it.”
Claiborne — who has earned just over $31 million in his seven-year career — told reporters that he’s come to the point where the salary he earns isn’t the most important thing.
”I feel like right now, it’s not about money for me,” he explained. “It’s about going out and playing football. I put myself in a hard, tough situation for owners, teams and my agent to be able to negotiate. I put all of us in a tough situation. I own up to everything I do. I’m a grown man. I can’t do anything about that situation — I’m sorry it happened — [so] I can only move on right now. But this is my job. This is what I do. I play football. At the end of the day, this is how I feed my family — playing this game. So you can say it’s about the money — because you want to get paid — but ultimately I just want to go out and play football... to just do what I do.”
Claiborne already knows a couple of the players on the Chiefs roster, and said the rest have been a welcoming bunch.
”I played with Anthony Hitchens in Dallas. A couple of other guys are just new to me,” he said. “But everybody has welcomed me with open arms. Guys have been coming in, asking if I need anything. I can come to anybody.”
One of the other players with whom Claiborne has a relationship is safety Tyrann Mathieu, whom he got to know when both played at LSU. He said he and the Honey Badger had spoken on the phone about the possibility of Claiborne playing for the Chiefs.
”He just talked to me about how it’s a good place,” Claiborne said. “He wanted me to come; it was a good place for me to start over. And I felt the same way.”