The cynic might claim that the relationship between the team and player in the NFL is like a marriage of convenience.
Team needs player to fill position of weakness. Player needs team to fill bank account.
Such a hardened view doesn’t bother veteran cornerback Terry Cousin, who recently signed a two-year contract with the Browns as a free agent. He realizes the loss of Leigh Bodden via trade and Daven Holly to a severe knee injury left the team in dire need of help at that position.
But the 33-year-old Miami native believes there is more to a professional football career than a series of business relationships. He thrives on competition. And he has done it quite well, earning significant playing time with six different teams in 11 years before landing on the shores of Lake Erie last week.
Cousin could have signed elsewhere. But he chose the Browns not simply because of their thinness at cornerback. He was also impressed with their resurgence in 2007.
“The main thing was the turnaround of the franchise,” he said. “Me coming in with the depth at that position, that is what it is. But if there was a situation where we did have depth, I’m still going to come in and compete. I’m here to bring something they believe the team needed and that’s leadership and playmaking.”
He has certainly provided the latter over the years. Cousin has participated in nearly every one of his team’s games since his second season and started in about 40 percent of them. He has thrived as a third-down corner covering slot receivers.
Cousin has improved as a ball-hawk, setting a personal single-season record for interceptions with four with Jacksonville in 2005. He has picked off six passes in the last three years, one more than he did in his previous eight seasons combined.
“I feel I’m playing better than I ever have,” he said. “I’m mature. I’m seasoned. I’m battle-tested. I really don’t care about age. I just train like I did the last 12 years. I think more than anything you have to have a competitive heart to you. I think that will drive anything.”
The Browns are painfully young in the secondary. Their need for Cousin extends far past his skills as a cornerback. And he understands that. In fact, he welcomes it. He believes he can provide physical and emotional benefits to a defense that must improve dramatically for the promise of contention in the AFC to be fulfilled.
“You’ve got to be able to cover and to communicate,” he said. “You have to have a certain intelligence level. And you have to be able to make tackles and support the run. You have to be tough inside – a competitor. I know I have all those things. And I just believe I’ve been the best at what I’m doing the past nine years.
“I’ve been in a leadership role my whole career. I want these guys to see what’s out there and be prepared for it. I’m not going to hide any information from them. I’ve seen a lot. It’s good to have young guys like this. Those guys have been through a season where they’ve played. We’re not going to take any excuses being second-year guys.”
Cousin has obviously learned a great deal since the Bears signed him as an undrafted free agent out of the University of South Carolina in 1997. He has seen the sights, having played in Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Carolina, New York Giants, Jacksonville and Cleveland. But the culture shock that used to strike him when he left one team for another no longer exists.
“It becomes easier when you’re a veteran,” he said. “When you know where you are as a player, you come and the main thing is just to establish yourself. The more you’ve done it the better. The first time I did it when I (went from Chicago to Atlanta) it was a culture shock. It’s sometimes a bit of a letdown not knowing where you fit.”
The “glass half empty” player might look at getting traded as a statement that the team doesn’t want you. Cousin is obviously a “glass half full” kind of guy.
“When you get traded, that means somebody else wants you,” he said. “And that’s what you want as a player. You want to know that somebody appreciates your talent. You have to be a self-starter in this business. You can’t put it on somebody else to let you know you’re a good player. You have to know that yourself.”
Cousin knows it. Players don’t stick around for a decade in the NFL without that confidence.