Berea, Ohio — For the longest time, Malik McDowell feared he had thrown away his promising football career and ruined his life.
His chances seemed all used up.
The Browns, though, decided to give him another — a final one — and he’s making the most of it.
A long shot when Cleveland signed him in May, McDowell, who spent time in jail after a run of serious legal troubles, survived the final cuts Tuesday and was awarded one of 53 spots on the Browns’ roster.
It’s a remarkable comeback and journey for the massive defensive tackle, who understands what’s at stake going forward.
“Everything,” he said.
Drafted in the second round by Seattle in 2017, the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder never played for the Seahawks after suffering a brain injury in an ATV accident that was followed by several arrests and an 11-month stay in a Michigan jail.
But even while he was incarcerated, McDowell said he never gave up on his dream of playing in the NFL or in making his mother, Joya Cowe, who has supported him in his worst moments, proud.
It’s taken time, but McDowell is finally where he wants to be.
“I did imagine it,” McDowell said of making Cleveland’s roster. “Manifested it. That’s why I call it more of a manifestation. Just always thinking, pushing, working.”
The Browns weren’t exactly sure what they were getting when they signed McDowell. But although he had four years of rust to knock off, McDowell has continued to improve and he probably sealed a roster spot with two strong performances in Cleveland’s last two exhibition games.
On Sunday night in Atlanta, McDowell manhandled several blockers and a video clip of him bull rushing a Falcons center, who was driven deep into the backfield, went viral on social media.
“That’s the beauty of our sport is the tape is your resume and when you’re out there at the practice field and it’s showing up, it also shows up in the game film and that’s who the player is,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said.
Understanding McDowell, the football player, isn’t as cut and dry.
After playing at Michigan State, he was drafted with the No. 35 overall pick four years ago by the Seahawks. Three months later came the ATV accident, which seemed to trigger some of McDowell’s problems.
When asked about the effects of the accident on his behavior, McDowell lowered his eyes and fiddled with tape on his wrist as though he was afraid to re-visit that period.
“A lot of stuff drove me to what I had going on,” he said.
Within months, he was arrested for driving under the influence and sentenced to 12 months probation. There was also a disorderly conduct charge stemming from an incident at an Atlanta-area nightclub.
Then, in 2019, McDowell was charged with resisting arrest and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. In a disturbing video of the incident, McDowell fights with two police officers even after they discharge a Taser on him.
He pleaded guilty to the charges and began serving time for his offenses. McDowell said rock bottom was when he had to tell his mom what he’d done.
“You’re in jail and everything and you’ve got to tell her, ‘Oh, I got in trouble again,’” he said. “Tell her to come bail me out, that’s when I hit my low. Just disappointing my mom was the biggest low for me.
“I disappointed myself a lot, but hurting her, she was the only one that stuck by my side and I put her through some unnecessary pain. That was the biggest letdown for me, just letting her down.”
McDowell said while he was in jail he resolved to change and to make up for lost time.
“That’s what I was telling everybody I was in there with, that’s what I’m working towards,” he said. “When I get out, I’m going back to try to play football.”
The Browns were willing to give him a shot, but only after Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry spoke with McDowell to make sure he was serious about his commitment.
To this point, the 25-year-old has kept his promise.
“It’s a great example to all of us that had some things go on in your life that he was ultimately responsible for, he owned up to it and he’s made sure to make the most of this opportunity,” Stefanski said. “From the moment he has been with us, he has done everything that has been asked of him.”
McDowell believes he’s just beginning to tap into his potential. His body is still adjusting to being away from the game for so long, but he’s confident his best days lie ahead.
For now, he’s living in the moment, appreciative to the Browns for believing in him. He’s paying Berry back for his trust.
“I told them how much I wanted it and how much I wouldn’t let them down giving me this opportunity even though I had chance after chance,” he said. “And this being my last chance and everything, you all giving me this opportunity, I won’t make you look bad.
“A.B., in particular, giving me this opportunity, bringing me in here, sticking his neck out for me and everything. So definitely don’t want to let nobody down.”