The Cleveland Browns have only reached the postseason twice since being brought back to life in 1999, but two of the franchise’s latest free agent additions, three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Za’Darius Smith and two-time Super Bowl champion safety Juan Thornhill, insist speaking the goal of a Super Bowl out loud isn’t too lofty. Smith has reached conference championship games multiple times with the Green Bay Packers, but never the big game. The 27-year-old Thornhill was a starter on the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl wins that concluded the 2019 and 2022 seasons.
“I feel like it is, but my main goal right now is get a (Super Bowl) ring,” Smith said, via the Akron Beacon Journal, when asked about being able to put up All-Pro-caliber numbers next to Browns two-time First Team All-Pro Myles Garrett. “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. … Self goals is something that’s going to come once you play part of the team, once you do your job basically.”
Smith, who was acquired in a trade in which only late-round raft picks were exchanged, is one of many reinforcements the Browns added to their roster this offseason. Thornhill is hoping to bring some of the championship mindset over from Kansas City to a hungry Cleveland roster after signing a three-year, $21 million deal in free agency.
“I like to be the underdog a little bit going into the season,” Thornhill said last week. “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.”
Smith has won five consecutive division titles — the AFC North in his final year with the Ravens in 2018, three consecutive NFC North crowns with the Packers from 2019-2021, and an NFC North title in his one year with the Vikings in 2022 — and he strongly believes winning that division title to start the playoffs at home is a critical component of postseason success.
“‘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.”
Cleveland winning the AFC North would be grounds for raucous celebration in Northeast Ohio as Smith’s and Thornhill’s total career number of eight division titles won are more than the Browns’ five that have occurred since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger. In the minds, of Smith and Thornhill, history is just that, the past.
“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.”