The Cleveland Browns have a lot of exciting pieces on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Nick Chubb and wide receiver Jarvis Landry are returning for their second seasons in Cleveland. David Njoku arrived as a legitimate receiving tight end at the end of 2018. Then there are the new additions. Cleveland added superstars Kareem Hunt and Odell Beckham in the offseason. Hunt has yet to serve an eight game suspension, but Chubb is capable of carrying the load until he gets back. Sophomore quarterback Baker Mayfield has weapons galore at his disposal. However, one name often flies under the radar in Browns talk: tight end Seth DeValve. A potential Seth DeValve breakout may be vital to one of the best and most exciting offenses Cleveland has ever boasted.
DeValve enters his fourth NFL season with a fair amount of ups and downs. He enjoyed a mini breakout in 2017, when he caught 33 passes for 395 yards. Last year, he played just 98 snaps, fourth among Browns tight ends. He has flashed exceptional athleticism and route running talent, but has played limited snaps due to underwhelming blocking ability. However, the Browns like to employ two tight end sets. They did so on 18% of plays in 2018 after they fired Hue Jackson, slightly above the league average of 16%. They also ran sets with three tight ends on an impressive 14% of plays. League average sits at 3% there.
Head coach and offensive play caller Freddie Kitchens is excellent at scheming his second tight end open. Darren Fells is essentially a sixth offensive lineman and he caught three touchdowns last year, including the first of Mayfield’s career. DeValve is a far superior receiver to Fells, and Fells is now a free agent. That means that there are 420 snaps to be replaced in the Browns offense, and a majority of those should go to DeValve and the newly signed Demetrius Harris. If he steps up and improves his blocking, the opportunity to thrive is staring him in the face.
Defenses are going to have a lot of players to scheme for against Cleveland in 2019. Beckham Jr. is a top five NFL receiver who commands lots of double teams and attention. Jarvis Landry also deserves attention, especially out of the slot, where he’ll play more in 2019 with the addition of Beckham. Once Hunt is back from suspension the Browns will have two running backs with compatible skill sets. Even Njoku is a young, athletic tight end that defenses will want to key on to. Mayfield wants to spread the ball around. Thanks to Kitchens’ schemes and the gravity of DeValve’s teammates, he should have all kinds of opportunity to showcase his route running ability and make a big offensive impact.
A lot of people note that there are only two Sashi Brown picks left on Cleveland’s roster; DeValve and Njoku. Though there is a slight chance DeValve gets cut, he’s a good young player being paid only $815K in 2019. The Browns would be wise to hold onto him for another season and let him capitalize on an opportunity to break out.
On Monday, Browns tight end Seth DeValve became the first white NFL player to kneel during the national anthem. His wife, Erica Harris DeValve, didn’t know he was going to kneel until she saw it for herself at the game.
Erica is black, and as Seth described during the postgame interviews, he said that he was going to “be raising children that don’t look like (him).” It was a heartfelt statement and action that, according to Michael Bennett, would help amplify the conversation about social injustice.
On Thursday, Erica wrote an article for theroot.com and issued her own powerful response to her husband’s activism.
On Monday night, Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve became the first white NFL player to protest during the national anthem when he kneeled before the team’s preseason game against the New York Giants.
Nearly a dozen players on the Browns knelt during the anthem and others on the team put their arms around their teammate in a sign of solidarity. It is the largest protest by a single team seen this season.
DeValve’s kneel comes just one week after Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett called for white players to participate in the national anthem protest. Eagles defensive end Chris Long has been one of the most outspoken players in regards to politics and he joined in the anthem protests by putting his arm around Malcolm Jenkins, who had his first raised in air.
DeValve explained his decision to protest with reporters after the game:
“It saddens me that in 2017, we have to do something like that. I personally would like to say that I love this country. I love our national anthem. I’m very grateful to the men and women who have given their lives and give a lot every day to protect this country and to serve this country. I want to honor them as much as I can. The United States is the greatest country in the world. It is because it provides opportunities to its citizen that no other country does. The issue is that it doesn’t provide equal opportunity to everybody and I wanted to support my African-American teammates today who wanted to take a knee. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that there are things in this country that still need to change. I, myself, will be raising children that don’t look like me and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now. I wanted to take the opportunity with my teammates during the anthem to pray for our country and also draw attention to the fact that we have work to do. That’s why I did what I did.”
The anthem protests started last season and were made prominent by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The protests have started back up in the aftermath of a white supremacist rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.
On Monday night, I walked into FirstEnergy Stadium having absolutely no clue what was going to happen during the national anthem. When it began, I saw a group of Browns players kneeling and was proud. A few moments later, I noticed that No. 87—my husband, Seth—was among them, and I was even prouder.
That moment reconfirmed a few things that I knew: that the many in-depth conversations about race that Seth and I had—that every interracial couple must have had—resonated and took root with him; that he knew this was bigger than just one-on-one chatting with me over dinner or coffee; and that he gets it, beyond a simple desire to be protective of me as his wife.
While I understand (and am deeply proud) that Seth is the first white NFL player to kneel during a demonstration like this (on Sept. 4, 2016, Megan Rapinoe, a U.S. women’s soccer player, was the first white professional athlete to do so), I would like to push back against some of the attention he’s been getting that portrays him as some sort of white savior to a movement that was started and has been carried on by black football players for about a year now.
I am grateful for the widespread support and praise that Seth is getting for his actions, but I would like to offer a humble reminder that a man—a black man—literally lost his job for taking a knee, week after week, on his own. Colin Kaepernick bravely took a step and began a movement throughout the NFL, and he suffered a ridiculous amount of hate and threats and ultimately lost his life’s work in the sport he loves.
We should not see Seth’s participation as legitimizing this movement. Rather, he chose to be an ally of his black teammates. To center the focus of Monday’s demonstration solely on Seth is to distract from what our real focus should be: listening to the experiences and the voices of the black people who are using their platforms to continue to bring the issue of racism in the U.S. to the forefront. Seth, as a white individual, never has and never will truly have to feel the weight and burden of racial discrimination and racial oppression. No white person does or will. But all white people should care and take a stand against its prevalence in this country.
What I hope to see from this is a shift in the conversation to Seth’s black teammates, who realistically have to carry that burden all the time. I am discouraged by this idea that acknowledging and fighting against racism is a distraction that must be stored away in order to be a good football player. I wholeheartedly reject that narrative.
Black players in the NFL cannot just turn their concern on and off in order to be able to focus more on football. White players shouldn’t, either. Racism is a day-to-day reality, and I hope that, instead of holding Seth up on a pedestal, the response will be to do what he did: listen to the voices of the black people in your life, and choose to support them as they seek to make their voices heard.
To the people who are looking at pictures of us and saying, “Oh, well, that makes sense,” I offer a dramatic eye roll. People on Twitter have insinuated that it’s simply my appearance that inspired Seth to kneel with his teammates, or that I must’ve threatened Seth with leaving him or refusing to have sex with him if he didn’t join the demonstration. To even joke in this way is gross. Seth didn’t do what he did simply to obtain a gold star from his wife. His actions on Monday night were not the equivalent of him bringing home a bouquet of flowers after I’ve had a rough day.
In his interview after Monday night’s game, Seth said, “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me, and I want to do my part as well to do everything I can to raise them in a better environment than we have right now.” I don’t think either of us foresaw that this choice to share about his personal life would become the go-to narrative to explain Seth’s actions in their entirety.
Seth understands how racism systematically oppresses people across this entire nation. He understands that to be complacent about it is not just unacceptable as a “black wife’s” husband; Seth supported his teammates because it was the right thing to do, it was the godly thing to do and it was the responsible thing to do. If I were white, he should have done the same, and I am confident that he would have.
In the last few days, we have seen a lot of the same comments that have been expressed since Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem: people imploring players to stand up because it is disrespectful to the flag, to the country, and to active military and veterans. But what Kaepernick did (and what various NFL players are continuing this season) is something we should see as real patriotism. They are engaging critically with the national anthem and this country’s articulated ideals; they are consciously observing the reality of our country’s current state; and they are using their platforms to publicly hold the country in which they live accountable to the ideals it is supposed to be upholding.
To be complacent that the U.S. strives to be “the land of the free” while so many of its citizens of color are being oppressed for their race is unpatriotic and irresponsible. I applaud those who realize that and do something about it rather than ignore it.