CLEVELAND, Ohio — Apparently, John Dorsey wasn’t impressed with the Browns’ secondary in 2017.
He continued to overhaul the defensive backfield on Wednesday, signing former Ohio University product T.J. Carrie, a free agent cornerback from the Raiders, a league source told cleveland.com.
Carrie (6-0, 206) was drafted by the Raiders in the seventh round of the 2014 draft. ESPN’s Adam Caplan reported it’s a four-year deal worth $31 million, including $15.5 million in total guarantees.
Dorsey also traded for Packers cornerback Damarious Randall on Friday, and he’s already penciled in as the starting free safety. Wednesday morning, he agreed to terms with former Chiefs cornerback Terrance Mitchell.
Carrie started 15 games for the Raiders in 2017, making 70 tackles.
Carrie has an inspirational story that will have Browns fans rooting for him.
At the age of 15, Carrie was diagnosed with a birth defect known as a coronory artery anomaly and was faced with a dilemma: undergo open heart surgery or avoid physical activity for life.
He bravely chose the former and underwent the surgery on Valentine’s Day in 2006 at Oakland Children’s hospital. Carrie went on to successful career at OU and captured the attention of the Raiders.
Last season, he played 1,719 snaps, more than all of the other Raiders cornerbacks combined, according to Raiders’ beatwriter Michael Gehlken.
Carrie will challenge for a starting job in Cleveland.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie points to the 9-inch long scar running down the middle of his chest and the tiny horizontal one just below it.
“There was a time when I was embarrassed by this scar,’’ Carrie told cleveland.com. “Now, I embrace it. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this scar.’’
Underneath the scar is a heart filled with gratitude for every beat, every breath he takes and every time he steps on the football field for the Cleveland Browns.
“I know what it feels like to look up and know that your dreams can be taken away,’’ said the 28-year-old Carrie.
Matters of the heart
As a 15-year-old growing up in Antioch, Calif., Carrie wanted to follow in the footsteps of his three older brothers, who all played college football and one who even played semi-pro. He shared not only their gridiron dreams, but a greater one — to play in the NFL.
But during football conditioning before his freshman year in high school and while running track, he got lightheaded. One day, during a preseason workout, Carrie passed out cold.
“It made me question if I could ever play football,’’ he said.
Carrie, who transferred to prep football powerhouse De La Salle that year, quit the team as a freshman to get the problem diagnosed. After a series of EKGs and stress tests, and a heart monitor that he wore to school, doctors determined that he had a “one in a million” birth defect in which his right coronary artery was misaligned between his lungs.
Any physical exertion and the artery was clamped off.
“The doctor gave me two options,’’ said Carrie. “One, either don’t play sports … or two, we could go through the surgery to reposition the artery.”
There was one small problem with option two, however. “The likelihood of still being able to play collegiate sports or high school sports was really slim to none,” he said.
A family with strong faith, the Carries prayed and weighed the pros and cons. Carrie’s five siblings — four brothers and a sister — and his parents were all part of the process.
“It was very scary,’’ said Carrie. “At the time, only 12 of these procedures had been done.’’
Carrie was filled with questions.
“I wondered, ‘is everything going to go okay?’” he said. “‘What’s going to happen afterwards, not only with sports but with school and basic kid life experiences? Would I be able to race my friends or participate in all of the other activities that go along with being a teenager? Those were questions we didn’t have answers for. We didn’t really have anyone to turn to but the Lord and ourselves as a family.’’
Ultimately, the Carries consented to the procedure with Dr. Frank Hanley at Oakland Children’s Hospital. The surgery was eventually scheduled for Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day.
“It was just a beautiful experience of being able to have open-heart surgery on heart day,” said Carrie, who remembers being petrified heading into surgery and just as scared when he awoke.
“I had these big bandages on my chest and this tube in my stomach,’’ he said, pointing the small horizontal scar underneath the long one. “It brought me back to being a kid and watching movies with people in the hospital and tubes all over the place. Here I am a young teen waking up with all of these tubes everywhere and you could actually see the fluid draining from my stomach.’’
Carrie spent two months in the hospital, more than that out of school.
“I remember not being able to stand up straight because of the staples in my chest,” he said. “For a while I walked with a humpback because I was scared my chest would pop open.’’
Carrie woke up every day in great pain. “I had to clean the bandages off my chest because I’d had lot of the leftover oozing and pus.’’
Ultimately, his scar became very puffy, which made him insecure.
“For a while, I didn’t take my shirt off because I didn’t want people to see it,’’ he said. “You get questions.’’
He was also self-conscious about his protruding sternum.
“It never really went down and it’s still out to this day,’’ he said. “Everyone else’s lays down flat so that gave me great discomfort with the way I looked. It was just something I had to deal with as a teenager.’’
Carrie also had to fend off the gnawing doubts about whether he’d be able to play football.
“My junior year was probably one of the hardest years of my life because not only was I trying to prepare myself to play football in my senior year, but I was still trying to make up the all of the classes that I missed. I had to take junior college classes at night and it was a lot of added pressure.’’
Carrie remembers standing on the sidelines during practices the spring and summer before his senior year, wondering if he could really make it happen. When it was finally time for him to practice, there was a lot of “‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that. I don’t think you should do that.’ There was an extra layer of protective guidance from everyone around me.’’
During practice, Carrie wore extra padding and a red ‘caution’ jersey. He was only permitted contact during games.
“De La Salle went to extreme lengths to keep me safe, and it took a village of people to get me back on the field,’’ he said.
The village included his three older brothers, Reynard, Eric and Domonick. After practice, he’d travel 45 minutes to train with Reynard, who played at Portland State and later for the San Jose Sabre Cats in the Arena League. A personal trainer, Reynard pushed him hard, but not too hard.
“Reynard had to find the balance between preparing me for the season and not letting me overdo it,’’ he said. “We’d do extra drills and extra activity and sometimes he thought I was ready to quit, but I always pushed through it.’’
Carrie had grown up working out in the garage with his brothers. His younger brother, Rajheem, is ‘by far the best athlete of all of us,’ but is pursuing a music career at the University of Akron.
“I was the ball boy and water boy for my older brothers and I lived for those moments,’’ Carrie said. “They were my mentors and role models. They’re what inspired my dream of playing in the NFL.’’
There were plenty of discouraging times.
“De La Salle is known for their very vigorous conditioning program and sometimes it was too much of a strain,’’ Carrie said. “It took me a lot longer to get in shape than the other guys. My teammates always pushed me to move forward and work harder.’’
Grinding through the fear, Carrie finally made it on the field as a senior, playing running back and defensive back. He excelled on defense, totaling 90 tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. De La Salle won a state championship, and he was voted first-team all-conference. He made the honor roll, too.
“It was one of the best years of my life, being able to get out there and play my first and only year of high school football,” he said. “We had so much fun and brotherhood at De La Salle and so many memories of winning football games, pre-game meals at friends’ houses, and spending the night at friends’ houses after games.’’
Carrie and other players would often gather at a teammate’s house to play games and burn their highlights onto CDs to send out to colleges. Carrie sent out at least 30, but never head back from anyone. He enlisted the help of his brothers, who contacted their college coaches. His second-oldest brother, Eric, reached out to his New Mexico State defensive coordinator Ross Els, who was then linebackers coach at Ohio University, and they brought Carrie in for a visit.
“I remember wearing an all-black pinstripe suit that my parents bought me, because my mom always told me, the first impression always leaves the best impression,’’ he said. “I remember the coaches were shocked. To this day, they always talk about the suit I wore, and how impressed they were.’’
The California kid remembered traveling 3,000 miles from home and then driving through snow and hail from the airport to OU.
“I was like, ‘man where are we going?’” he recalled. “But when I got there, it was a pure college town and I loved everything about it.”
Still, Carrie hadn’t made up all of his missed work at De La Salle.
“I was behind the eight-ball,’’ he said. “Signing day came and went and I still hadn’t made up all of my classes. OU said ‘we’re going to wait for you. You’re a great kid, we want you here.’’’
Carrie finished his night classes, took the SAT and accepted OU’s scholarship.
“I went off to college and they treated me like I was one of the best people they ever had,’’ he said.
His parents, Gloria and Reynard, moved to Ohio to watch him play for the Bobcats and still live here. Carrie suffered a shoulder injury that cost him his junior season, but came back as a senior in 2013 and started 11 games. He tied a career-high with four interceptions, returning two for TDs. He made the All-MAC first-team as punt returner, and caught the eye of the Raiders, who drafted him in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, 219th overall.
After four seasons with the Raiders, the Browns signed Carrie as a free agent and he’s been a major contributor in the overhauled defensive backfield, starting six of his 14 games. Last week, he picked off Broncos quarterback Case Keenum to set up the game-winning touchdown in the Browns’ 17-16 victory. It was his first interception of the season.
Two days later, Carrie was at University Hospitals’ Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital Cardiology Unit, delivering “Shadow Buddies” to young heart patients on behalf of his T.J. Carrie Foundation.
“It’s a bear that has a scar down its chest and that bear has my jersey and shorts on and my logo of my foundation,’’ said Carrie. “Within that bear you also get a motivational card. It shows the kids that I have been through this too and there’s someone out there that has a scar just like you. Hopefully this bear is a remembrance that you’re not the only one with this issue and don’t feel bad about yourself.’’
During his frequent visits, he talks to kids and parents about what to expect.
“So often, kids lose some of their identity because they might not be able to accomplish their dreams. I always tell kids to still dream big. They don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but (they need to) believe there’s someone out there who’s gone through it too and they’ve come through on the other side.’’
These days, he rips open his shirt for young patients with so much gusto, you almost expect to see an ‘S’ on his chest. Instead, it’s the scar of which he’s now proud.
“I show it off,’’ he said. “I embrace it. I show it to the kids in the hospital to show them that I have one just like theirs and it’s not going anywhere and just to have fun with it.’’
He warns them it won’t be easy. He still has metal sutures in his sternum that he can see on X-rays. But he wouldn’t change a thing.
“Some things that you go through in life, you’re meant to go through them to prepare you for life down the road,’’ he said. “But when you get to the end of the road, you realize, ‘if I hadn’t gone through that, I wouldn’t be prepared for this.’”
Someday, Carrie knows that he’ll share his story with his 10-month son, Elijah. For now, he holds him tight over the scar on his chest, with the grateful heart inside.