BEREA, Ohio (AP) – The Browns weren’t about to let Gary Barnidge slip through their hands.
The tight end having an unexpected breakout season as a pass catcher and playmaker decided not to test the free agent market and signed a three-year contract extension on Thursday with Cleveland.
Barnidge has been one of the only bright spots in an otherwise forgettable season for the Browns (2-10), who have dropped seven straight games and appear to be headed toward yet another winter of tumult and turnover.
The 30-year-old said he’s happy in Cleveland and believes better days are ahead for the Browns.
“That’s the thing, free agency is the unknown,” he said, explaining his decision to sign the deal.
“You might get more, you might get less,” he said. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen and I’m very appreciative that the Browns gave me that chance here and I wanted to repay them.”
Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed.
Barnidge played five seasons – missing one year with a broken ankle- behind Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen in Carolina and was in Jordan Cameron’s shadow for two years in Cleveland.
He leads the Browns with 60 receptions for 812 yards and seven touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who entered the season with 44 career receptions and three TDs.
Barnidge has also had a flair for the spectacular. He’s made two circus catches, one a juggling grab in San Diego, the other a touchdown at Baltimore he trapped with his legs.
“He’s coming in there blocking, catching, incredible catches,” said wide receiver Travis Benjamin, another potential free agent.
“He probably leads the league this year in balls you think you can’t catch, but he sticks that hand up there and he brings it down,” he said. “I’m just so happy for Gary because me and him are in the same situation with not playing last year and coming in and having breakout seasons.”
With this season already sunk, Barnidge signing was the Browns’ first move toward a turnaround.
Beyond his on-field production, Barnidge, who signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2003, is also active in the community. He was recently named as the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for his extensive off-field charity work.
“Gary Barnidge is probably one of my most favorite players I’ve ever coached,” Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “He’s the same guy every day. He’s productive. He works. He keeps his mouth shut. If you give him a coaching point, he takes it to heart and it shows on the field.”
Barnidge recently initiated a meeting with team owner Jimmy Haslam and came away convinced the Browns have a bright future.
“Amazing guy,” Barnidge said of Haslam. “He’s got what it takes to turn things around here and I believe he wants to.”
NOTES: With the season nearing a close, Browns coach Mike Pettine indicated CB Joe Haden and WR Andrew Hawkins will likely go on injured reserve because of concussions. Haden has missed six games, Hawkins four. … WR Taylor Gabriel was back at practice after being sidelined two games with a concussion. His return will bolster a receiving corps that was down to two healthy bodies in last week’s game.
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)