Cleveland Browns' Garrett returns to NFL after suspension for hitting opposing quarterback with helmet

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CLEVELAND, OHIO – NOVEMBER 14: Defensive end Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns hits Quarterback Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers over the head with his helmet during the second half in the game at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The NFL has reinstated Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett after his suspension for hitting an opposing quarterback in the head with a helmet, the team said Wednesday, but what exactly sparked the melee is unclear.

The news comes two days after Garrett met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the league office in New York.

Garrett was reportedly among 33 players disciplined in the November midseason affair, which unfolded in a Week 11 matchup between the Browns and the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The third-year Texas A&M product was dealt the harshest punishment of the bunch: a suspension without pay for the rest of the season (six games) and a $45,623 fine.

The teams were also fined $250,000 each.

The Browns, which said after the incident that Garrett still enjoyed the team’s support, welcomed news of the return of their defensive stalwart.

“We welcome Myles back to our organization with open arms,” general manager Andrew Berry said. “We know he is grateful to be reinstated, eager to put the past behind him and continue to evolve and grow as a leader. We look forward to having his strong positive presence back as a teammate, player and person in our community.”

In a news release, the team said Garrett — who teammates have described as a humanitarian and an asset to the community — is slated to leave next week for Tanzania, where he will take part in the Chris Long Foundation’s Waterboys program, which provides clean water in East African locales.

Garrett responded with a meme from the shoot-em-up flick, “John Wick,” in which Keanu Reaves’ titular character says, ‘but now, yeah, I’m thinking, “I’m back.'”

The 24-year-old’s offense — “removing the helmet of an opponent and using the helmet as a weapon,” per NFL rules — was unsettling even for a sport in which violence is a mainstay.

With seconds left in a rivalry game that the Browns were destined to win, Garrett hammered Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph after a meaningless screen pass. Rudolph took exception, and the pair tussled on the turf.

Garrett ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and as offensive lineman David DeCastro pushed Garrett away, Rudolph pursued the 2017 No. 1 draft pick. Garrett, still wielding Rudolph’s helmet, swung it downward over DeCastro’s shoulder, clocking the quarterback in the skull.

Mayhem ensued. The teams scrapped. Maurkice Pouncey punched and kicked Garrett, earning a two-game suspension, while Cleveland’s Larry Ogunjobi was suspended for a game for shoving Rudolph to the ground from behind.

Rudolph initially called Garrett’s behavior “bush league,” his helmet hit “a total coward move,” and in the days that followed, ESPN reported that during an unsuccessful appeals hearing, Garrett claimed Rudolph had uttered a racial slur, spurring the fracas.

Rudolph denied the accusation and Garrett expressed disappointment in the allegation — which he thought would be kept private — being leaked. Still, he stood by the accusation.

“I know what I heard,” Garrett said. “Whether my opponent’s comment was born out of frustration or ignorance, I cannot say. But his actions do not excuse my lack of restraint in the moment, and I truly regret the impact this has had on the league, the Browns and our devoted fans.”

Fines ranged from $3,507 for most of the players involved, to Rudolph’s $50,000 — a stiffer penalty than the $35,096 that usually comes with a first offense for fighting.

Garrett’s suspension was also harsher than the five games handed down to Albert Haynesworth in 2006 for stomping on an opponent’s head, but it was lighter than the 12-game suspension Vontaze Burfict received for a helmet-to-helmet hit in September. In the latter case, the league acknowledged it had factored in Burfict’s previous suspensions and violations of unnecessary roughness rules.

Both players eventually apologized, with Rudolph expressing remorse for his role in the fight, saying he should’ve handled the situation better.

“I definitely didn’t say anything that escalated it, but like I said, I have to do a better job of keeping my composure in those situations and I think it was an unfortunate situation for both teams involved,” the quarterback told reporters.

Garrett called his actions “a terrible mistake.”

“I lost my cool and what I did was selfish and unacceptable,” his statement said. “I know that we are all responsible for our actions and I can only prove my true character through my actions moving forward.”

Days before the teams faced each other in a December rematch, then-Browns coach Freddie Kitchens was seen over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt.

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