Mo Claiborne knew the conversations with teams weren’t going to be easy.
Facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy not only put the free agent cornerback in a tough spot, it also made life difficult for everyone around him: family, agents, potential teams.
Claiborne wanted a place to start fresh, a team that would help him put the suspension behind him and put him in a position to contribute to a playoff contender.
He found that in the Chiefs, opting to sign a one-year deal worth up to $3 million after conversations with other teams around the league.
“They knew what I was going through and they wanted to help me through it,” Claiborne said in his first media availability following Monday’s practice. “And that was part of the reason that really made my mind up that I wanted to come here, because I could see that these guys not only care about me as a football player, but they care about me as a man and as a person.”
For Claiborne, 29, the monetary terms of his incentives-laden deal weren’t as important as the ability to get back out on the football field. Claiborne initially tried to appeal his suspension, but it was denied earlier this month.
“Right now it’s not about money for me,” he said. “Right now it’s about going out and playing football, and I put myself in a situation this offseason where I feel like I put myself in a tough situation for myself and for owners and teams and my agents to be able to negotiate. I put all of us in a tough situation. And I own up to everything I do.
“I’m a grown man. I can’t do nothing about that situation. I’m sorry it happened and stuff like that. But I can’t do nothing about it. I can only move on right now. This is my job. This is what I do. I play football and at the end of the day, this is how I feed my family, playing this game.”
Claiborne, who was drafted sixth overall by the Cowboys in 2012 and spent the last two seasons with the Jets, began the third act of his seven-year NFL career when he arrived in Kansas City on Thursday night. He’s coming off his best — and healthiest — season as a pro in New York. He had two interceptions last year, including his first career pick-six.
He took the next step in his new journey when he suited up for Monday morning’s practice.
Claiborne spent most of the team periods on the sideline, deep in conversation with defensive backs coach Dave Merritt. Claiborne used the weekend diving into his playbook, and Monday, Merritt guided him through the on-field translations.
“At the end of the day, football is football,” Claiborne said. “It’s the terminology and stuff that’s different, that you have to learn and to be on the same page with everybody else.”
Claiborne saw limited action in 7-on-7 drills at right cornerback, where it was obvious he wasn’t fully in football shape.
“You can do all the working out you want to do by yourself or not in this environment, but when you get in this environment, it’s totally different,” Claiborne said. “You’ve got to get your legs under you. I felt like today, I was on the ground a little bit too much.”
Because Claiborne will begin the season with the suspension that will prevent him from being around the team, quickly adapting to the scheme and acclimating to his teammates during training camp is crucial. When he returns in Week 5, Claiborne will join a position group where there could certainly be playing time up for grabs. Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward are the current starters in the outside positions, but Claiborne is expected to compete immediately.
But first, Claiborne must balance his health with his desire to jump into team drills immediately. He’s coming off a shoulder injury that landed him on the Injured Reserve list to finish last season, and the coaching staff wants him to ease into live action.
Coach Andy Reid also doesn’t expect him to play in the Chiefs’ second preseason game against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“We just don’t want any pulls,” Reid said. “We want to give him a chance to kind of get in and get it going, and then we’ll get him in and work him a little bit.”