1. While I might be in the minority on this, it doesn’t bother me that Browns GM, Mike Lombardi, joined the witness protection program after his introductory press conference and hasn’t been seen since. Part of his job is to address the media and his lack of appearance gives fans the impression that Browns CEO Joe Banner is making the decisions. But I understand the Browns desire to not put Lombardi and his roster decisions through a deep scrutiny until things quiet down a bit. My only fear is that the anticipation of his arrival is like spreading blood in shark infested waters and will cause a feeding frenzy after his delayed appearance as opposed to the calming effects of regular feeding times.
2. Also, it seems that some, maybe most, criticize every signing by the Browns. I don’t have the space to go through every argument, but Paul Kruger was better last season and will be better this season than anybody on the Browns roster at getting to the quarterback. The Browns wanted a more aggressive, attack style defense, specifically geared to pressure opposing QB’s and Kruger fills that role. Kruger’s pre free agency price tag was estimated at $10-$12 million, he’ll average around $8 million a year. Overpriced? No, its called market value. His experience within the division and in the playoffs seemed to make the Browns value him higher than former Detroit Lions sack master Cliff Avril.
The signing of defensive lineman Desmond Bryant solidified what, in my eyes, was already the strongest unit on the team. The rest of the signings are for depth and to push current players to the limits of their potential. I don’t understand the mega backlash at the minor free agent signings. I wrote it before and I’ll write it again, Super Bowl teams are rarely bought- case in point the Philadelphia Eagles. They were supposed to be the Dream Team and only won one more game than the Browns last year. Look at the Eagles roster and look at the Browns roster – does that seem like comparable talent to you? The teams most often in the playoffs and considered a perennial playoff contender – like the New England Patriots, the Green Bay Packers, and as much as it sickens me to say the Pittsburgh Steelers – make shrewd, but few moves in free agency and build their teams through the draft.
The ultimate goal of the Cleveland Browns is to build and sustain a winning team capable of contending in the playoffs and, dare I say, for a Super Bowl. That does not happen by winning free agency, but by making shrewd decisions about the cap and which players to cut and which players to keep.
3. I’m very surprised that Browns fans were well, surprised and angry at the departure of Phil Dawson. Great player, professional, can’t say enough about him. But, if you were him would you want to go through your…wow I was going to jokingly say seventh coach but unfortunately that’s entirely accurate. SEVEN coaches! That’s ridiculous. Anyway, if you were Dawson and you were 38 years old and had been on losing teams for the majority of your career, with the prospect of another rebuilding project and seventh coaching change would you rather play for one of your favorite position coaches on a winning team or stick around and see what happens? I think he made the right decision and I hope he wins a Super Bowl. I wish him nothing but the best.
1. It occurred to me that the Browns may actually get younger this offseason than they were last season! With the loss of 38 year old Phil Dawson, 29 year old Josh Cribbs, and 32 year old Ben Watson, and the additions of rookie draft picks, the average age of the Browns could be even lower next season.
The average age of the Browns was 25.62, good for third youngest in the league. Another factor to consider is Free Agency, or how old and how many free agents the Browns sign could keep the average age the same.
Honestly, this may not be a big deal as most of the young players on the Browns team have at least a seasons worth of experience and some idea of what to expect throughout the year. But they will need some leaders in the locker room and on the field to keep spirits raised during bad times and egos in check during good times.
2. I didn’t mean to nonchalantly throw out a statement like “Cribbs, Dawson, and Watson are gone” but it seems pretty obvious at this point. In an interview at the combine team CEO Joe Banner stated that the Browns had already decided on what to do regarding internal free agents but wasn’t blabbing it to the media. He did say he wants to “keep the team young.”
I love Dawson, he’s a pros pro, (as opposed to an amateur pro sorry, I’ve never liked sayings like that, or “he’s as good as anybody on the roster” what does that mean anyway?), he’s professional, and he knows how to kick in Cleveland weather. But his age will be a deciding factor, as well as how much money he wants to stay in Cleveland.
Regarding Watson, he was a solid signing a few years ago, but his age and recent history of concussions (he had three in 2011 alone) will probably make the Browns weary of re-signing the veteran tight end. Also, new Head Coach Rob Chudzinski and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner want more of a dynamic playmaker as opposed to a solid all around type player like Watson.
With the NFL changing the kickoff rules, moving the kickoff to the 35 yard line, kick returner is not as an impact position anymore. Josh Cribbs never really developed as a wide receiver, often getting injured or losing effectiveness on kick returns after playing the offense. And he’s not really needed to play receiver anymore. Cribbs contractual expectations will likely be as high as his vocal range and his unwarranted complaints about not being used enough during last season. The Browns aren’t obligated to play someone because they are in a contract year and want to increase their value. Cribbs put self before team, and we all know there is no “I” in team. The Browns have “paid the man” and “played the man”, now it’s time to move on.
3. This is truly the best time of year for me as a Browns fans. We just had the NFL Combine, and now Free Agency followed by the Draft. The hope that new players bring is palpable and one of my favorite things to do this time of year is read every mock draft I can find, and prospect profiles. Once the combine ends I love combing through the list of free agents, dreaming of drafting and signing players to make the Browns a Super Bowl contender.
After the last few seasons I gave up trying to predict who the Browns would draft or wanting the Browns to draft a specific player because it just lead to disappointment for me. Instead, I look at positions that I think the Browns need players at.
This year the Browns are thin at the tight end position, need an outside linebacker, are weak at cornerback, and lack experienced at safety. The most pressing need on the roster is pass rusher. My reasoning is, if you can effect the quarterback and consistently hit him, you’ll be throwing off his timing with the receivers or getting him to throw it away. This lessens the need to have top flight cornerbacks. I’m not saying I don’t want the best at every position but even Joe Banner said he wants to get after the quarterback. If you can consistently get at the QB, he’ll start to make mistakes.
I would like to see the Browns pick up a safety or cornerback in Free Agency and possibly a tight end because the Browns have no second round draft pick this year. The Browns will be picking sixth overall in the draft, but I am hoping they trade deeper into the draft and recoup a second rounder.
Well Browns fans, it looks like the Browns coaching and front office turnover is just about over, and now we have Free Agency and Browns fans’ favorite time of the year – the draft – to look forward to.
1. From statements made by team owner Jimmy Haslam last weekend such as “we’re probably not going to be big players in free agency”, and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton saying “I love this team. I love the way it’s constituted right now”, it seems the Browns will stick with building through the draft, thankfully. Spending big bucks in free agency doesn’t guarantee wins, just ask the Philadelphia Eagles.
Don’t misunderstand me, the Browns have obvious holes, but you cannot build a winner overnight, and a team with a 4-12 record will not go 12-4 the following season by overspending in free agency. And, even if they do, prolonged success is almost impossible with salary cap restrictions and the age of players limiting free agency’s effectiveness.
Most Browns fans are aware of the limitations of free agency, but some would like to see the Browns make “splashy moves” or sign the “sexy name” via free agency as proof that the Browns are committed to winning. But, the Browns can prove that they are more concerned with winning and maintaining success by not pouring all of their financial resources into free agency and allotting some of that money to re-signing a few of the current players heading towards free agency.
2. Getting to those holes on the roster, on offense they’ll need a tight end (or two), perhaps an offensive lineman, and a veteran receiver.
With current starter Ben Watson and blocking specialist Alex Smith heading into free agency, leaving only unproven Jordan Cameron on the roster as of now. Accounting for new head coach Rob Chudzinski’s love for the position and new Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner’s ability to effectively use the tight end, this situation won’t last long.
Also, depending on how the Browns decision makers feel about offensive lineman John Greco as a replacement of injured Jason Pinkston, they may want to add another veteran guard.
On defense there are a few more holes, regardless of the defensive scheme the Browns use. The Browns desperately need a pass rusher opposite Jabaal Sheard, a starting free safety, and a starting cornerback to replace free agent Sheldon Brown.
3. The goal for the Browns is to become a winning franchise and maintain those winnings ways. I’ m excited for the “attack style” offense and defense Chudzinski and his coordinators are talking about. I’m tired of the bend but don’t break defenses that always end up breaking. I’m sick of the timing offenses that have no rhythm. I’m tired of being patient and I’m sick of waiting for a winner. Here’s to the new regime and the new hope!
Last week I thought I had it all figured out. The Brady/Manning AFC Championship Game was a shoe-in and the Packers and Seahawks were destined to play a rematch of their Week Three replacement ref debacle. Of course the Denver defense had other ideas, like allowing a 70 touchdown pass from Joe Flacco with under a minute left in regulation. The end result was a Peyton Manning overtime interception and a Baltimore win. Later that evening, Colin Kaepernick posted video game stats in running circles around the Packers, and all of a sudden I was Oh for Two in the picks department. In Sunday’s early game, the Falcons – a team I haven’t truly believed in all year – jumped out to a 20 point lead, then spent much of the rest of the afternoon squandering it. It looked like Seattle may have pulled off the improbable comeback, but Pete Carroll reverse iced Matt Bryant, and gave the Falcons’ kicker a mulligan on the game winning field goal. Just like that, I was Oh for Three. Tom Brady and Company came through in the end, preserving a 1-3 Divisional Round for me. That brought me to 164-99-1 on the year. I need to win out to avoid a hundred loss season. Before the season I had the Patriots winning it all, so my AFC pick today shouldn’t come as a surprise. And if all goes well today, I’ll be picking the Pats again in two weeks…
San Francisco at Atlanta – 49ers (Don’t worry, be happy, Falcons fans. I’ve been screwing this up all year)
Baltimore at New England – Patriots
1. Well, what a busy couple weeks for Browns fans. Cleveland wined, dined and supposedly signed Chip Kelly, only for him to interview with the Philadelphia and then decide to go back to Oregon… and then decide to become head coach of the Eagles. While the Eagles waited for Chip Kelly to change his mind, the Browns signed Rob Chudzinski as their head coach, leaving some fans unimpressed.
The more I think about Chud being the head coach of the Browns, the more I like it. If the Browns would have signed Kelly, I would have to assume that the Browns would be going through another major overhaul. In my last article, which ended up sounding like a love letter to Bruce Arians, I wanted the Browns to sign Arians because of his supposed desire to coach the Browns and his ability to adapt his offense to the players he inherits. Chud can and hopefully will do just that, removing the necessity of a complete rebuild.
2. Chudzinski has been in the game awhile – as a player and a coach – and has been around successful programs with the Miami Hurricanes, San Diego Chargers, and at least had offensive success with the Carolina Panthers. Critics of the hiring like to point to Chud’s lack of head coaching experience, comparing him to and/or saying he is no better than the recently fired Pat Shurmur. There are a few subtle differences between Chud and Shurmur. Chud constructed an offense for the inaccurate arm of former Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, giving him his only Pro Bowl season in a forgotten career; and then built a completely different offense for the electrifying Cam Newton in Carolina. Conversely, Shurmur, who is married to the West Coast offense from the 70’s, threw Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams into the fire and Bradford still hasn’t risen from the flames to live up to his potential.
Chudzinski worked his way up from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator, and received the title Assistant Head Coach. Shurmur on the other hand, was an unsuccessful offensive coordinator who was promoted to Head Coach and then fired.
I could keep going, but what’s the point? Chud is a bright offensive mind, and once I got past the media hyped disappointment of not getting the big name in Chip Kelly, I realized that Chud may be the better fit for the Browns.
3. I believe another factor in the Browns hiring of Chud was his age. At 44 the Browns believe he will be successful, and they hope to create success through continuity and slam the revolving door of the head coach’s office closed for a few years. Stability.
This has set up rather nicely, hasn’t it. After last week’s Wild Card round (I went 2-2 on those picks and am now 163-96-1 on the year), the NFL is left with some great matchups this weekend. If they fall the right way, the talking heads will be left with enough obvious fodder to make our ears bleed.
Starting this afternoon in Denver, the Broncos are heavy favorites over the Ravens in what could be Ray Lewis’s last game. If the Ravens win, the Ray Lewis retirement tour continues another week. If they lose we might never get another opportunity to see his Elaine Benes-ish dance before a game ever again! But it’s so inspirational! I never understood how that cornball display could serve any purpose other than making people laugh, and maybe Ray has been performing it with his tongue in cheek for all these years. Highly doubtful for a football player, who while great at his job, has always seemed to take himself a little too seriously as a motivational speaker. But I digress.
The Ravens cannot win this game, just like the Texans cannot go into New England and beat the Patriots, and everybody knows why. Baltimore or Texas winning would ruin – RUIN – our chances of getting an entire week of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning for all of the “trip to the Super Bowl marbles” hype. Football fandom as we know it may cease to exist if that doesn’t happen. And – special bonus – we’ll get to continue to discuss how the Texans stumbled down the stretch and can’t get over the hump. This script writes itself.
The NFC side has it’s own set of story lines starting tonight when Green Bay visits San Francisco. The Packers lost at home to the Niners in the season opener and get their chance for payback. A Packers win will give them 11 wins in the last 13 ball games, and we can discuss how well they have played since starting the season 2-3. Right? No, that’s boring. We will instead be faced with week-long second-guessing of Jim Harbaugh’s decision to bench Alex Smith in favor of Colin Kaepernick. If the Niners lose this game, that’s the type of Monday Morning Quarterbacking that can last an entire offseason. ”Would the Niners have won if they started Alex Smith?” will be a topic on every ESPN shoutfest immediately and until the end of time. Or, at least until Tebow does something.
If the Packers win, then naturally Seattle has to win on the road Sunday in Atlanta. Not only can the “Matt Ryan can’t win big games” narrative continue, but we’d get to revisit one of the greatest overreactions of the regular season. What better NFC Championship could we dream up than the Seahawks and the Packers duking it out in a rematch of ReplacementRefBadCallGate – a game that was such a national travesty at the time that Steve Young was nearly brought to tears of frustration. That game caused worldwide rending of garments and gnashing of teeth as people DEMANDED that their hero Ed Hochuli ride in on his trusty steed and choke the evil replacement refs into submission. It has long been forgotten that replacement refs did not cause the apocalyptic results predicted by the great oracle, but Seattle and Green Bay can remind us all how tragedy was narrowly avoided as we watch the final play of their Week Three game on a continuous loop. If those teams face off next week I will set the over/under on times that play is show at 40 billion. And I will take the over.
So you see now how wonderfully this all could turn out? If the dominoes fall the right way it’s Manning vs. Brady on one side and Bad Call Steel Cage Rematch on the other. And all joking aside, those sound like they’d be pretty great games. On the other hand, we could be looking at Ravens vs. Texans and Falcons vs. Niners. Or something in between. Fans of those teams would be happy, but I’d have to imagine network TV and advertising execs collectively grimacing as they think of all the hype and cash that might have been.
Baltimore at Denver – Broncos
Green Bay at San Francisco – Packers
Seattle at Atlanta – Seahawks
Houston at New England – Patriots
With Chip Kelly deciding to stay in college, a lot of fans are disappointed and think the Browns “lost out” on the next phase of offensive football. But not one person can guarantee that Kelly would’ve brought success to the Browns. Truthfully, I was excited because of the hype surrounding him, but after he decided to interview with the Philadelphia Eagles organization, my love affair was over. It really bothered me that he interviewed with the Eagles and I couldn’t figure out why. And then it hit me. I want a coach who wants to be here. I want a coach who’s excited by the opportunity to coach the Browns, and I didn’t like that, in my opinion, the Browns were trying to persuade Chip Kelly to leave the college ranks and forego his Eagles interview to join the Browns in Cleveland.
After coming to grips with Chip Kelly going back to college, I tried to think of who I wanted the Browns next coach to be, and I couldn’t. There are a lot of names being tossed around in connection with the Browns coaching search, and all have there strengths and weaknesses.
One of the names that intrigues me is Bruce Arians, Offensive Coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts, and not just because of his winning streak with the young and rebuilding Colts, or solely because of his resumé with Pittsburgh, or that he tutored a young Ben Roethlisberger to a Superbowl. All of that is great, but two things that intrigue me most are his experience in the division combined with his ability to use the players available in an effective manner to get the most out of his players. The other thing that truly intrigues me about Arians is his rumored desire to coach the Cleveland Browns. I have no idea if it is true or just rumor, but if he was interested, I would definitely be calling the Colts and requesting an interview.
My ideal coaching candidate would be able to come in and implement an offensive and defensive system that plays to the strengths of the players. He would not come in and need a few years to tear down and then rebuild the roster, which I believe Chip Kelly would’ve done. I’d like the coach to come in and place the current players on the roster, a few Free Agent signings, and this coming drafts’ picks, in a position to succeed. And if Brandon Weeden or Colt McCoy aren’t his quarterbacks, follow the 49er’s model and draft a QB in the second or third round (I know the Browns don’t have a second round pick this year) and develop him behind Weeden for a year or two. I’ve seen teams in the NFL win more than four games with less talent than the Browns currently have.
Who is that coach you may be asking. Well, at first I thought Doug Marrone formerly of Syracuse and now the new coach of the Buffalo Bills. With him no longer an option, I’d like for Arians to be the coach, and maybe if I wish a little harder and dream a bit bigger, Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator. Neither of these will probably happen. Arians is 60 years old and a lifetime offensive coordinator, I’m not sure why, but there has to be a reason no team has given him a chance. As far as Lovie Smith, I’m not sure if he plans on coaching or taking time off, and I’m not even sure if he would be interested in taking a step back to be a defensive coordinator.
In the end, I’m still open to most coaches, and I’m not disappointed in Chip Kelly’s decision, I’m just glad he didn’t have an hour special on ESPN to broadcast his “decision” to the world. I would’ve been afraid of Cleveland’s chances had that happened.