Monday, March 19, 2018

Not your ordinary Joe

Joe Thomas is an outlier.

For 11 National Football League seasons, he labored in relative anonymity with a team that played football as badly as humanly possible.

Year after year after maddening year, his peerless performances went unrewarded. Unless, that is, you consider the first 10 seasons when he was recognized as one of the best offensive tackles in the business. Ten Pro Bowls in 10 seasons says it all.

In 2007, Thomas’ rookie season, the Browns finished 10-6, yet failed to make the playoffs. He didn’t know it at the time, but that was the pinnacle of his career from a standings standpoint.

The team never really came close to a winning season after that and yet Thomas, whose annual performance epitomized the blue-collar work ethic of the city he represented, labored on at an All-Pro level.

It was the only way he knew how to play. Hard, smart, head down, mouth shut and full of hope that next year would be better. It would be the year.  It had to be. Couldn’t get any worse. That next year never arrived.

Thomas, who officially retired Monday, experienced more next years than someone of his considerable talent and desire and hard work deserved.  Hope kept him in Cleveland all these years in spite of the constant losing.

New head coaches came and went; six came, one still remains. But the losing never stopped. It got worse. Historically worse. Agonizingly worse. And yet, he chose to remain.

He certainly didn’t have to. He had opportunities to leave through free agency. He could have demanded a trade, seeking to finally experience what it was like to play for a winner.

Isn’t that what most athletes want? Why waste that talent on a franchise that was disturbingly dysfunctional? That looked hope in the face and laughed. This was a team that constantly kept getting in its own way. 

Thomas was the one constant. Coaches knew he would deliver. He never failed them. And he did it from the opening kickoff to the final play of the game. Every game.

He began his professional football career as a starter in his rookie season. Until he tore a triceps muscle while blocking in game seven last season, he never knew what it was like to watch a game from the bench. After a remarkable 10,363 consecutive snaps, he was finally brought down.

Playing a position where injuries happen suddenly and often, Thomas was like a man of steel. Trench warfare is not much fun and yet nothing seemed to bother him. At least not outwardly.

He got dinged more than just a little in those 10,000 plus snaps. Whether it was preventing a defensive end from mauling his quarterback or providing running lanes for his backs, he was the dependable one on the offensive line.

Despite all the losing, Thomas head-scratchingly chose to stay. Browns fans were that much richer for it.

He follows in a long line of outstanding offensive left tackles this franchise has produced. From 1947 through 1995, the Browns employed only five men at that position – Lou Groza, Dick Schafrath, Doug Dieken, Paul Farren and Tony Jones.

And then along came Joe with the new Browns. In spite of all the losing, the future first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer has ultimately emerged a winner.

No, this Joe is hardly ordinary. He is a pro’s pro. A coach’s dream.

He was – and still is – exceptional.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Jets muddle quarterback picture

The New York Jets Saturday tossed a grenade that will have a dramatic effect on how the top of the 2018 National Football League college draft unfolds next month.

The Jets, one of several teams hungry for a quarterback, moved up three spots in the draft order to No. 3, swapping places with the Indianapolis Colts in addition to parting with three second-round picks, one next year.

The move definitely affects how the Browns General Manager John Dorsey and his staff approach the draft and has already triggered another round of plausible possibilities.

In what way, if at all, will this change Dorsey’s thinking as he approaches the final days leading up to the draft? Right now, it’s too early to be thinking that far ahead. But it certainly has to give him pause as he methodically maps out the course he seeks to take his new club.

He now knows the two New York teams situated between the Browns’ top pick and their fourth selection are candidates to select a quarterback. The Colts would have opted for a non-quarterback.

The Jets undoubtedly will select a quarterback even though they recently signed Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater in free agency. Giving up that much to the Colts and then not taking one makes no sense.

The Giants, on the other hand, can move in either of two directions. They can take Eli Manning’s successor and groom him for a couple of years. Or they can wait and select his successor down the road and instead take running back Saquon Barkley.

The first scenario would force Dorsey to take a quarterback even though that player might not be on top of his board. If that player is Barkley, the second scenario forces him to take the Penn State running back first, believing he won’t be there at four. He has to be lucky and guess correctly.

Then again, the Giants could surprise and also take a quarterback even if the Browns choose one with the first selection. This is a draft where you only think you know what is going to eventuate at the top.

It’s either that for Dorsey or remove all doubt and work a deal with the Giants, thereby ending up with the first two picks. That, of course, would come at a heavy price and is a long shot at best.

Right now with the Jets firmly in the picture, it becomes a guessing game and evaluation of the talent at the quarterback position could very well determine how it all comes down on April 26.

It is said that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Sam Darnold, for example, might be ranked fourth on one team’s list and on top of another team’s board. Same with Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. It is all in the eye of the beholder.

Another distinct possibility is the Giants trading down and muddling the situation all over again. The Denver Broncos, sitting at five, is another team with a quarterback in its crosshairs even though they signed Case Keenum.

If that happens, all bets are off and we start all over again speculating on the seemingly never-ending possibilities.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Three is always better than two

What’s better for a National Football League team than having one good running back? Two? Three?

Well after the first big round off free-agent signings, the Browns added to their infantry approach on offense by signing ex-Ohio State star Carlos Hyde, who will pair with the extremely versatile Duke Johnson Jr. in the backfield.

Good move. He more than replaces Isaiah Crowell, whose inconsistency marginalized him in the eyes of the new front office and off he went to the New York Jets.

But the depth in the Cleveland ground game does not need to end there. Hyde and Johnson together are nice, but they would be even better, more effective, with the addition of one of the strong running backs in this year’s draft class.

At the top of that position class, of course, is Saquon Barkley, who is also at the top of the entire draft class and a possible selection for the Browns ay No. 1. Possible, not probable.

General Manager John Dorsey was asked whether Hyde’s signing precluded any thoughts of passing on Barkley when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell puts the Browns on the clock six weeks from now in Arlington, Texas.

“Not necessarily,” Dorsey coyly told the Cleveland media the other day. “You can’t have enough good football players.” That right there should stop fans of this team in their tracks.

Was that a yes or a no? Seems as though Dorsey is playing mind games with the rest of the NFL in true cloak-and-dagger fashion at this time of the year. Sort of a keep-them-guessing game.

He then furthered his remarks with this tease: “Saquon would be a nice addition to the team,” he said, “another guy who can go out and make big plays. Use all the weapons you can. If he comes here, the more the better. He’d definitely be a great addition.”

Would be? If he comes, not when? A classic case of mixed signals. The man sure knows how to confuse.

And while it’s still way too early to make a definite commitment at the top, it almost sounds as though Barkley’s name will be the first of Goodell calls. Almost. Can’t be positively certain yet,

But if it’s Dorsey’s intention to completely resurrect the Browns’ offense, he needs to follow through on one of his answers to the media when he told them, “You can’t have enough good football players.”

The possibility of having Hyde, Johnson and Barkley in the same backfield in some way, shape or form seems to be what he is implying. He should listen to himself.
*       *        *
So who is going to replace the retired Joe Thomas at left offensive tackle for the Browns this season? Shon Coleman? Spencer Drango? Rod Johnson? Newcomer Donald Stephenson? Is that man not yet on the roster?

The draft class at that position is not strong this season. So unless Dorsey gets lucky and finds a gold nugget as he pans for that position deep in the lottery, it looks as though one of the aforementioned will be the man.

Coleman, who played right tackle for the Browns last season, most likely will get the first crack. He is no stranger to the position, having played it during his final two years at Auburn.

He is free to move to left tackle after the Browns signed Chris Hubbard as a free agent earlier this week. Hubbard filled in at right tackle and played well last season for Pittsburgh when Marcus Gilbert encountered hamstring problems.

Dorsey pointed out during his news conference that he saw Thomas working with Coleman in the Berea facility, obviously trying to pass along some of the nuances of the position that enabled him to carve out a Hall of Fame career.

Drango, who replaced Thomas when he went down with a torn triceps muscle in week seven of the winless 2017 campaign, had his problems in the second half of the season, most notably in pass protection.

Stephenson has made 37 NFL starts in six seasons, mostly at right tackle. Johnson, a fifth-round draft pick by Cleveland last season, suffered a sprain MCL in early September last year and landed on injured reserve.
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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Taylor doesn’t play bridge

Remember the game Browns coach Hue Jackson played during training camp last season? It involved the merry-go-round situation at quarterback.

If you recall, the Browns’ roster listed four quarterbacks: Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and rookie DeShone Kizer. It became a daily exercise with the media to find out which one of the four would start the season opener against Pittsburgh.

Jackson seemed to have fun with the media during the competition as he waffled depending, in some cases, on how they performed in practice. After Osweiler was traded to Denver, Kizer’s ascendancy to the starting job became apparent.

That guessing game will not be played this season. Jackson made that quite clear Thursday when the Browns introduced quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Damarious Randall to the media.

“Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback,” Jackson declared. “There is no competition.” Really, coach? Now tell us something we don’t know.

Jackson assures fans Taylor will become the Browns’ 29th starting quarterback since 1999. And it won’t be for just a couple of seasons as he becomes the bridge to the quarterback the club selects in the first round of this year’s draft. Not if he can help it.

“I don’t necessarily view myself as a bridge quarterback,” Taylor said. “As far as a bridge, hopefully I’m helping bridge this team to a Super Bowl. That’s the plan.”

Lofty goals for sure. But what else did you expect him to say? Sure, I can do two years here and then go somewhere else? Of course he is going to throw some red meat at a fan base that loves hearing the words “Super” and “Bowl” in the same sentence from their quarterback.

But deep down, Taylor has to know his stay with the Browns has an expiration date unless he has no problem becoming a backup and mentor to the new quarterback.
*       *       *
The Browns are still trying to convince Terrelle Pryor to return, but the former Browns wide receiver has reportedly attracted interest from the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams.

The thought of Pryor, Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry in the same huddle is intriguing and something that would provide new offensive coordinator Todd Haley all kinds of weaponry as he constructs the new Cleveland offense.

Offering Pryor the same contract (four years, $32 million) they did last season before he turned it down and bolted to the Washington Redskins might get the job done this time for the Browns, who could make the awful Cleveland offense the last two seasons seem like nothing more than a bad memory.

Throw in tight end David Njoku and running back Duke Johnson Jr. and the possibilities abound. Add a strong running game and a slightly revamped line and the Cleveland offense could turn out to be one of the feel-good stories of the 2018 season.

Pryor would be a key ingredient in that offense. The big question is whether General Manager John Dorsey sees it the same way and opens up Jimmy Haslam III’s vault one more time during what thus far has been a bountiful free-agent/trading season.
*       *       *
The McCourty brothers of the NFL have tried for years to play for the same team. Dorsey finally made the dream come true for the twin brothers on Wednesday.

McCourty, easily the Browns’ best defensive back last season, was traded to the New England and will join brother Devin, a free safety, in the Patriots’ secondary this season. He also joins ex-Brown nose tackle Danny Shelton, recently swapped to the Pats, as he moves from the outhouse to the penthouse.

McCourty was easily the best corner for the Browns last season, but his numbers suffered in the second half of the season when defensive coordinator Gregg Williams played more zone to offset a disappointing pass rush.

Apparently, Dorsey liked what he saw last season of youngsters Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Mike Jordan down the stretch and decided to move the 30-year-old McCourty.

Originally, the Browns announced they had terminated McCourty’s contract, then pulled back and shipped him and this year’s seventh-round pick for the Patriots’ sixth-round choice in April’s college draft.

According to my calculations, the Browns own nine picks in the lottery, including five in the first two rounds. They also have selections in the fourth (114), fifth (150) and now two in the sixth round (175 and 205).
*       *       *
In addition to McCourty, the Browns also terminated the contract of defensive back B. W. Webb and waived eight others, including wide receiver Sammie Coates and offensive tackle Zach Banner, none of whom would have made the team next season. There are currently 76 men on the active roster.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A better team already

On a day when the Browns bid farewell to future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas, who retired after 11 seasons, they said hello to four more newcomers as General Manager John Dorsey stepped up the pace in reimaging the 2018 roster.

Cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and T. J. Carrie, running back Carlos Hyde and tight end Darren Fells joined previously reported defensive lineman Chris Smith, offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Damarious Randall.

Dorsey’s wild spending and trading spree to officially kick off free agency on Wednesday has brought 10 new faces to the roster, portending a significant rise in the average age and veteran leadership.

And when the GM is finished, many fans will have some problems recognizing the new iteration from the one that concluded the miserable, long-suffering and historically embarrassing 2017 season.

It was a roster that needed a whole lot more than a tweak here and there. It needed a vast overhaul and it didn’t take long for Dorsey to figure it out. Thus the first wave of what eventually will turn out to be a massive rebuild. The reconstruct is merely in its embryonic stages.

When he is finished, and that includes making several members from last season’s team disappear, many fans will finally get a sense of what a real National Football League team looks like.

At first blush, it sure appears as though Dorsey thought little of the secondary last season with the signings of Randall, Carrie and Mitchell, all young veterans. Randall has already been plugged in at free safety, liberating Jabrill Peppers to move up to strong safety, where he should have been all along.

Mitchell and Carrie most likely will battle to play opposite Jason McCourty at strongside corner with the loser becoming a strong candidate to play the slot in the nickel and dime packages. It represents a definite upgrade.

The signing of Fells signals a new philosophy with regard to the running game, an aspect of the Cleveland offense the last two seasons that was virtually abandoned by head coach Hue Jackson. The 6-7, 270-pound Fells is a sound blocker.

New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a big fan of the ground game, having established it as the perfect partner for the passing of Ben Roethlisberger for the last half dozen seasons in Pittsburgh.

The most curious signing, however, brought Hyde back to Ohio. The Cincinnati native and former Ohio State star played four seasons for the San Francisco 49ers, scoring 21 touchdowns, rushing for more than 2,700 yards and catching 109 passes.

It is yet another upgrade over the departed Isaiah Crowell, who signed with the New York Jets. But it also cast some doubt whether Dorsey is signaling the Browns might pass on Saquon Barkley as the overall top pick in next month’s college draft because he seems to have secured his No. 1 running back.

An argument can be made that a team never has enough running backs. The prospect of Barkley and Hyde on the same roster – and sometimes in the same backfield – could be intimidating to opposing defenses. There is no reason they could not co-exist.

All you have to do is look at what happened down in New Orleans last season when rookie Alvin Kamara joined veteran Mark Ingram Jr. in the Saints offense and not only set the league on fire, their success made quarterbacking a lot easier for Drew Brees.

The loss of the peerless Thomas, however, still has to be addressed by Dorsey, who brought in Hubbard and Stephenson as insurance. Replacing him has leaped to the top of the GM’s to-do- list.

He has two options with the fourth pick, one on each side of the football, should he grab a quarterback with the top pick and pass on Barkley one way or the other.

He could draft North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, giving Myles Garrett a pass-rushing partner. Or he could pick Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson and move left guard Joel Bitonio out to left tackle, a position he played in college, That part of the puzzle is still yet to be played out.

After the first wave of free agency, though, the scorecard says Dorsey has picked up at least five, possibly six new starters who bring NFL experience and production to the table and already makes the Browns a better and decidedly more competitive team.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Draft intrigue

What an intriguing spectacle the top of the 2018 National Football League college draft has become.

The possibilities within the first five picks are absolutely mind-boggling with a myriad of moves that may or may not eventuate. That is what makes it intriguing.

It also is the source of arguments, stances and guesses made by Browns fans, mainly because the club is squarely in the middle with ownership of two of the first four selections in next month’s annual lottery.

So many permutations to consider between now and the night of April 26 in Arlington, Texas, but the Browns are in position to dictate the direction the draft takes once they make their first selection.

The arguments and stances (and guesses) by fans start with that pick. It all revolves around a solid quarterback class, one that is difficult to rank because they are so close in their respective talents, and numerous teams seeking to improve at that position.

The Browns, of course, are one of those teams. Owning the fourth overall pick gives them some insurance they will have a shot at one of those quarterbacks no matter what. Therein lies the problem, though.

A lot depends on how much, if at all, General Manager John Dorsey and his guys fall in love with one quarterback in particular. The pros and cons for each of the top four quarterbacks are so close, a love connection with one might not be achieved.

It is entirely possible in evaluating the quartet of Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield that a consensus might not be reached, resulting in a conundrum. That’s because they might like them all but for different reasons.

Do they figure that these guys are so close, they’ll still get a good one no matter who is there at No. 4? If that were the case, it would free them to take the best player on their board regardless of position.

Never mind that the Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos (even though they reportedly signed Case Keenum) and New York Jets (even though they reportedly signed Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown), three teams with early picks, would take dead aim at one of the aforementioned and try to move up in the draft.

The Bills currently check in at No. 12, while the Broncos and Jets are back-to-back at five and six. And if they trade up, , that would possibly affect two of the quarterbacks the Browns could lose should they opt for someone else (Saquon Barkley?) at No. 1.

The New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts, who follow the Browns at the top, most likely will be trade targets for any of the aforementioned should they choose to go in that direction. But they also have good reason to stay put and resist moving down.

Two of the top-rated players in this draft, maybe the top two according to many draft experts, are Barkley and defensive end Bradley Chubb, each of whom plays a position of need for the Giants and Colts.

The Giants still believe they can get at least a couple of more good seasons out of Eli Manning and could seek much needed help at running back (Barkley?). The Colts, banking on Andrew Luck returning to form after missing last season, need lots of help on defense, particularly the pass rush (Chubb?), and at running back.

If Dorsey and his men cannot come up with a consensus pick at quarterback. Barkley is the likely first name on his board the night of the draft. That’s the conundrum he faces because even though he made drafting the team’s future franchise quarterback his top priority. What does he do?

The only way the Browns take a quarterback first is if they fall head over heels totally for one in particular, too many possibilities exist that they might lose him and kick themselves for gambling incorrectly.

Dorsey will not know definitively on his ultimate course of action until he sees and speaks with these quarterbacks in person in the next several weeks. There is still plenty of time to make what fans hope is the right decision.

The unannounced deals (until Wednesday) by the Broncos (Keenum) and Jets (Bridgewater and McCown) certainly helps and could have a positive impact on how the Browns begin the draft.

On a day when all three Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks last season changed uniforms (Sam Bradford to Arizona), the need for the teams involved to move up in this draft, ostensibly ahead of the Browns, diminished somewhat.

Only the Bills, who shipped Tyrod Taylor to the Browns and created a huge hole at quarterback, Broncos and Jets could be considered legitimate candidates to move up. But the quarterbacks class is so deep, the Browns could sit tight and still get a good one at four. 

That should be considered wishful thinking by your blogger, who remains hopeful for Barkley, then the quarterback.
*       *       * 
The Browns agreed to contract terms with two offensive linemen and a defensive lineman Tuesday as Dorsey continues massaging his roster.

He signed offensive tackles Chris Hubbard (five-year deal) and Donald Stephenson (one-year contract) as insurance in the event Joe Thomas decides to retire. Both men are right tackles. He also signed defensive end Chris Smith to a three-year deal.

Hubbard, 26, filled in capably for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season after Marcus Gilbert suffered a hamstring injury, starting 10 games. The undrafted free agent has a good shot at unseating incumbent Shon Coleman at right tackle.

The 29-year-old Stephenson was drafted by Kansas City and played last season in Denver. The six-year pro, who is expected to provide veteran depth along the offensive line, has 37 NFL starts on his résumé.

Smith, also 26, played for the Cincinnati Bengals last season. He most likely will be a situational player along the defensive line, replacing Danny Shelton, who was traded to New England over the weekend. He is a little on the small side at 6-1, 266 pounds.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

And the hits keep on coming

The purge of the Browns’ roster continued Saturday with no apparent end in sight as General Manager John Dorsey relentlessly seeks to reimage his new football team.

In a full-steam-ahead approach to massaging a roster that has starved for solid football talent the last two seasons, Dorsey followed Friday’s three-trade flurry with yet another move Saturday.

He shipped disappointing nose tackle Danny Shelton and one of the Browns’ two fifth-round draft picks this year to New England for the Patriots’ third-rounder in 2019.

For those of you keeping score, Dorsey has reduced the number of draft picks the Browns own from a dozen to nine with only four selections in the final four rounds.  Considering how quickly he is moving, though, that number should not be chiseled in anything hard.

Shelton, the club’s No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, played up to his potential on occasion. That was the problem. He lacked consistency. Free agent Trevon Coley and rookie Larry Ogunjobi outplayed him last season, a development obviously noted by Dorsey.

The 6-2, 340-pound Shelton, who arrived with the reputation of being a force against the run who can apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks, was anything but. Switching to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams seemed to hurt him.

It’s entirely possible the Patriots envision Shelton in the same mold as former great nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who toiled effectively for Bill Belichick for 11 seasons before ending his career in Houston.

It is slowly becoming quite clear that the 2018 Cleveland Browns will in no way resemble the team that has represented Cleveland in an historically embarrassing manner the last two seasons.

It is becoming obvious Dorsey did not like what he witnessed after taking over as GM in early December. He saw enough blemishes in the last month of the 2017 season to realize the enormity of the task he faced.

In dealing Shelton and quarterback DeShone Kizer, he is sending a message that he wasn’t nearly as impressed with the roster as others in the organization. And he is just getting started.

In short order, he has used the draft capital accumulated by Sashi Brown (before he was cashiered) to bring in young veterans to strengthen obvious weaknesses. In doing so, he held on to the club’s five choices in the first two rounds, including picks one and four in the opening round.

You can almost bet there are many more salvos to fire from his arsenal that will be made between now and the college draft late next month. The opening of free-agent season next week probably will see a resumption of his journey toward eliminating and reshaping a significant portion of the 2017 roster.

With Shelton’s departure, Dorsey has added defensive line to his list of areas that require strengthening. And the draft class this year is loaded with talent in the defensive interior.  

He still needs to further address the quarterback situation after obtaining Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor Friday. That acquisition narrows the likelihood of Cody Kessler and/or Kevin Hogan remaining on the roster this season. which means the Browns conceivably could open the new season with an entirely different quarterbacks room.

Dorsey is also not done revamping the wide receivers corps. Holdovers Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, Kasen Williams and Sammie Coates, acquired under Brown’s leadership, are in danger there.

So much work to do and all the time in the world to do it.

Talk about changing a team’s culture.
*       *       *
Browns receiver Josh Gordon and newly acquired cornerback/safety Damarious Randall have a history that stems from an incident when the two teams met last December during the regular season.

Gordon caught three passes for 69 yards and a touchdown in the Packers’ 27-21 overtime victory in Cleveland, but only one of the receptions (not the TD) was against Randall in man coverage.

The Browns buttoned down their offense after grabbing a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter and Gordon was not targeted at all. Asked about it after the game, Randall pointed out Gordon had just the one catch against him. “Any more questions?” he wondered.

Retorted Gordon on Twitter: “Great Win for them but let’s be serious . . . Considering several of our disadvantages as a team, this kid couldn’t hold my jock strap on my worst day lol . . . @RandallTime

As usually happens in instances like this, it will all blow over now that they are teammates. If anything, it should spice up practices when they line up against each other.
*       *       *
Don’t be surprised if Dorsey attempts to improve the offensive line, too. He knows he is solid at the guards with Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler and at left tackle with Joe Thomas (I don’t see him retiring yet).

He will look for Thomas’ heir apparent (why not move Bitonio out to left tackle when the future Hall of Famer finally retires?) and an upgrade at right tackle and possibly center. Shon Coleman was just OK last season and center JC Tretter needs to get a lot stronger at the point of attack. He got pushed around a lot last season.

On defense besides the line, Dorsey will be on the hunt for a free safety in order to allow Jabrill Peppers to play where he should have last season, strong (or box) safety. Randall most likely will start out as a cornerback, but he played free safety on occasion with the Packers.
*       *       *
Don’t be surprised if Dorsey also attempts to pick up a veteran journeyman quarterback in free agency to add some wisdom to that room. Or it is entirely possible he chooses to get that third quarterback late in the draft.

Dorsey, it would appear, paid scant attention to coach Hue Jackson and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who lobbied hard for AJ McCarron, opting instead for the more experienced Taylor.
*       *       *
Noting . . . Taylor doesn't have to travel far to join his new team, moving just 180 miles south and west on I-90. . . . Jarvis Landry wore uniform No. 14 with the Miami Dolphins. He won't wear it with the Browns, who retired that number when Otto Graham ended his great pro football career in the mid-1950s. . . . The Browns are still roughly $80 million under the salary cap in spite of Dorsey's 24-hour spending spree that brought Taylor, Landry and Randall to town.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Kizer departure addition by subtraction

John Dorsey ended a busy day Friday by reportedly shipping quarterback DeShone Kizer, whose National Football League debut provided a historical season for the Browns, to the Green Bay Packers for young cornerback Damarious Randall.

As if dealing three drafts picks for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Jarvis Landry wasn’t enough, the Cleveland general manager completed the trifecta shortly before exiting the merry-go-around.

In obtaining Taylor from the Buffalo Bills earlier in the day, it almost meant the departure of Kizer, whose presence in Cleveland would have created an overcrowded quarterbacks room.

The move for Kizer, who now backs up future Pro Football Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, is probably best for the former Notre Dame quarterback, whose record as a starter in the NFL is 0-15.

His historic performance last season is best forgotten and his new destination should more than help his state of mind. Joining a winning organization such as the Packers should be a positive.

Randall was a starter for three seasons with the Packers, recording 10 interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Like Landry, he is a young veteran who will provide much needed help at a position of weakness on defense.

Dorsey is now a solid three-for-three with his latest moves, having helped the Browns on both sides of the football. One can only imagine now how many more this-just-in surprises he has in store for the fans.

Dorsey nails his first two strikes

It most likely took much more than day’s work to accomplish it, but the Browns’ offense took a major step toward respectability Friday with two major announcements.

New General Manager John Dorsey launched his first two strikes toward his avowed goal of making the Browns relevant again in the National Football League by taking care of the quarterback problem for the immediate future and strengthening the weakest area on the team.

In two deals that have been agreed upon but won’t be announced until next Wednesday, the first day of the new league year, Dorsey shipped two draft choices (one this year, one next, each between rounds three and seven) for Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and reportedly the club’s third-round pick this year for Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

It automatically makes the Cleveland offense, easily the worst in the NFL last season, at the very least respectable. It also ends speculation as to which quarterback will help mentor whomever Dorsey selects in next month’s college draft

The trades stabilize the quarterback situation for the time being and add an established veteran presence to a wide receivers room that has qualified as the worst in the NFL the last couple of seasons.

New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has to be extremely pleased to welcome the productive Landry and Taylor, a quarterback who will not overwhelm you with his statistics, but is one of the best in the NFL at protecting the football.

In his three years with Buffalo, he threw a modest 51 touchdown passes and only 16 interceptions, a sharp contrast to DeShone Kizer’s 22 picks last season as a rookie for the winless Browns. He has completed 62.6% of his passes. Kizer completed just 53.6% of his throws.

Taylor, who will be 29 in August, will be perfect bridge quarterback to Dorsey’s first-round selection in the draft, perhaps serving as long as two years in that role.

Landry, arguably one of the NFL’s best and most productive slot receivers, will provide the new quarterback with the ability to do something Cleveland wideouts were unable to do the past two seasons – get open frequently and catch the football.

He led the NFL in receptions last season with 112 (Browns receivers caught just 134 as a group) and held on to 69.6% of targeted throws (the Browns checked in at 45.1%).

Landry, who turns 26 in late November, has been a Pro Bowler the last three seasons and should provide the Browns with numerous opportunities to sustain drives. The days of multiple three-and-outs a game theoretically are history.

Josh Gordon and injury-prone Corey Coleman, should the Browns choose to hold on to him, are expected to be the outside receivers who can stretch the field with Landry providing help mostly over the middle and in short-yardage situations.

The only negative with Landry, who has booked 400 career receptions, 4.038 yards and 22 touchdowns in four seasons, can be found in these numbers. He is not a big yards-after-catch receiver, averaging a shade more than 10 yards a reception.

As one pundit put it: “If you needs five yards, Landry will get you seven. If you need 10 yards, Landry will get you seven.”

It appears as though Dorsey targeted Landry, franchise-tagged by the salary-cap-strapped Dolphins in an effort to deal him, because the wide receivers class in thos draft is not as strong as other years and Cleveland’s receivers room needed a significant boost.

Rather than going through free agency, the new general manager took the more immediate route to boost the talent-starved area. Besides, it opens up the distinct possibility of strengthening other more important areas such as the secondary in the draft.

The Browns, more than $100 million under the salary cap, reportedly are working on a multi-year contract with Landry, but are willing to take on his $16 million price tag this season until a deal can be worked out to the satisfaction of both parties.

It has also been speculated that Terrelle Pryor, who bolted the Browns for Washington last season after his bust-out season with them in 2016, might be headed back to Cleveland after a disappointing and injury-filled season with the Redskins.

A pass-catching corps of Landry, Gordon, Coleman, year tight end David Njoku, running back Duke Johnson Jr. and possibly Pryor, in addition to a pass-catching running back in the draft, gives fans a lot to look forward to this season.

In a matter of hours Friday, Dorsey gave his coach a new quarterback, who is the antithesis of his mistake-prone quarterback of last season, and a young veteran wide receiver whose past production instantly elevates the offense exponentially.

He has quickly shown he is a man of action. As a result, the offense won’t just be better in 2018. It will be a whole lot better.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Now they all want to come to Cleveland

The city of Cleveland has not been considered one of the elite landing spots in the National Football League the last 19 seasons because losing seems to have taken up permanent residence there.

Being drafted by the Browns has been like a sentence to NFL hell with no chance of experiencing winning football. In 19 seasons since the resurrection in 1999, this franchise has enjoyed just two winning seasons and occupied the basement 15 times.

With no AFC North titles and a lone season with double-digit victories (10 in 2007), is it any wonder many players who enter the annual college draft do not list Cleveland as one of the places they prefer to land?

That attitude, it would appear, has changed if the words of the top four quarterbacks in this year’s draft class are to be taken seriously, especially with the Browns taking dead aim on selecting one of them in an effort to finally land their franchise quarterback.

All of a sudden, Cleveland isn’t such a bad place to play football. Take it from Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen.

All four were presented the same question by the media at the NFL Combine a few days ago in Indianapolis. What do you think about playing in Cleveland? they were asked. It didn’t seem to bother any of them.

Mayfield was the most vociferous. The brash Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, known for his supreme self-confidence and devil-may-care style of quarterbacking, practically campaigned for the Browns to take him with the No. 1 overall pick.

“I think if anybody is going to turn that franchise around, it would be me,” he said. “They’re close. They’re very close. They have the right pieces. I think they need just one guy, a quarterback to make that difference.”

Sound familiar?

Remember this? “I wish you guys would come get me. Hurry up and draft me because I want to be there. I want to wreck this league together.”

Yep, that was Johnny Manziel texting Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains during the 2014 NFL draft. Loggains showed owner Jimmy Haslam III the text and the boss said, “Pull the trigger. We’re trading up to get this guy.”

Manziel was correct about the wrecking. He just didn’t know at the time it would be his professional football career.

Darnold was somewhat more reserved than Mayfield, but still welcomed the opportunity should the Browns take him.

“I think turning a franchise around is obviously a hard thing to do,” he said, “but I’m always accepting a challenge and I think it would be an amazing thing to do. It’s another opportunity to show why I’m a good quarterback.”

Rosen, on the other hand, tried to walk back an earlier ESPN report that indicated he would prefer to play anywhere but Cleveland.

“I’ve never said anything about not wanting to play in Cleveland,” he told Michael Silver of the NFL Network. “I don’t know where that came from. There is absolutely no foundation in reality in that report

“I don’t know anything about Cleveland. I’ve never been there . . . so it’s impossible to form opinions when you haven’t really done any research on the actual place. I’m probably going to visit there, hang out with them, then whoever picks me I’ll be excited to play for.”

Allen had two different takes when asked. “I want to be the guy that turns around the Cleveland Browns,” he said in late January at the Senior Bowl, then was more cautious at the Combine.

“I don’t know because I’ve never (turned around a team) before,” he said, “but I’d go in there with everything I have and try to instill a winning mind-set and that type of attitude, try and become a leader of the team with . . . the understanding of what we needed to do to try and turn things around.

“I love football. Everything I can do to play this game I’m going to do and if they are willing to step out on a ledge and take me with the No 1 overall pick, I’m going to give them everything I have.”

The goal of all four, of course, is to be the prestigious top overall selection and there is nothing wrong with lobbying the Browns to be that young man. But they will have competition from the best non-quarterback in the class.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley had all the right answers when asked the same question by the media. You could tell he was either coached very well or had studied hard about the Browns.

He knew the Browns had a new offensive coordinator, had won only one game the last two seasons and were in their fair share of games. “You want to be a part of something like that,” he said. “Something that will leave a legacy. Being a part of something special.”

Five different opinions of players worthy of consideration as the first overall selection, all saying the right things because they want to be that pick.

Now it’s up to Cleveland General Manager John Dorsey to parse those words, factor in how they would fit into his plans for his new team and make what is hopefully a wise decision and a positive impact on the immediate future.