Friday, March 30, 2012

Say no to Tannehill

What is it about Ryan Tannehill that has a couple of draft gurus practically peeing in their trousers?

Mike Mayock of the NFL Network and ESPN’s Todd McShay have wet themselves recently in overt praise of the Texas A&M quarterback. One would think, based on their comments, Tannehill is the next John Elway.

Both men are on record as saying the Browns would be insane to pass on the young man with their first pick in the opening round of next month’s college football draft. Well maybe not exactly those words, but they have strongly suggested Tannehill is good enough to become the Browns’ future franchise quarterback.

If the Browns draft Tannehill with their first pick at No. 4 and groom him his first season, “I do think that now, you’re looking at an organization that has its future franchise quarterback,” said McShay after watching Tannehill’s pro day workout recently.

This from a guy who showered similar platitudes on JaMarcus Russell a few years ago, and we all know how that one turned out.

Fact is Tannehill is not the best quarterback in this draft. He’s not even the second-best quarterback in this draft. And there are those who will argue that Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden in the third-best.

Andrew Luck is clearly the best quarterback with Robert Griffin The Third close behind. Both are head and shoulders above Tannehill.

Hopefully, Browns President Mike Holmgren, General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. and coach Pat Shurmur turn deaf ears on the bleatings of Mayock and McShay, a couple of guys who more often than not get it right.

What the draft gurus see in Tannehill is hard to figure out. Yes, he’s got the size at 6-4 and 220 pounds. And he’s got a decent arm. And yes, he ran a pro-style offense under coach Mike Sherman at A&M.

But he’s still a baby when it comes quarterbacking a team. He arrived at A&M as a high school quarterback and was immediately converted to wide receiver. He returned under center in his junior season and produced two nice seasons.

He threw 29 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions for the Aggies as a senior, but a closer look at his stats shows he threw most of those TD passes (20) against lesser opponents. When facing the likes of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Arkansas and Texas, he had just nine scoring passes and 11 picks.

In other words, he feasted on the patsies of the schedule, but didn’t come close to flourishing against the tough teams.

McShay and Mayock watched Tannehill throw at his pro day and, of course, he looked good. Very good. But pro days are structured and orchestrated in an effort to make players look good.

Watch him on film against a pass rush and some decent coverage in the secondary and you’ll see a different Tannehill.

He’s not worth the No. 4 pick. Not even close. At best, he’s a project.

Maybe the Browns have a shot at him if he slides down to No. 22, where they own Atlanta’s pick. But that probably won’t happen because Miami at No. 8 is expected to pounce on him.

What Holmgren and Heckert do is anyone’s guess at this juncture. But bear in mind that this is the Cleveland Browns we’re talking about, a team that has had a flirtatious relationship with Murphy’s Law down through the years. If that relationship continues, count on the Browns making a mistake and drafting Tannehill at No. 4.

Big mistake. Huge mistake.

The Browns need players who can help them NOW, not one of two years down the road. They need to get better NOW, not wait for someone to possibly be their future quarterback. There is absolutely no guarantee Tannehill is that guy.

Fortunately, the Browns are in a position to draft players who can step in immediately and become productive. Players like Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Mo Claiborne and Matt Kalil. If they stay put at No. 4, one of them will wear the Brown and Orange next season.

Heckert and Shurmur attended Richardson’s pro day recently and had to be impressed with what they saw. What they saw was maybe the best all-around running back to come along in the last 10 years. One can only imagine their thoughts when Richardson knocked Browns running backs coach Gary Brown head over keister in a blocking drill.

In the end, isn’t it better to draft the best player at a position rather than the third- or fourth-best? This draft is deep enough where the Browns can fill three weak areas with players who can become starters on day 1 of training camp.

For once, I’d like to see this team’s front office do the right thing in the draft. Forget the quarterback and focus on surrounding Colt McCoy with some decent weapons and give him a chance to become the quarterback they thought they drafted a few years ago.

Is that asking too much? For the last dozen or so years, the answer, with few exceptions, has been the same.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The trading game

There’s an aphorism in sports that goes something like this: Sometimes the best trades you make are the ones you don’t make.

In the case of the Browns and their love affair with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin the Third in next month’s National Football League college draft, that rings so true.

If the reports are to be believed, the Browns were more than willing to mortgage a large chunk of their future (three first-round picks) for an untried, untested quarterback who might go on to become the next John Elway or Peyton Manning. But he just as easily might go on to become the next Akili Smith or JaMarcus Russell.

There is absolutely no guarantee Griffin will arrive in the NFL and become an instant star like Cam Newton did down in Carolina. What Newton accomplished happens maybe once in a generation. Not twice in consecutive years.

Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. don’t realize yet how lucky they are that the Washington Redskins made a better offer (they added a second-rounder to their package) to St. Louis for the Rams’ second pick in the next month’s college draft.

They don’t realize how lucky they are that they now can take their first three picks (Nos. 4, 22 and 37) and finally start to put together the kind of club they envisioned when they took over a couple of years ago.

That the Redskins trumped the Browns in the RG III sweepstakes angered many Browns fans who believed Holmgren and Heckert should have tried harder.

In fact, Holmgren complained to season ticket holders that his offer to the Rams “was every bit the offer that was chosen.” Then he complained further that a complicit relationship between the Rams and Redskins was the reason Washington won.

“There are reasons I can’t go into now why it didn’t happen,” he said. “I’m not sure if any offer we made at the end of the day was going to be quite good enough.”

Holmgren was referring to the chummy relationship between Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher. But Holmgren knows better because he worked that little scam nearly a dozen years ago in his first year as the coach and general manager in Seattle after leaving Green Bay.

He pulled off a similar deal, according to Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, 11 years ago when he swindled the Miami Dolphins out of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was property of the Green Bay Packers at the time.

Just when the Dolphins thought they had a deal to send their first-round pick to the Packers for Hasselbeck, Holmgren stepped in and struck a better deal with his buddy, Packers general manager Ron Wolf, that did not involve giving up a draft pick.

What goes around comes around. Holmgren has no room to carp about the shenanigans between Fisher and Shanahan. Apparently the Browns’ president has a short memory.

Instead of making excuses for not landing Griffin, he should concentrate on the reason he was brought to Cleveland. Build a winning team. That hasn’t happened yet. It hasn't even come close.

Fashioning a 9-23 record in two seasons is not a ringing endorsement one can slap on a resume. That’s what Holmgren and Heckert have produced in the their two exceedingly long seasons in Cleveland.

The bloom has not just faded from this rose, it has disappeared. The days of the H&H guys getting a pass are gone and now they had better step up their plan to resurrect pride in the name Cleveland Browns or else face criticism that is long overdue.

Their little charade of coming in and living off their reputations isn't working any more. Expect the critics to begin chirping loudly if another losing season looms.

What the Browns need to do in this year’s lottery is what they failed to do last year – improve an offense that at times resembled a Division III program. There are way many holes to fill on that side of the ball, starting with the right side of the offensive line, running back and wide receiver.

It is incumbent to surround Colt McCoy with as many weapons as possible in order to make a solid determination whether he’s the quarterback they thought they drafted a few years ago.

If they so much as even think about drafting a defensive player in the first two rounds, they should turn in their credentials immediately because they don't understand and are no better than Eric Mangini, Phil Savage, Butch Davis or Dwight Clark.

No question the defense improved last season under Dick Jauron. But how many games can a team win when the offense has trouble averaging 14 points a game? When an offense scores more than 17 points just twice in 16 outings? When an offense produces only 20 touchdowns in 16 games?

How much more evidence does it take to make H&H realize offense is what’s holding this team back? It’s the offense, stupid, that needs to be addressed. And there are some pretty good offensive players in what promises to be a deep draft.

The draft seems to be the way Heckert wants to go since the Browns have signed just two nondescript free agents in defensive ends Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker. Big whoop. Nothing more than a couple of sideways moves that will improve the Cleveland defense hardly at all. If Heckert is looking for an improved pass rush with these guys, he’s dreaming.

The Cleveland GM, quite obviously not a big fan of free agency, had better come up with a big draft this time because its success will depend to a large degree on how the Browns finish this coming season.

While the Browns won’t admit it, the 2012 season very well could be a make or break season for at least Heckert. Holmgren still has owner Randy Lerner’s ear – and that of a certain Seattle talk-show host, as well, it appears – and will get at least a fourth year.

Then the club president can finally bolt Cleveland and land where he is much more comfortable: in Seattle. It’s obviously a city he yearns for considering his family lives there, and his relationship with that talk show host.

In fact, he can probably do the show in studio rather than long distance.