Friday, February 27, 2015

Too late; the bar has been lowered

Thank goodness National Football League player contracts are not multi year. In actuality, they are a series of one-year contracts spread over a specific period of time.

For example, the three-year contract veteran quarterback Josh McCown agreed to with the Browns Friday can be terminated at any time because the money is guaranteed one year at a time.

If McCown, 36 in July, lasts all three years in Cleveland, it will be a major miracle. The fact the Browns outbid the Buffalo Bills for his services is somewhat of a minor miracle.

In so doing, Murphy’s Law paid yet another in a long line of visits to Berea Friday. The Browns have taken a muddied situation at the position and made it muddier.

McCown supposedly is going to be the wizened head who will help straighten out Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw and whomever the Browns select in the college draft in April.

He reportedly is going to be the mentor for one quarterback who has more troubles off the field than on; another who has practice squad talent; and a third whose name we don’t know yet.

Why don’t the Browns just make him the quarterbacks coach? Oh, wait. That’s right. They already have a quarterbacks coach. They just hired 30-year-old Kevin O’Connell to mentor the quarterbacks.

So where does that leave McCown, who makes Cleveland the seventh stop in his tour through the NFL? Will he sort of assist O’Connell in helping new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo install yet another new offensive scheme? Be kind of a player/assistant coach? Is that why the Browns brought him in?

Does that mean he won’t play in regular-season games? Does that mean he won’t have a chance to beat out Manziel, Shaw or whomever for the starting job? Can we assume that no matter what happens in training camp and exhibition games, he’ll be holding a clipboard on opening day this season?

Way too many questions that shouldn’t be arising at this time of the year. Here’s another: What if McCown is clearly the best quarterback in camp? Right now, he is the best quarterback on the roster, which isn’t really saying very much at all. Not exactly something about which to brag.

It is hard to imagine Manziel, Shaw or whomever playing well enough to beat out McCown. It’s also not unreasonable to assume Mike Pettine plays the quarterback who gives the Browns the best chance to win. If McCown is that guy, what does that say about the position?

In a league that has become quarterback-driven, the Browns have taken a gigantic plunge toward the bottom of the NFL quarterbacks barrel.

To be honest, I much rather would have preferred the Browns smoke the peace pipe with Brian Hoyer and bring him back. At least we know what he can do with marginal talent on that side of the ball.

With some intelligent selecting in the college draft by General Manager Ray Farmer, the talent level on offense will improve. But with the McCown signing, the likelihood of a Hoyer return is remote at best.

It will be interesting to see how Farmer, Pettine and – we should all hope – loose lips Jimmy Haslam III explain the reasoning behind their latest signing. The spin that permeates the room should be dizzying.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Do not lower the bar

The Browns can’t be serious about wanting to sign free agent Methuselah quarterback Josh McCown.

They can do better than that. A lot better.

If they sign him, they can expect the kind of seasons journeymen Trent Dilfer and Jake Delhomme gave them in 2005 and 2010. Both were signed as free agents.

Dilfer was 4-7 in 11 starts and quickly disappeared. Delhomme started four games before getting hurt – he was 2-2 – before he, too quickly disappeared. In their prime, they were decent. But when they arrived in Cleveland, they were sliding badly.

Why do the Browns insist on signing veteran quarterbacks clearly on the downside of their careers? Making such moves defines them for what they are: a bad football team.

What value does McCown bring to Cleveland? Mentoring Johnny Manziel or Connor Shaw or whomever they draft in April? McCown, who will be 36 in July, doesn’t want to mentor kids. He wants to play.

The Buffalo Bills, who are trying to sign him, are a much better fit. First of all, they’ve got better wide receivers, running backs and a decent offensive line. Hopefully, they are dumb enough to outbid Cleveland.

McCown clearly defines the term journeyman. Drafted by Arizona in 2002, he has made stops in Detroit, Oakland, Carolina, Chicago and Tampa. That’s six cities in his dozen National Football League seasons.

He has started 49 games and won 17, including a 1-10 mark last season, guiding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the top pick in the NFL’s college draft in April.

He attracted attention in 2013 when he took over for the injured Jay Cutler in Chicago and won three of his five starts with the Bears, throwing for 13 touchdowns and only one interception. It got him a nice free-agent contract with the Buccaneers.

Hopefully, the Browns don’t make the same mistake the Bucs did and spend their quarterback money elsewhere. If McCown somehow winds up wearing the Seal Brown and Very Bright Orange this season, get ready for the same old, same old.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Indy combine worthless

Now that this year’s National Football League Scouting Combine is finished, let’s get one thing out of the way.

The combine is relatively useless. It’s a waste of time.

It is just another weapon the NFL uses to keep The Shield front and center with the public. We are less than a month removed from the last Super Bowl and the NFL is back in the news.

In the end, when teams make their selections in the annual crapshoot in late April otherwise known as the college draft, the combine means very little. But it seems to be working from a public relations standpoint.

Every year, the get-together in Indianapolis for college athletes who dream about playing for money draws more and more attention from the media. The league’s P.R.  machine never seems to stop.

The NFL Network for the last several years has chronicled just about every move the athletes make in this annual event.  About the only place we don’t see these well-conditioned young men is the rest room. And who knows what the future holds there?

Other than that, we see them running as fast as they can for 40 yards, jumping either straight up or leaping straight ahead in a single bound, lifting weights, showing off their agility by contorting various parts of their body while in motion and performing specific drills at their respective positions.

The athletes perform in shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Nothing resembles a football uniform other than the shoes. That is their uniform of the day.

For years, I have wondered exactly what scouts who attend the combine look for? Agility? Speed? Strength? Brains? All of the above? None of the above? How does what these kids do for one day in Indianapolis genuinely factor into what teams do on draft day? How important are these workouts?

What can anyone glean from someone running a 40-yard dash? And why 40 yards? Why not 45 or 50 yards? Why 40?

For the simplest of reasons. Because the average net distance of a punt is generally 40 yards and players who run the fastest can get downfield and arrive the same time as the ball. That’s it.

Supposedly, the legendary Paul Brown instituted the 40-yard dash as a benchmark when he coached the Browns about 60 or so years ago. The innovative Brown always looked for ways to gain an advantage over the opposition.

It is impossible for scouts or fans or coaches or anyone who watches football games to say speed at the combine is the end-all and be-all at determining the worth of a player. And yet, a good time in the 40 will elevate a player whose worth in other areas might be somewhat suspect.

A bad 40 time works exactly the opposite, dropping a player whose skills in other areas might otherwise warrant closer attention.  It’s a trap into which many scouts fall.

There is only one speed that counts in football and that’s game speed. How fast is this guy or that guy with a full uniform on? Makes no difference how fast he runs in his underwear in Indianapolis in February.

The talented running back might not set a land speed record at Indy in the 40, but put a football in his hand, give him some good blocking and see if he can outrun the opposition.

When someone is chasing them, most good backs find another gear. At Indy, no one chases them. They race against a clock. And that’s when those in the know turn to the one tool that helps separate these athletes. In other words, let’s go to the videotape.

What scouts and general managers and coaches see on tape determines the worth of a solid football player far better than the combine. Game tape is where the men and boys part ways. Most decisions made on draft day are predicated on game tape.

By now, one would think those in charge of the draft know that most workout warriors, those who excel in Indy with the numbers, are just that. Every once in a while, though, someone pops up at the combine, blows away some scouts with an unexpected performance and is drafted higher than he should.

Give me a football player whose numbers aren’t as good as a workout warrior’s. Give me a football player who makes plays but might be a tad slower than the workout warrior. Football players and athletes are clearly different.

About the only worthy thing the combine provides is the opportunity for teams to talk one-on-one with these kids. Try in a short period of time to find out what makes them tick. Often times, these little interviews can be the determining factor in a team’s choice.

Other than that, there are no redeeming qualities of the combine.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Saying is not necessarily believing

From the Department of He Really Said That? come these two gems:

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has taken umbrage to Jason La Canfora’s claim that the Cleveland front office, among other things, is dysfunctional.

To which Haslam, in full denial mode, replied to the Cleveland media Wednesday: “We work extremely well together.”

What else did you expect him to say? “Sure, we have given dysfunction a whole new meaning? Yep, caught us red-handed. Thought we could get away with it. Pretty stupid to think that, eh?”

What else is going to say when he’s trying to sell season tickets for the upcoming season? He needs seats in his seats. His public relations staff is in damage control mode after the negative happenings of January.

All Haslam is doing right now is spinning furiously to right a ship that is careening somewhat out of control. Most of what is coming out of Berea these days is negative.  So he called the media together Wednesday to clear the air.

Good for him. Confronting the issue is much better than running away from it. But drawing a picture of harmony when it’s obvious that isn’t the case at all is not the correct spin here.

At least admit things could be better in light of the departure of the offensive coordinator and two coaches from the offensive side of the ball, the self admission to a rehab facility by one of last season’s first-round draft choices and the season-long banishment of the club’s star wide receiver.

The coordinator couldn’t get out of town quickly enough. And it wasn’t because the Cleveland organization was humming along just fine. When you jot down 32 reasons to leave the club with two years left on your contract and the owner accepts it, something is wrong.

Things are not hunky dory, as Haslam stated. Far from it. If this is hunky dory, the term needs to be redefined. Maybe it is compared to the Oakland Raiders or Washington Redskins or Jacksonville Jaguars, but Haslam certainly aspires to loftier goals.

It is easy to convince one’s self at this time of the season that everything is humming along swimmingly. Last season is in the rear-view mirror, the road ahead is littered with hope and the future is now.

But haven’t we seen this for the last 16 seasons? Players, coaches and owners deluding themselves that next season will be different. Until it isn’t.
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Then there’s the case of Shanahan, speaking for the first time since accepting the job as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons. One would think his rancorous departure from the Browns would elicit some controversial talk.

It wasn’t exactly a kissy-face, we’ll-miss-you, stay-in-touch kind of leaving. And yet, there was Shanahan speaking almost glowingly of Johnny Manziel and not really going into why he wanted to leave the Browns.

“You make tough decisions and obviously, Cleveland was a tough decision for me,” he told the Atlanta media Tuesday. “You’ve got to make decisions of what you think is best for you, what’s best for your family.

“If you believe it’s right, then you live with it. You live with the consequences and hope tough decisions end up working out. The fact it has led me to Atlanta and I’m in this situation right now, I couldn’t be happier.”

Of course he couldn’t be happier. Unlike with the Browns, Shanahan has a solid quarterback with whom he can work in Atlanta. Not only that, the Falcons have a decent running game and a pair of quality wide receivers. If the Atlanta offense doesn’t improve exponentially in 2015, then Shanahan will be exposed as someone who talks a better game than he coaches.

As for Manziel, Shanahan said, “Johnny’s a great guy and I think he gets a little bit of a bad rap with that because (he) worked very hard for me. I really enjoyed coaching him.” But he said nothing about how little Manziel progressed during that time.

Some people expected Shanahan to rip on the Browns now that he is free. Maybe he does so privately to his confidants, but in public, he carefully couches his words. He’s not going to blast the young quarterback or speak ill of the Browns’ front office.

Wouldn’t be surprised if there is a clause somewhere in his separation documents (or whatever agreements both parties signed to facilitate his departure) that penalizes him if he speaks negatively about his time in Cleveland.  Some day maybe when he’s out of the National Football League. Not now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Welcome to the Berea Zoo

At the rate bad luck continues to hover over or near 76 Lou Groza Blvd. in Berea these days, fans of the Browns are going to need some psychological help.

First, it’s the departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, followed by the firing of quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, followed by the departure of wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel, followed by the denial-filled open letter by Josh Gordon, followed by the news that Johnny Manziel checked himself into a rehab facility, followed by the banishment of Gordon for at least one season by the National Football League.

Did I miss anything in this soap opera masquerading as a professional football franchise? In one short month, this franchise has done more to embarrass itself than most franchises do in an entire calendar year.

Could anything else go wrong? What’s that? We’re not done? There’s more? And Ray Farmer is involved?

Yep, Farmer reportedly is the guilty party in the club’s latest dalliance with negative publicity. Seems the Browns’ general manager, in direct violation of league rules that prohibit any communications with the bench during games, texted with the Cleveland bench during games this past season.

When the story first broke several weeks ago, Farmer’s name was not mentioned as the possible miscreant. The story indicated generically that a high-ranking personnel member from the front office had committed the crime. It could have been anyone. Certainly not the general masnager, who should no better.

There has been no official word from the NFL regarding the incident, but Farmer’s name has been linked to it by several news sources. If he is, in fact, guilty as charged, he faces a suspension, a fine and the Browns could lose a pick in the college draft in late April. Pretty stiff price to pay for a franchise that needs all the help it can get.

If owner Jimmy Haslam is looking for an excuse to dismiss his GM, this latest embarrassment would qualify. He is known for having a quick trigger finger with regard to hiring and firing. If he cashiers Farmer, chalk it up as just another stain on the positive culture Farmer tried to cultivate when he took over the team.

Speaking of Haslam, whose hands-on approach to owning a team is the total opposite of his predecessor, Jason La Canfora takes a scathing look at the Browns in his most recent piece on

He sets his sights on Haslam in particular and the meddling manner in which he runs his club. According to La Canfora, club President Alec Scheiner, initially hired to run the business operations of the team, has inserted himself into the football operations wing of the team, including personnel. 

 La Canfora reports that Scheiner is frequently in the same room with coach Mike Pettine and Farmer, whose football knowledge dwarfs Scheiner’s. “There is tension between Alec and Pettine,” he writes. “Everybody sees that.”

As if there weren’t enough voices on that side of the front office, Scheiner’s involvement only muddies the situation. Haslam, it would appear, has sanctioned it. No wonder a team source told La Canfora, “It’s a mess. Everyone is trying to do everyone else’s job. It’s crazy."

Not only that, it’s plain wrong and if not stopped by Haslam, like right now, it’s going to get even worse.

It’s getting so bad in Berea, the loyal legion of sycophants who still believe everything is wonderful in the land of the Cleveland Browns has to at least begin to wonder just what the hell is going on out there.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The right people helped Manziel

Much is being made of Johnny Manziel’s voluntary entrance into a treatment facility last week.

The Browns quarterback is properly being given credit for checking himself in for what is being referred to as undisclosed reasons. We still do not know whether it is alcohol related or drug related. Maybe both. 

The fact of the matter is Manziel apparently has come to the realization the manner in which he is leading his life is wrong and is willing to do something about it. Or has he?

We are led to believe the decision to enter rehab last week was his and his alone. Somehow, that is hard to believe. It is hard to believe a 22-year-old who enjoys leading the high life is willing to stop cold turkey.

You just don’t flip a switch and say I’m going to put out the spotlight, stop palling around with likes of Justin Bieber and Drake and all the show biz glitterati and head in a completely opposite direction.

I don’t know for certain, but this latest move has all the markings of a family/friends intervention. First clue: The move was announced in a statement released by a spokesman for the Manziel family, an attorney.

There is no question Manziel needs guidance and is just immature enough to be unable to provide it for himself. That’s where family and friends enter the picture. And it probably happened shortly after the end of the Browns season when he couldn’t wait to leave Cleveland and resume his partying in various parts of the country. 

After admitting to the media only days earlier that he knew he was heading in the wrong direction and needed to clean up his act, he was off again. And that just might have been the trigger for the intervention.

Can you say straw, camel and back in the same sentence? The guess here is that’s what Manziel’s family and circle of friends said and decided it was time to act before it was too late. The young man needed direction and it was obvious he wasn’t going to do anything about it.

I don’t buy the notion that Manziel did this all on his own. He might be savvy in many areas, but self-preservation is not one of them.

His social life was a wide-open book. He enjoyed living on planet TMZ. For someone whose popularity did not suffer nearly as much as his quarterbacking, he willingly put himself out there to be seen.

His parents and/or friends cared enough to sit him down (my theory), show him some tough love and set him straight. If he wanted to continue living the life of Johnny Football, the final chapter would not be pretty. If he was serious about becoming a successful professional football player, he needed to flip the switch. He needed to become the antithesis of his collegiate persona.

But first, he had to rid himself of all the demons that had consumed him as he rose to prominence in college. He had to eliminate the Johnny Football brand he helped create and totally embraced all the way to professional football.

Humility was definitely not one of his greatest characteristics. After seven quarters of quarterbacking the Browns in 2014, he was just Johnny Manziel, just another National Football League quarterback whose performance fell far short of his perceived persona. He was humbled and apparently did not know how to handle it.

The guess here is the decision was made for him by those who cared. He could have refused, continued to live in his own little bubble and go his own way. So he should receive at least part of the credit for acquiescing and checking himself into that treatment center.

Whatever the reason, he now seems to be headed in the right direction. In the end, the Browns, at least theoretically, should see a different Johnny Manziel, a more humbled version, in the minicamps and off-season workouts. If he is serious about becoming a successful pro quarterback, the change should be palpable.

It is one thing to be self-assured when quarterbacking in the NFL. It is quite another to be cocky. The Browns need the former because the latter quite clearly didn’t work for Manziel.

It would be a great redemptive type story if he comes into training camp clean next summer and shows fans and media he not only is a different person, but a different and more productive quarterback than the one we saw last season.