Tuesday, April 18, 2017

First things first

Build the roster first.

That should be the mantra for the Browns as the 2017 National Football League’s college draft approaches.

Print it on banners, sheets of paper, anything and festoon it all around the club’s headquarters in Berea, particularly around the bunker as a reminder on draft night.

Build the roster first.

Despite what Sashi Brown and his minions believe, Cleveland is in desperate need of help just about everywhere up and down the current roster. If they believe otherwise, then there is little hope for what will take place in about 10 days.

If they believe all this team needs is a quarterback to yank it from the dunghill this franchise has wallowed in since Jimmy Haslam III paid a billion bucks for it, then it will be more of the same old, same old.

How many different ways can I be more explicit? This is a bad team that needs a strong supporting cast for whomever is anointed the next franchise quarterback. That time is not now.

But if we are to believe even a sliver of what is being bandied about with regard to the top quarterbacks in this lottery, the Browns once again unfortunately will journey down the wrong road.

Whether it’s Mitch (Mitchell) Trubisky or Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes Jr. (forget DeShone Kizer, whose star has plunged significantly), most draft experts believe one will wind up in the Seal Brown and Orange.

Unless, of course, someone with clout at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. steps up and strongly urges those in charge of the draft to stop and think. Stop and think of the kind of a team, the kind of an offense, you want to turn over to a young, wet-behind-the-ears quarterback.

Build the roster first.

It will take at least two more drafts, assuming those making the selections do so wisely, for this franchise to reach a talent-rich point that is ready to support such a young leader.

Everyone was stunned when rookie Dak Prescott took over as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback and led them to the playoffs last season. (Of course, having fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott as his running back didn’t hurt.)

But the Dallas offense was ready to help the fourth-round draft choice succeed to the point where he kept Tony Romo tethered to his clipboard when the veteran returned following an injury in an exhibition game.

Prescott, taken well after the Browns selected Cody Kessler in the third round, was in the right place at the right time. The Cowboys had a terrific offensive line and a solid receiving corps. All coach Jason Garrett had to do was plug in Prescott and Elliott.

Even if the Browns had selected Prescott instead of Kessler in the third round last year, they still would have wound up with the NFL’s worst record. No way he would have been the league’s offensive rookie of the year and named to the Pro Bowl.

That’s because the Cleveland roster was embarrassingly talent-poor. Prescott would have struggled as much as Kessler. The supporting cast last season, especially on offense, was awful.

That supporting cast must be upgraded substantially this season if this team has any designs on emerging from the gigantic hole in which it currently resides. That means numerous weak areas must be strengthened.

Passing on the top quarterbacks this year will not hurt the Browns. It is far more important to assemble the pieces and parts on both sides of the football before addressing arguably the most important position on the team.

Build the roster first.

One more time with feeling: BUILD THE ROSTER FIRST!

Then go out and get your quarterback.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fact, fiction flirt

The prevarication game continues to play out as we inch closer to the National Football League’s annual college draft later this month.

The latest rumor iteration spinning out of control says the Browns still haven’t made up their minds about whom to choose with the top pick in the lottery and hints it might be quarterback Mitch (Mitchell) Trubisky.

Yep, word around the ever-changing world of NFL rumors suggests Texas A&M defensive end – a.k.a. edge rusher in modern-day lingo – Myles Garrett is not a lock and very well could wind up in a uniform other than Cleveland’s.

Rumors being what they are, however, does not mean that will happen. Rumors are not facts. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a rumor is defined as “a statement or report current without known authority for its truth.”


So when the highly reputable Adam Schefter, ESPN’s No. 1 NFL rumor monger, tweets that “Cleveland has not made up its mind at No. 1 per source. Split opinions. Some like Myles Garrett, some like Mitchell Trubisky. We’ll see.”, the Cleveland media gets somewhat bent out of shape.

So do the fans.

There are still 15 days left, for crying out loud, until the Browns must make that command decision. And did anyone consider that the source Schefter referred to very well might be employed at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. in Berea?

Not saying that’s the case. But that sometimes is the way the world spins in the rumor business. “Here’s what’s going on. Just don’t use my name.”

The closer we get to April 27 in Philadelphia, the hotter and juicier those rumors become. By that date, what happens is anyone’s guess. And that’s exactly what it is: A guess.

It is entirely possible the Browns are giving serious thought to trading out of the top spot. Given Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta’s love affair with collecting draft picks, don’t rule out that possibility.

A treasure trove of selections can be gleaned when it comes to swapping the overall No. 1 pick. The Browns did it at No. 2 with the Philadelphia Eagles last season and wound up with wide receiver Corey Coleman and offensive tackle Shon Coleman (after trading down twice), the Eagles’ first rounder this year (No. 12) and a second next year and the Tennessee Titans' second-rounder this year.

This is not meant to start a rumor. Far from it, in fact. All it does is suggest the loosey-goosey thinking in Berea is such that anything is possible, especially with DePodesta guiding the way from a strategy standpoint.

Then again, despite what Schefter and others who either jumped all over his tweet or retweeted it believe, it is entirely possible the Browns let all the rumors play out and then do the right thing and select Garrett.

Bathe in the publicity it generates. Enjoy the spotlight. Why not? Once the season begins in September, the Browns will eventually be relegated to the role with which they have become all too familiar for the last 18 seasons: An afterthought.

Until then, get used to the rumors bouncing around the NFL universe for the next couple of weeks. Makes for good fodder for the fans and keeps the league relevant until that moment when Commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the microphone on stage, puts the Browns on the clock and officially kicks off the NFL season.

Let all the blather that arrives on the NFL scene in those two weeks drift in and out of your consciousness since it is bound to change again soon enough.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Can’t shake the feeling

As we inch closer to the National Football League’s annual college draft later this month, I have a feeling the Browns are on the verge of making yet another unwise move with regard to the position of quarterback.

The worst move they can make in this draft is to select a quarterback in the first round. And I can’t shake the notion that is exactly what they’ll do with their second first-round pick at No. 12.

Why? Because they are the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that exists with black clouds hovering above it. It is a franchise that almost always makes mistakes in crucial situations.

And because this team is the real-life version of Murphy’s Law. If there is a mistake (or mistakes) to be made, the Browns somehow will find a way to make them.

The only way they can escape the ignominy of making that mistake this year is if all three quarterbacks given first-round grades are off the board when the 12th pick rolls around.

Unless they are playing the smoke-and-mirror game, saying one thing and thinking something entirely different, the Browns are heading in a direction that will land the quarterback for the foreseeable future.

To be fair, it is a given this team needs a quarterback on whom to hang its future fortunes. There is absolutely no argument there.

But none of the top three quarterbacks this year – Deshaun Watson, Mitch (Mitchell) Trubisky and DeShone Kizer – are looked upon as franchise quarterbacks. They represent a relatively weak class at the position.

Next year’s class will be much stronger with the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Mason Rudolph and Josh Rosen heading it. If any of those four were in this year’s draft, they would push the aforementioned trio down the list.

Sometimes, it’s best to wait a year and put yourself in a position to take the right quarterback when he comes along. That is clearly the case this year, a year in which the Browns would be best concerned with strengthening all other areas on the team – and there are quite a few – before addressing the most important one.

This franchise has slogged around the NFL for the last 18 seasons, doing it the wrong way just about every one of those seasons. The bottom line more than proves that. It’s now time to do it the right way.

One additional bad season won’t make that much of a difference as long as the end justifies the means. In this case, enduring one more awful season and taking advantage of a strong quarterbacks class justifies those means.

I would much rather see a Darnold or an Allen or a Rosen in Seal Brown and Orange than any of the three big names that have been bandied about this year.

If Hue Jackson is, indeed, the quarterback whisperer we have been led to believe, that luster will dull if he champions Trubisky, Watson or Kizer and strongly lobbies for their selection. That would indicate desperation on his part and an unwillingness to suffer through another gawd-awful season in Cleveland.

About the worst scenario for the 2017 season is the Browns improve to the point where they will win just enough games – as many, maybe, as four or five – and play themselves out of the opportunity to select a player who has a better chance to become their quarterback of the future than what awaits three weeks from today.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mocking these so-called experts

Fun season this National Football League mock draft season.

The more iterations we see for next month’s college draft, the crazier it gets. Draft  “experts” are now in at least their 4.0 versions with less than five weeks to go.

And with the Browns owning two of the first 12 choices in next month’s college lottery, all kinds of wild speculation – guesses really – on what they will do sorta, kinda hogs the news.

Questions, which will remain unanswered until that final Thursday night in April in Philadelphia, surround what is really going on in Berea. At the same time, fans are having all kinds of fun trying to figure out what will go down.

Well, maybe not fun, especially for the serious-minded who plow lots of hours into trying to guess what their favorites teams are thinking. And you can bet, with few exceptions, they will not come even close to guessing correctly.

Except, of course, what the Browns will do at No. 1. And even the probability of staying put and grabbing Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is not a sure thing, according to at least a couple of lottery gurus.

Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller of Sirius XM Radio recently put together their rather interesting first-round replete with trades, the likes of which strays quite severely from those more standard guesses from the vast majority of serious predictors.

Wandering unafraid into the ever dangerous mock draft waters, Miller and Kirwan predict the Browns will trade the top pick to New England in exchange for a flop of No. 1s (even though the Patriots don’t have a first-rounder), a third-round pick this year and a No. 1 next year. Oh . . and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Patriots, of course, will select Garrett, as if they don’t have enough talent already to repeat as Super Bowl champions. But the Browns get their quarterback and another No. 1 next year. But wait, there’s more.

According to these experts, the Browns ultimately deal the 12th pick, a second-rounder and fifth-rounder to Buffalo to move up two spots to 10 and take Ohio State safety Malik Hooker.

They then complete their third swap of the round by shipping the top pick in the second round (No. 33) and a third-rounder to Atlanta to move up two slots and take a wide receiver at No. 31.

Three trades involving four teams (including the Browns), one active player and 10 overall selections covering this and next year all in one round. That takes creativity to absurd lengths.

Recapping, the Browns trade the first and 12th picks in the first round, first selection in the second round and a third-rounder and pick up the 10th overall pick, a third-rounder, the 31st overall pick and the Patriots’ No. 1 pick next year. Oh . . . and Jimmy Garoppolo.

If nothing else, it would turn the Browns’ draft room into kind of a whirling dervish for the first evening of the three-day extravaganza. No down time from the top pick clear down to the penultimate selection with telephone lines blisteringly active

If the Browns’ hierarchy even thinks about making those moves, they should all be fitted with straitjackets and sentenced to college draft purgatory with no chance for parole for at least 15 years.

Then again, maybe sanity will eventually take up residence in Berea and this franchise, which seemingly can’t help itself and steers in the wrong direction with puzzling regularity, finally heads in the correct direction.

Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller, notwithstanding, of course.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Is that all there is?

That’s it?

Eleven days have passed since the free-agent market opened up and the Browns have made precious few moves.

For a team that needs help just about everywhere on the roster, signing a veteran wide receiver, two offensive linemen and claiming a couple of other pieces and parts is the best they can do?

Yes, the arrival of guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter makes the offensive line better. And yes, signing Kenny Britt sort of makes up for the loss of Terrelle Pryor. Oh and they picked up quarterback Brock Osweiler, who most likely they will jettison before he plays a game, in a trade.

But what else is there to buoy the hopes of Browns fans? The correct answer thus far – the free-agent market shelves have been mostly cleared – is not much. The pickins are slim. Only scraps remain.

Claiming the likes of wide receiver James Wright from Cincinnati, offensive lineman Marcus Martin from San Francisco and safety Tyvis Powell from Seattle and signing placekicker Brett Maher as a free agent doesn’t exactly stir the juices.

The Browns reportedly are currently courting former Tampa Bay safety Bradley McDougald. But that does not exactly move the dials on the excitement scale.

Perhaps one of the reasons the Browns have found it difficult to target and then sign the free agent they seek is the club’s less-than-stellar reputation. Money goes just so far when it comes to luring free agents to Cleveland.

Take, for example, the club’s desire to sign free agent Tony Jefferson, who would have been a nice fit in a secondary practically begging for help. The Browns offered the ex-Arizona Cardinals strong safety more money and yet he wound up in Baltimore, a bitter division rival.

Why? Simple. Even though he took less money, Jefferson liked the idea of playing with a team that has a winning reputation. He still gets good money, but having a shot at playing in the postseason was more intriguing.

Until the Browns change their image on and off the field, until they can attain an image that connotes winning, there will be others like Jefferson who eschew more money in an effort to play with a winning organization.

That, of course, will take time and a significant number of smart moves by the front office. For the last 18 seasons, the lack of those smart moves has added up to what we see today by the shores of Lake Erie: The National Football League’s stepchild.

No NFL team in the last 18 seasons, or since the Browns returned as an expansion team, has put forth such abysmally bad football. Not even the Detroit Lions, whose winless season in 2008 can only be tied for awful football over a full season, are as bad as the Browns in those 18 seasons.

In the last 288 games, the Lions are 104-184; the Browns are an embarrassing 88-200. That’s 4.88888889 victories a season. Yikes!

Throw out the Browns’ first two expansions seasons (2-14 and 3-13), they still have won four fewer games (83) than Detroit over that span.

Taking it a few steps further, the Lions have posted five winning seasons since 1999; the Browns have two. The Lions have recorded eight seasons of five or fewer victories; the Browns have recorded 13 (out of 18). Take that down to four or fewer victories in a season and Cleveland edges Detroit, nine to six.

The team that once called itself “The Greatest Show in Football” – and it was exactly that at the time – has become its league’s laughingstock. You want to see bad football? Take in a game in Cleveland.

That is what it has come down to. Players would much rather play elsewhere than go to Cleveland and become a relative nonentity. Until that changes – and right now, we are seeing little evidence that will eventuate – this franchise will continue to struggle for respectability.

So if this is the best the current front office can do in free agency to substantially improve this team, then good times are so far in the distance, it’s impossible to focus on them.

It will take a very strong college draft next month to enhance what is currently on board. Based on the front office’s performance last year, those good times might be farther away than hoped.
*       *       *
Josh McCown has signed a one-year contract with the New York Jets, whose quarterbacking is so bad, the former Browns quarterback actually has a shot at starting unless the Jets draft a quarterback and start him right away.

So how does that affect Browns fans? Well, now Jets fans know how it feels to watch a (38-year-old in July) journeyman quarterback line up under center for their team. This will be his 15th NFL season and eighth team.

Browns now have some empathy for Jets fans, some of whom are thisclose to slitting their wrists in disgust. The Twitterverse erupted following the announcement. Here are some samples, courtesy of USA Today:

This is the beginning of the end . . . 2-14, here we come . . . Depressing times as a Jets fan . . . I am actually speechless . . . do I kill myself now or later . . . Yucksville . . . So now they will win 3 games instead of 2 . . . Shoulda signed Manziel.

Sound and feel familiar, Browns fans?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trubisky mystery solved

When did Mitch Trubisky all of a sudden become Mitchell Trubisky? Inquiring minds want to know.

All we know about Trubisky is he has started 13 collegiate football games, became the darling of the National Football League college draft gurus and has rocketed to the top of the quarterbacks board.

Oh and he played his high school football at Mentor High School, located about 15 miles east of downtown Cleveland along the shores of Lake Erie.

At the beginning of the 2016 college football season, he was just another quarterback named Mitch. Not Mitchell. Just Mitch.

He was Mitch for four seasons at the University of North Carolina. (How did Ohio State miss out on his talent?) He was Mitch when he wasn’t good enough to start for his first three years at the school.

He was sill Mitch when he started racking up big games for the Tar Heels in his senior year and attracting attention from NFL scouts and draft gurus.

Only his mother most likely called him Mitchell, especially when he was in trouble or required to perform a chore. Most mothers address their sons in formal fashion in those instances. As in, “Mitchell, clean your room.” And “you don’t live in a pig sty, Mitchell.” Or “take out the garbage, Mitchell.”

But now that he has been anointed by many of those gurus as the best quarterback in the current college draft class, he has become Mitchell. Just plain Mitch has disappeared.

What changed? I have no idea. He just became Mitchell overnight and no one seems to be questioning why.

A sudden thought: Is it possible Mitchell Trubisky is not as good as Mitch Trubisky?

Update: Aha, it was the mother thing after all. “It’s really not that big a deal,” Trubisky told the NFL Network. “If you call me Mitch, that’s all right. I did it for my mom because she calls me Mitchell. She’s like 'I want people to stat calling you Mitchell.’ . . . I’ll do that for my mom.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why not Geno?

Geno Smith, quarterback and Cleveland Browns all in the same sentence.

Let that one ruminate in your mind for a few minutes. Then a few minutes longer.

Say it out loud.

Oxymoron or reality? Both?

Believe it or not, at least according to news reports, the former New York Jets quarterback, who flamed out in the National Football League after starring at West Virginia University, has been linked with your favorite football team.

The Browns, it seems, are interested in the free agent in what appears to be their never-ending search to continue the mediocrity that has plagued the position since the resurrection in 1999.

The sudden news, stemming from an NFL Network report, refers to the possible connection as “interest” on the Browns’ part.

The 26-year-old Smith recently visited the New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers in an effort to remain somewhat relevant in the NFL community. Only problem there is Eli Manning and Philip Rivers are fixtures with their respective teams and the best Smith can do is back up either veteran.

He wants to be a starting quarterback again, though, and the Browns are looking for a starting quarterback since the release of Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown. So why not kick the tires on Smith?

The mixed metaphor aside, the possibility of such a football marriage is not outside the realm of possibility, the rumors surrounding a possible trade involving Jimmy Garoppolo and drafting of Mitch Trubisky notwithstanding.

There are so many different possibilities and scenarios surrounding the immediate future of the Cleveland quarterback situation, nothing would surprise with respect to who lines up under center in game one of the 2017 season.

Smith being that guy spurred the New York Post to write the following headline regarding that possibility: Geno Smith and Browns a match made in football purgatory.

Right now, the Cleveland quarterbacks roster includes Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and Brock Osweiler. Kessler isn’t going anywhere. Hogan, barring injuries, probably winds up on the practice squad. Where Osweiler winds up is anyone’s guess.

Smith, who suffered a torn ACL last season, was 3-10 with 13 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in his last season as a starter (2014) with the Jets. It was far better than his rookie season when he tossed 12 scoring passes and was picked off 21 times.

If the Browns sign him and do not draft a top-rated college quarterback this season, that would almost assure the club will experience another season very much like the last one, a season that produced a singular victory.

That would all but insure the Browns a shot at one of the top quarterbacks in the 2018 lottery, which will boast a class far better and deeper than the one coming up in April.

If those in charge of the draft concentrate on strengthening the ancillary parts of the team – most notably the offensive and defensive lines and secondary – before honing in on the quarterback of the future, then perhaps winning football has a shot at finally returning to Cleveland.

Smith could be a temporary fill-in, much like Griffin was before him. Sort of act as a caretaker until the real thing comes along. Of course, that would require Browns fans to exercise patience for one more season, something they have become all too accustomed to for far too long.

But if the retooling of this team was done carefully, wisely and correctly, it would be well worth the wait.

Until then, why not Geno for a year? Can't be any worse than The Third. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dreaming about the future

Dream time while waiting for the Browns to make their next move . . .

It appears they have set ether quarterback sights very low if they hunger for Jimmy Garoppolo. There is another quarterback on the landscape who is much better than Garoppolo and has the stats to prove it.

He is an experienced National Football League quarterback who was rumored to be sought after by the Browns several years ago when he was a mere backup.

Here’s a hint: He backed up a former Browns quarterback.

Here’s another hint: That ex-Browns quarterback picked up the ex part of his status recently. Very recently.

That’s right, Kirk Cousins would look nice in the Seal Brown and Orange. (This is a dream, remember?)

The Washington Redskins quarterback is one unhappy camper and would not mind leaving the Nation’s Capital. Why not Cleveland?

The five-year veteran, drafted the same year as Robert Griffin III, has adamantly said he will not negotiate with the Washington front office and prefers playing elsewhere.

He has stated he wouldn’t mind heading for San Francisco where Kyle Shanahan, his offensive coordinator in Washington, is now the head coach of the 49ers.

Cousins recently signed a one-year franchise tender for $24 million that ties him to the Redskins for the upcoming season. It also sets the stage for the possibility of a trade. And the Browns have lots of ammunition to pull off such a move.

Instead of targeting the untested Garoppolo, why not give the Redskins a call and go after a genuine NFL quarterback? What harm would it do to pick up the telephone and talk to Redskins President Bruce Allen? Maybe Jimmy Haslam III can chat up Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

Dangle the No. 12 overall pick the Browns own. Maybe throw in the lesser of their two second-round selections, a fourth-rounder this year and the 2018 second-round pick they picked up in the Brock Osweiler trade.

Sure that’s an awful lot to give up for one player, but Cousins is the type of quarterback the Browns have needed for way too long. Since taking over as a starter in 2015, he has thrown for more than 9,000 yards, 44 touchdowns 23 interceptions and scored nine more times as a runner. He is a 66% career passer.

The Skins could fill the loss of Cousins by grabbing one of the quarterbacks with the 12th selection and fill in weak roster spots with the other picks

(The dream continues.)

And if the Redskins bite, how would the Browns be able to handle the $24 million tender, you ask? Easy. Sit down with the new quarterback and hammer out a long-term deal for the kind of money he seeks.

Don’t forget the Browns still have the most salary-cap space in the NFL and richly rewarding Cousins would be more than worth it. It would finally give the Browns gravitas at the most important position on the team.

With Hue Jackson as his mentor and an offensive line that will definitely be improved this season, Cousins would make a nice fit and finally solve a problem that has nagged this franchise since 1999.

(The dream comes crashing down because . . .)

The above scenario probably won’t happen because those who run this franchise are not smart enough or creative enough to at least give it a shot. It is nothing more than a pipe dream because they seem fixated on Garoppolo.

Thinking like that is what has plagued this team for what seems like forever.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Traveling music for The Third, Pryor

Right now, Brock Osweiler is on the Browns’ player roster and Robert Griffin III is not. Couldn’t have said that 48 hours ago.

Osweiler is the only quarterback on the Cleveland roster who owns more than one season of experience in the National Football League following the release Friday of Griffin.

Don’t exactly know that means since the front office decided Thursday to spend $16 million (what Osweiler is scheduled to make this season) for what amounted to a second-round pick in next year’s college draft.

Rumors persist the 6-8 Osweiler will not be on the roster when the Browns kick off the new season in September, all of which ratchets up speculation about the Jimmy Garoppolo trade scenario.

The Patriots maintain Garoppolo is going nowhere. But it’s hard to believe the front office won’t make a preemptive strike for another veteran free-agent quarterback just in case the Pats, who maintain Garoppolo won’t be traded, make believers out of some of the disbelievers in Cleveland.

Currently available are the likes of Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Foles, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Geno Smith. One of them could easily come in and keep the starter’s seat warm for a year before the Browns dip into the strong quarterback pool in the 2018 lottery.

Cutler and Fitzpatrick, both 34, would be the likeliest candidates to fill such a role. Both have experienced success in the league and could step right in and give the Browns respectable quarterbacking.

The Third’s departure, meanwhile, means owner Jimmy Haslam III is now the only Third who calls Berea his working home.

The football-playing Third was let go rather than collect a $750,000 roster bonus due Saturday, bringing to a close a sad and all-too-brief chapter in the litany of quarterback failures since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999.

The Third is merely one of 26 quarterbacks who have tried – and failed – to move this team into the realm of respectability.

His career in Cleveland started out with a broken shoulder in the season opener, continued with 10 games of healing and concluded with four games that showed he was not nearly the player who was good enough to be one of the league’s rookies of the year in 2012.

He threw two touchdown passes, both in the season finale loss to Pittsburgh, and three interceptions, while compiling only 887 yards through the air. He was clearly a shell of the player who took the NFL by storm with Washington as a rookie.

Speaking of Washington, Terrelle Pryor signed a one-year contract worth $8 million (with incentives) with the Redskins Friday, the same day the Browns officially signed Kenny Britt to a four-year deal.

In doing so, the former Ohio State quarterback never gave the Browns a chance to at least match the Redskins’ offer. So much for his public utterances of wanting to remain with the Browns “as long as (coach) Hue Jackson is here.” Well, Jackson isn’t going anywhere and Pryor is headed elsewhere.

Pryor, who sought and failed to get a long-term deal with the Browns and other interested teams, seemed to settle on the one-year Washington offer in hopes of bettering his breakout season in 2016 with the Browns and landing a big-money multi-year deal.

The big upside for his career is he now will be catching passes from Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for more than 4,900 yards last season and is far superior to any quarterback on the current Cleveland roster, and figures to be the club’s No. 1 wideout.

Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, 1,000-yard receivers with the Redskins last season, left in free agency earlier this week, Garcon heading for San Francisco and Jackson landing in Tampa Bay.

That leaves the door wide open for Pryor, who will join an offense that averaged 37½ passes a game last season, one that put the ball in the air on two of every three plays. He should flourish.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Browns finally upgrade offensive line

The wheels of progress churned furiously at Browns headquarters Thursday in Berea and at least one of their target areas in free agency was distinctly improved.

After shocking many in the world of pro football by trading for Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler, they worked on improving the offensive line on the first day of free agency.

The offensive line, the weakest area (not even arguably)on that side of the ball last season, was upgraded with the free-agent signings of center JC Tretter and guard Kevin Zeitler and the awarding of a five-year contract extension to incumbent left guard Joel Bitonio.

But the talent upgrade along the line comes with a red-flag warning. Tretter and Bitonio are injuries waiting to happen.

Bitonio has played in only 15 of the club’s 32 games the last two seasons due to injuries. Tretter, after three-injury filled seasons in Green Bay, finally nailed down a starting job last season only to suffer a season-ending knee injury in game seven. He has missed 33 games in four seasons.

While Bitonio and Tretter are highly regarded, they are clearly gambles in a sport that is considered more collision than contact. The Browns are gambling heavily those two will remain healthy for an entire season.

The Zeitler signing, which makes him the highest-paid guard in the National Football League, is a 10-strike, although the five-year, $60 million contract is somewhat steep for a player at his position. What makes him valuable is his ability to remain healthy. Outside of left tackle Joe Thomas, who has never missed a snap due to injury, the offensive line was extremely brittle last season.

In trading for Osweiler, a second-round pick in the 2018 college draft and a sixth-rounder this year for a fourth-rounder this year, the Browns have gone the analytic route. The chances of him ever donning the Seal Brown and Orange are slim.

The catch? Osweiler is scheduled to make $16 million this season and the Browns, who have about $100 million in salary cap space, can afford to absorb that obscene amount of money for someone who is clearly not worth it.

Osweiler nailed the big money when he signed a four-year, $72 million contract with the Texans after a strong showing while filling in for the injured Peyton Manning in Denver in 2015.

The question is how long will he be a part of the his new team. Rumors strongly suggest the Browns, who essentially bought a third second-pick in 2018 for $16 million, will use Osweiler as trade bait in order to get out from under his contract. Reportedly, they would be willing to eat half of the $16 million.

If no one steps up and is willing to dance with the Browns on Osweiler, they could cut him, which would amount to a salary dump, similar to what they do in the NBA when a team trades a high-salary player just to trim the payroll.

The Texans made the move to clear the monetary decks in an attempt to persuade quarterback Tony Romo, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys, to take over their offense. It is remotely possible the Browns decide to keep Osweiler for the 2017 season if they cut Robert Griffin III and the Jimmy Garoppolo deal – the oft-rumored deal that won’t die – never materializes.

Browns boss man Sashi Brown seemed more excited about obtaining the second pick than Osweiler. “We’re really excited,” he said in a news release. “Draft picks are extremely important to our approach of building a championship caliber football team.”

If that’s the case, then, why do rumors persist that Brown and his minions will make every effort to trade for Tom Brady’s backup in New England and surrender high draft picks in the process? Sounds like a contradiction.

At the risk of being repetitious, the untested Garoppolo is not worth anything more than a third-round pick. The Patriots no doubt will hold out for nothing less than at least one first-rounder, maybe more. The desperate Browns would be foolish to cave and meet whatever ridiculous demands the Patriots make.

It would appear Cleveland is far from through tapping into the free-agent market. As owner Jimmy Haslam III says, his team will be “appropriately aggressive” in an effort to make certain there will be no repeat of the 2016 season.

On deck, perhaps as early as Friday, the Browns are expected to sign veteran wide receiver Kenny Britt to a multi-year deal. The 6-3 wideout had a career season with the Los Angeles Rams last season, catching 68 passes for 1,002 yards and five touchdowns.

In his first seven seasons with Tennessee and the Rams, Britt never caught more than 48 passes and never recorded more than 775 yards in a season. He scored nine of his 30 career touchdowns in his second season.

Meanwhile, Terrelle Pryor is testing the free agent waters with several interested teams and most likely will not be back in Cleveland. He is seeking more money than the Browns apparently are willing to part with and someone out there probably will meet his demands.

If the big wide receiver becomes a former Cleveland Brown, that aspect of the offense will take a significant hit. Even though he played just one full season with Cleveland after switching to the position from quarterback, he is a more polished receiver than Britt.

Stay tuned. Based on Thursday’s action, we will see more moves as the Browns make a concerted effort to stockpile as many draft choices, an art at which they have become quite good, as they can.

Only one problem. The wisdom shown with the selections of those choices, at least based on how last season’s class panned out, seems to be missing. Of the 14 picks in last year’s lottery, only one, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, made significant contributions.

One in 14 does not bode well for the future of a team that has seven picks in the first four rounds of the next two drafts.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thoughts on Belichick, Trubisky, Garrett and Pryor

Thoughts as the National Football League Combine, a.k.a. the NFL’s annual meat market, drones on in Indianapolis . . .

Thank you, Bill Belichick. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for doing what’s best for your team and not trading Jimmy Garoppolo.

Thank you from preventing the Browns from making a big mistake and dealing at least one high draft choice – and who knows how much else – for your yet-to-prove-he’s-ready and untested quarterback.

Several heavyweight members of the media have reported that Garoppolo, long thought to be on the market as he approaches the final season of his contract as Tom Brady’s backup in New England, will spend that final season in the same role.

Adam Schefter, Peter King, et al predict Garoppolo will stay put as Brady’s caddy. Those heavyweights are almost never wrong.

Oh and belated thanks, coach, for helping the Browns midway through last season when you shipped outside linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland.
*       *       *
Why was Browns coach Hue Jackson so excited to learn North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky checked in at an eighth of an inch taller than 6-2?  As if that fraction of an inch made him a more desirable candidate to be the club’s top pick in the college draft.

“I think a guy has to be about 6-2 to play in this league,” said the coach, who recommended the Browns select 6-1 Cody Kessler in the third round of last year’s draft. “. . . the majority of guys who have played are 6-2 or a little bit better and that’s just what I like in a quarterback.”

The “little bit better” might include Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, the 6-4 quarterbacks who faced each other in the last Super bowl game, and 6-5 Ben Roethlisberger, who owns a pair of Super Bowl rings.

Read between the lines. Jackson is not going to knock Trubisky or any quarterback coming out of college for that matter, no matter how tall or short they are.

Don’t believe Jackson’s excitement at Trubisky’s vertical measurement. It’s all part of the hype. He knows the overall talent quotient on this team is lacking and other more vital areas need to be improved first.

Mark this down: The Browns will not make Trubisky the No. 1 selection in the entire draft. Do not take seriously all the rhetoric about the kid from Mentor that will emanate from Indianapolis this weekend.

Some media reports indicate the Browns are seriously considering just that. Considering means just that. They also most likely are considering Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer and Patrick Mahomes.

There will be some crazy rumors put out there in the next two months to whet appetites. The latest one has Belichick changing his mind on keeping Garoppolo if the right deal comes along. It’s all nonsense.

If the Browns, who need help everywhere on the roster, even think about trading the 12th overall pick for Garoppolo, they need to hire a team psychiatrist for the front office.
*       *       *
Right now, Myles Garrett of Texas A&M is the name you can expect Commissioner Roger Goodell will intone first on April 27 in Philadelphia and the Browns will finally get the edge rusher they so desperately need.

The two departments that are absolute musts to improve on for this team are rushing the quarterback and protecting the quarterback. All of which means significant attention must be paid early and often to the trenches.   

Teams that effectively rush the opposing quarterback and protect their own more often than not are successful. Cleveland’s trenches are among the worst, maybe the worst, in the league. Ignore that aspect of the game and you are asking for trouble.
*       *       *
The Browns have wisely chosen not to slap the franchise tag on wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Smart move. He is a latecomer to the position and while he gained more than 1,000 yards receiving last season, he is still a relative neophyte and does not deserve that kind of money.

Pryor is smart, learned the nuances of a new position quickly and displayed strong hands, especially in jump ball situations. But the league caught on to him late in the season and slowed him down considerably.

In the first 12 games of the 2016 season, the 6-4 receiver had 62 receptions for 855 yards and four touchdowns. In the final four games, he was held to just 15 catches for 152 yards and no touchdowns, including a three-game stretch where he caught just eight balls for 58 yards.

The former Ohio State quarterback is not yet an elite receiver and should not be paid like one. But there is no question he has made a successful transition from failed NFL quarterback to quality receiver. And the best part is he says he wants to return to the team next season.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

News & views

News: The Browns release quarterback Josh McCown and cornerback Tramon Williams.

Views: Addition by subtraction.

McCown only clogged up the quarterbacks room and at 37 (he’ll be 38 in July), it’s time for him to move on and add one more destination tag to his luggage stash and then retire.

Williams was signed as a free agent after a half dozen decent seasons with Green Bay, but his best days are long gone and he contributed little to the cause in Cleveland. His days as a Brown do not belong in the Hall of Fond Memories.

McCown, the epitome of the journeyman quarterback, merely filled a void in the offensive structure of the team for a couple of seasons until the so-called franchise quarterback is identified and signed. His statistical contributions with Cleveland were 11 starts in two seasons with a 1-10 record.

That lone victory was a 33-30 overtime thriller in Baltimore in game five of the 2015 season when he threw for a career-best 457 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and completed 36 of his 51 passes.

His release immediately turns one’s attention to and further heats up rumors that the Browns have serious designs on New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. It also ignites notions that Robert Griffin III could be the next to depart in an effort to totally repopulate the quarterbacks room for the 2017 season.

That most likely will not happen because the club needs to keep The Third as insurance if efforts to obtain Garoppolo fall through. Rookies Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan also return, but neither conjures up thoughts of winning football.

Williams, who swiped just two passes in his two seasons, was on the backside of his career when he arrived and saw action this season only because injuries racked the Cleveland secondary. With the emergence of Brien Boddy-Calhoun and Jamar Taylor, his departure will not be felt.

News: Browns claim local kid and former Ohio State free safety Tyvis Powell on waivers from Seattle.

Views: Can’t hurt.

The Bedford native, who went undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Seahawks last season, certainly has the size at 6-3, 210 pounds. That’s the kind of size the Seahawks like in their secondary, so placing him on waivers came as somewhat of a surprise.

The knock against Powell, who says he always wanted to be a Cleveland Brown, is that despite his size, he does not attack ball carriers. The NFL.com scouting report labels him a “waist-bending head ducker into his tackles. Waits on running backs to get up on him rather that attacking downhill.”

One Big Ten Conference offensive assistant coach in that same scouting report said, “Our game plan was to run at him and away from (Vonn) Bell.”

As a pass defender, again according to the scouting report, Powell “lets deep ball responsibility get behind him when locking in on the quarterback.” Troubling for sure for a free safety, but very correctable.

He turns 23 years old in a week. He wants to play for his hometown team. Right now, that’s good enough for a team struggling to recover from a season that can’t be purged quickly enough from the memory bank.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Say no to Belichick

One of these years, sanity and the right thing to do will return to 76 Lou Groza Blvd. in Berea. This will not be that year.

That feeling is based on lingering rumors that continue to link the Browns with backup New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in an off-season trade. Those rumors refuse to disappear despite their absurdity.

Let us be perfectly clear about one thing. The Browns definitely need a quarterback. The talent at that position on the roster right now is not adequate enough to field a representative offense. That is an absolute.

But Garoppolo, who hasn’t proven a thing in his three seasons as Tom Brady’s backup in New England, is not the quarterback to take the Browns to a level they haven’t experienced since the old Browns left Cleveland for Baltimore in 1995.

There is no question he will be the flavor of the offseason when it comes to National Football League quarterbacks who will change teams. His name will be the most uttered the day after the Super Bowl ends as the rumor mills heat up even more.

Jimmy Garoppolo to the Browns. Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo to the Chicago Bears. Get used to it. All those teams need quarterbacks. And they just happen to be 1-2-3 in the opening round of the NFL’s annual college draft.

All have high picks to deal when the Patriots come calling. The Browns also own two second-rounders and can easily offer the Patriots more that the 49ers and Bears.

The most envied man in that swirling world will be Patriots coach/dictator Bill Belichick, who runs his franchise autonomously. You can bet he will try to extract every ounce of blood and whatever other body matter from the team he will eventually swindle.

The problem here is the Browns are his No. 1 target, mainly because they own two first-round picks (Nos. 1 and 12) in the lottery in late April. First-round draft picks are precious. They are like gold, especially if they are high.

So why is that a problem? Because the Browns are the NFL team that most typifies Murphy’s Law. That’s the one that states, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” The Browns have become the league’s poster child in that regard.

How else can one explain what has transpired on the field since the NFL (sarcasm alert) magnanimously (end sarcasm alert) allowed Cleveland to reenter the league after three undeserved seasons of absence? It has been one blunder after another for 18 consecutive seasons.

And now, if the aforementioned rumors are to be believed, the Browns are on the precipice of making yet another mistake of disastrous proportions that will cost them for seasons. They have the goods to deal and Belichick is frothing in the shadows.

The Browns’ front office needs to answer the following questions.

Is Garoppolo the next Aaron Rodgers, who languished behind Brett Favre for three seasons in Green Bay before taking over and carving out a career that most certainly will end with him holding a Hall of Fame bust in Canton five years after his retirement?

Or is Garoppolo the next Scott Mitchell, who parlayed one great season in Miami in the 1990s into a mediocre career in Detroit? Or is he the next Kevin Kolb, the quarterback who failed miserably in Arizona between Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer?

Perhaps Garoppolo is the next Brock Osweiler, who shepherded the Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl a year ago when Peyton Manning went down, ditched the Broncos for Houston in free agency and performed with such mediocrity with the Texans that he lost his starting job late this past season.

Is Garoppolo the franchise quarterback the Browns have sought for so long? Is he worth the ransom Belichick is certain to ask for? This 25-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears quarterback who has thrown only 94 NFL passes?

He was supposed to start the Patriots’ first four games this past season while Brady served a four-game suspension, He made it through one and a half, exiting the second game in the first half with a shoulder injury. Fragile maybe?

Is he worth the gamble that almost certainly will rob the Browns of the opportunity to improve a roster that needs help in so many different areas? The correct answer is no, although I’m not certain the poobahs in Berea realize it.

Belichick dangling Garoppolo will be an intoxicant for Sashi Brown and the boys. They must resist for the greater good. Let the 49ers and Bears fight over him. Let them make the mistake of paying way too much for an unknown quantity.

New San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, when he coordinated the Cleveland offense a few years ago, loved Garoppolo when he entered the draft. And Chicago is home territory for the Eastern Illinois product.

It’s high time the Browns’ front office did something right.  The only problem is the current crew has not shown any evidence they know what they are doing.

There is still plenty of time between now and the draft for the Browns to firmly toe the line and say no to any efforts by Belichick to entice them to part with any of their first four selections.

An untested quarterback cannot help the current Cleveland offense at the expense of any of those picks. It can be helped, though, by wise drafting that plugs holes in vital areas (the offensive line, for one). It all starts up front.

In their seemingly never-ending search for the quarterback of the future, the Browns have trotted 26 starters through the gristmill since the resurrection in 1999. One would think simple odds would have been in their favor to end that search.

Flawed thinking, such as what we have witnessed in the last year, indicates that trend is going to continue if the Garoppolo rumors are true. He will be just another name added to the list of failed Cleveland quarterbacks if that’s the road Brown and his minions choose to go down.

I said it before and I’ll say it again. Jimmy Garoppolo is worth nothing more than a third-round pick and even that is being generous.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Time for Browns to rule out trading No. 1 pick

It’s still way too early to discuss the Browns’ options with regard to the top pick in April’s college football draft.

That’s why it is difficult to take Browns coach Hue Jackson seriously when he told reporters Wednesday at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., that the possibility of trading that selection is not off the board.

“Everything for right now is going to be negotiable and talked about,” Jackson said. “Until we sit down and talk about where we are and what we’re trying to do, then we’ll know. We haven’t had those discussions. Right now, we’re just in the beginning phases of all of it. We’ve got a long way to go before we get to that decision.”

Reading between the lines, he did not rule out the possibility of trading out of the top spot in order to stockpile more picks for this year and beyond. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be a problem. But the brief history of drafting by the current team in place in the war room indicates adding picks is not necessarily the way to go.

The braintrust twice traded down from the No. 2 overall pick they owned last season and wound up with wide receiver Corey Coleman, whose contribution to the offense ranked somewhere between absent (due to injury) and underwhelming (being charitable here).

And with the next 13 picks, they defied the odds and failed to select anyone who can honestly be considered a difference maker. Somewhere along the line, one would think, they would have gotten lucky and stumbled into such a player. Based on that performance, it is difficult to have faith in them.

The very thought they have not absolutely ruled out swapping out of the top spot this year is concerning. Based once again on last year’s disappointing draft choices, it seems as though the talent evaluation bar has been lowered at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.

That is why it is imperative that Sashi Brown & Co. sticks with picks one and 12 in the first round and five of the first 65. That is where the best talent resides. It makes no sense to trade down for the Browns, who displayed personnel ignorance in doing so last year.

If anything, they should think seriously about trading up as much as possible to corral that talent. This team’s roster needs a substantial upgrade in talent in order to make a genuine effort to improve.

Last season’s 1-15 record was a direct reflection of the front office’s inability to piece together a roster capable of playing anything that resembled competitive football. Wisdom in the war room is essential if that is to occur.

Based on their initial run last year, though, the likelihood of that happening is, at best, negligible. And Jackson’s pre-draft thinking, albeit way too early, could be construed as a portent of things to come.

The idea of adding picks through trades is intoxicating, for sure. But if you do not select with intelligence, which the current regime has done, then all those numbers mean nothing in the end.

It is nothing more than an exercise in futility, one that has become all too commonplace regardless of whoever is the architect.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Browns need new offensive voice

Hue Jackson appears to be repeating the same coaching mistake he made last season, which, of course, turned out to be disastrous.

Last time I looked, Jackson bore the title of head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Not offensive coordinator. Not defensive coordinator. Not special teams coach. He is the head coach.

The main job of the head coach of any football team, especially one in the National Football League, is to establish the team’s culture with specific directions in all phases.

To that end, his prime responsibility is to coach his coaches. Let his coaches coach the players. After all, that is what they are hired to do. And that is where Jackson makes his mistake for the second year in a row.

Last season, the season when the Browns won only one game and that just barely, Jackson was, for all intents and purposes, the de facto offensive coordinator. The staff did not have, nor do they have now, someone whose title is offensive coordinator.

Pep Hamilton, who recently left to become offensive coordinator at the University of Michigan, was the Browns’ passing game coordinator last season. He and run game coordinator Kirby Wilson drew up game plans. Jackson called all the plays.

He told cleveland.com recently from Mobile, Ala., where he and his staff are coaching the South team in the annual Senior Bowl game, that he is “leaning toward” not filling Hamilton’s spot on the coaching roster.

“The staff we have down here is the staff we have and I want to see,” he said. “I’ve made some adjustments. Greg Seamon (who moves from tight ends coach to quarterbacks coach) will help me with the quarterbacks.”

By immersing himself totally into the offense, Jackson is robbing himself of the ability to make smart, quick in-game decisions with an emphasis on anticipating and solving a problem before it erupts. Instead of looking at the whole picture because he is so fixed on one side of the ball, he sees only a part of the picture.

The reason he has chosen this course of coaching for the second season in a row, it appears, is because of the hiring of Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. “He raises the level of the building,” Jackson said of his new defensive boss.

“He has a belief in how you play defense and it falls right in line with the vision I have or our defensive football team. He wants to be very dominating on that side of the ball as we want to be on offense. So far, so good. It’s a good marriage.”

It’s a marriage that is barely a week old and already the head coach has anointed the newcomer as thebe-all and end-all cure for what ails the Browns on defense. It also is an indictment against Ray Horton, the man Jackson cajoled and ultimately convinced to return to the Browns after a couple of seasons in Tennessee.

Truth be told, the defensive side of the football was not the only embarrassment for the Browns this past season. Embarrassment lived everywhere up and down the roster, including Jackson’s offense.

That offense, which ranked 31st out of 32 teams in points scored, scored only 264 points, while Horton’s defense, which ranked 30th in points allowed, surrendered 452.

The offense, which scored only 29 touchdowns all season, topped more than 20 points on only four occasions. The defense, which gave up 56 touchdowns, allowed 27 or more points in 12 games. The statistics were a litany of embarrassment and futility.

Instead of bringing in a true offensive coordinator, whose focus would be entirely on moving the football, Jackson piles more responsibility onto his shoulders. It sounds as though he is either unable to trust anyone else to run the offense or has a vastly overinflated opinion of himself.

He is basically doubling down on proving to the fans that what they witnessed in 2016 was an aberration. That this team is really not that bad when it owns the football. In so doing, he takes away from his effectiveness as a head coach.

Most successful teams have a clear division of authority within the coaches’ room. Rarely will you see a successful head coach who doubles as a coordinator, especially one so relatively inexperienced as Jackson, who has only two seasons as a head coach on his résumé.

He needs to take a rather large step back, look at the big picture and reassess. This is a big season for him and his job security. Another season like the one the fans endured very well could give owner Jimmy Haslam III great pause to wonder whether allowing Jackson to do double coaching duty again was wise.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

 Catching up with the Browns

. . . after a brief respite with some news and views . . .

News: Browns fire Ray Horton as defensive coordinator and hire Gregg Williams.

Views: Full disclosure: I liked the appointment of Horton as DC the first time a few years ago and again this past season. I apologize . . . twice. So let’s try this again.

The reason I liked Horton was his aggressive approach to defense, something he brought when he arrived from a couple of seasons as the defensive boss with the Arizona Cardinals

He learned defense from Dick LeBeau, his mentor in Pittsburgh and one of the great defensive minds in National Football League history. I thought he would incorporate many of LeBeau’s successful schematics into his approach. That he did not hastened his departure from Cleveland . . . twice.

Now then, Gregg Williams, who brings his own style of defense to Cleveland. It is the antithesis of his predecessor. Defense is all about aggression. And Williams’ reputation bathes in that aggression.

That reputation says he is tough and demanding. You play his way or you play for someone else. He does not appear to be a coddler. That’s only a small part of the kind of discipline the Browns desperately need on that side of the ball.

This is a good hire. Williams is a devotee of the 4-3 scheme. Horton was a 3-4 guy with personnel much more suited to the 4-3. In fact, the Browns played some 4-3 when Horton moved rookie Emmanuel Ogbah from outside linebacker to defensive end, where he was more effective, for several games.

The Browns entered the season finale in Pittsburgh with just 22 sacks – forget the four they had against backup Landry Jones – in a season where dropping opposing quarterbacks was foreign. That number will change dramatically under Williams.

A strong, successful pass rush has a direct impact on the secondary. Give the quarterback enough time to throw and he will pick apart even the best of secondaries in the NFL. The Cleveland secondary suffered mightily all season as a result.

Putting pressure on the quarterback – make him throw before he wants to, make him feel extremely uncomfortable, plant doubt in his mind – takes loads of pressure off the secondary in coverage. Timing is everything in the passing game. Tamper with it successfully and bad things happen.

Twenty-six is not – and shouldn’t be – an acceptable number for a season sacks total. The big question is whether the Cleveland front office will provide Williams with the personnel necessary to accomplish his mission.

To that end, the move to the 4-3 will be a perfect reason for the Browns to select Myles Garrett of Texas A&M with the first overall pick, resisting what probably will be an overwhelming urge to take North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky. More on that later.

The 3-4 is basically three defensive tackles along the line. With the 4-3 about to make its comeback in Cleveland, Ogbah and fellow rookie Carl Nassib will be thrust into Williams’ crosshairs with regard to the pass rush.

Ogbah was, relatively speaking, clearly the best of the 14 draft picks last year. But he was not an impact player, a difference maker. He did not stand out above all the rest on defense, making key play after key play.

Nassib got off to a nice start, broke his hand early and was ineffective upon his return once opposing teams discovered how to handle him. He was a 4-3 end clearly out of place in the 3-4. Garrett should have no problem securing a starting spot if selected.

The lineman who figures to benefit most from the 4-3 is Danny Shelton, whose main responsibility as nose tackle in the 3-4 was tying up two offensive linemen and keeping his inside linebackers clean. Under Williams, he will have company inside and rushing the passer will be among his primary functions.

If nothing else, Williams will bring a culture back to the defense that has been missing for far too long. What kind of culture? Nasty, of course.

News: Mitch Trubisky declares fort the 2017 college football draft.

Views: Free advice to the Browns’ front office: Resist, resist, resist. And then resist some more until it becomes a natural reaction. Do not draft this kid.

On the plus side, selecting Trubisky would be a natural public relations move as the No. 1 pick. He’s from Mentor and is coming off a successful – resisting here to call it great – season with the Tar Heels. But – and here comes the negative side – he is not nearly ready to play in the NFL.

Can’t remember the last quarterback to come into the NFL and play well with only 13 collegiate starts on his résumé. Trubisky, who languished for three seasons at North Carolina before getting his chance last season, is a relative neophyte to the football wars and nowhere near being ready to make the significant jump to the NFL.

If the Browns fail to resist the temptation and make him the lottery’s first overall selection, they not only will derail any hopes for a shot at respectability, they will seriously harm the future of the hometown kid.

Someone in the ivory tower – I believe it was chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta – explained that the reason the Browns traded down from the No. 2 pick when they had a chance to pick Carson Wentz last season was because Wentz was not a top 20 quarterback.

Using that reasoning, the Browns would look foolish taking Trubisky at No. 1 because nothing he has accomplished in his 13 starts screams top 20 quarterback. He would arrive as nothing more than a project. Wentz was NFL ready and proved it.

Because he has become the flavor of the month in the eyes of those who zealously follow the draft, Trubisky most likely will be a top 10 selection, maybe as high as No. 2 with San Francisco.

This is not nearly as deep a draft for quarterbacks as was last year’s. Somewhere in the middle rounds, though, lurks a quarterback who will surprise. A Tom Brady. A Dak Prescott. A Russell Wilson. That hidden gem who arrives quietly to little fanfare and then surprises.

The Patriots got lucky with Brady, the Cowboys with Prescott and the Seahawks with Wilson.

The Browns thought they uncovered that gem last year with Cody Kessler. No such luck no matter what Hue Jackson says. “Trust me,” the coach said shortly after the Browns drafted the USC quarterback in the third round as if he was the quarterback of the future. No he wasn’t. He is not NFL starting material.

Selecting Trubisky No. 1 would be a mistake for any number of reasons, not the least of which is this team needs help just about everywhere else up and down the roster. Drafting someone who most likely won’t play for at least one season is flat out wrong.

Re-crafting and rebuilding this roster also requires the ability to correctly judge the talent available. And based on its performance in the last lottery, those in charge in Berea fell woefully short in that department.

What I most fear is the Browns trading out of the top spot in order to stockpile more picks throughout the seven rounds. They need to keep what they’ve got and make intelligent decisions. They need help in the trenches, especially the trenches when they don’t have the ball. Time to stock up there.

News: Jimmy Garoppolo’s name linked to Browns-Patriots trade rumors.

Views: The Browns do not need another question mark at quarterback and that is exactly what Garoppolo is. He has started two games in his three seasons with New England. He was supposed to start four while Brady served his four-game session in the Deflategate case, but suffered a sprained shoulder halfway through start two.

He won both games, is clearly an unknown quantity, but it’s fun to suggest what it would take to bring the untested veteran to the Browns. Rumors suggest Bill Belichick wants to extract a heavy price for the 25-year-old, like maybe a first-round pick.

The Browns have two of those in Nos. 1 and 12, but surrendering either of those would be unwise. No, make that stupid. Garoppolo is worth nothing more than a third-round pick. It is not a given he could come to the Browns and provide an immediate panacea.

News: Johnny Manziel will hold two autograph sessions at a Houston area mall just prior to the Super Bowl.

Views: Who cares. That is not a question. It is a statement. The ex-Browns quarterback is ancient history. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Monday leftovers (Wednesday edition)

If you want to know how Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry wound up on top of the Browns’ flow chart a year ago, the answer appears in an interesting column by Conor Orr of NFL.com last Nov. 30.

It details the input of Korn Ferry International, an executive search firm out of Los Angeles, and how that company factored into Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III forming his new front office a year ago following the departure of General Manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine.

Haslam, perhaps because he was at his wits’ end as to how to fix a broken franchise with no relief in sight, obviously solicited the help of Korn Ferry before making his final decision. Nothing else worked in his first four years, so why not try something different.

The result of those moves by the Browns owner after the overtime loss in Pittsburgh Sunday, of course, is a 1-15 record, a mark that will live in infamy for a franchise that was once one of the proudest and strongest franchises in the National Football League. Neither the pride nor strength exists today.

So when the question was asked at the conclusion of the 2015 season as to how low could it go after Farmer and Pettine were cashiered, we now have the answer as the Browns fandom shrinks exponentially.
*       *       *
And now that the disaster known as the 2016 season has concluded, talk now turns to the NFL college draft. It’s the time of the year, unfortunately, most looked forward to by fans of the team in lieu of something, anything, of a positive nature.

So where do the Browns, who own the first overall pick, need help the most? Just about everywhere on the roster except linebacker, easily the strongest and deepest position on the club with inside backers Christian Kirksey and Demario Davis and outside backer Jamie Collins.

“We need to use it wisely and make good decisions,” Haslam said Sunday after the Pittsburgh loss. “The reason we were 1-15 . . .  is that the Cleveland Browns, including on our watch, have not made good decisions in the draft. It’s real simple.”

And yet, the same people in charge of last year’s lottery, during which the team made 14 selections in seven rounds after moving up and down several times, returns after trying and missing the bull’s-eye on each one. Fourteen picks and not one difference maker.

If Haslam hired someone to run his truck stop business and they missed the mark after 14 attempts on a project, that employee would be fired, probably well before attempt No. 14. And yet, these guys get a second chance. (Sound of one scratching one’s head.)

The Cleveland troika of Brown, DePodesta and Berry has 13 more shots at the draft this season unless, of course, they get the up-and-down-the-draft itch again and cull a few more. They own two picks again in the first round at 1 and 12, courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles, and four of the top 50.

Unlike last season, this is not a quarterback-rich draft and none of those who have declared are worth a top pick or even a 12th.  The Browns need too much help elsewhere to be thinking quarterback in the first two rounds.

Most mock drafts have them actually making a pick with their first selection, instead of trading down, and the name most guessed is Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, a 6-5, 270-pounder with impressive statistics. More on Garrett in a bit.

A few mock draft “experts” believe the Browns will opt for North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who starred for the Tar Heels in his first season as a starter. Choosing Trubisky, who hails from Mentor in suburban Cleveland, would be a public relations dream.

Two problems: He has not declared for the draft. And there are those who believe he is not ready yet for the NFL and would benefit from another year in school. If he decides to stay in school, the argument to pick him becomes moot. If not, the argument begins: Garrett or Trubisky.

When you are drafting No. 1, you select the highest graded player on your board regardless of position. Garrett, according to most experts, is a no-brainer. He will fit in right away and make a difference. Trubisky is a roll of the dice whose grade will be lower.

Garrett arrives in the NFL with some impressive credentials such as 32½ sacks and 48½ tackles for loss in three seasons with the Aggies. The two areas for the Browns that need the most help are the offensive and defensive lines. Garrett can provide some of that help. Unless, of course, the bright lights running the Cleveland draft trade down.

Choosing Garrett would be a good start for a team that needs to rebuild the trenches on both sides of the ball. I can’t say enough times how important it is to be strong at the line of scrimmage. Sack the opposing quarterback and protect your quarterback. Win there and everything filters back.
*     *       *
Now that he has indicated he is rewarding his front office for its sterling efforts with at least another season, it has to be assumed Haslam is also retaining his current coach. That’s the way it should be.

It is not Hue Jackson’s fault he was handed a roster that might be one of the worst – nah, make that the worst – roster in recent memory. That roster did not get any better as the season unfolded.

The only significant move the front office made was the acquisition of Collins from the New England Patriots in mid-season. The former Pro Bowler made an immediate impact and is a building block on a team that doesn’t have nearly enough of them.

He was involved in 43 tackles (31 solo) in eight games with the Patriots and busted loose with 69 tackles (48 solo) in his eight outings with Cleveland. The free agent is a must sign in the offseason.

Other than that, this roster seriously lacks the kind of talent that wins games. And the fault for that lies squarely with the troika suggested to Haslam by Korn Ferry.

Someone, maybe it was Bill Parcells, once said a head coach is only as good as the players he works with. Which means Jackson never really had a chance to show why he was the correct choice to succeed Pettine. He battled personnel issues – lack of talent – all season long.

His mistake at the beginning of the season was coaching this team, at least from an offensive standpoint, as though it had more talent than it really did. Instead of coaching down to their level, he treated them as though they were like the successful Cincinnati Bengals offense he coordinated before arriving in Cleveland.

He asked the players on offense to perform beyond their capabilities. Asked them to run plays that more often than not failed because they were not good enough or talented enough to execute them successfully. Winning, it is said, is an attitude. But if the talent is lacking, attitude goes just so far.

There were moments throughout the season that produced positive glimpses of the future. Unfortunately, there were far too few of them and did not last very long.

A change at the top within the ivory tower with emphasis on seriously upgrading the talent quotient of the team is the only saving grace for Jackson. Give the man talent and he will more than justify his selection as head coach and erase, or at least shove far into the background, the memory of the 2016 season.
*       *       *
Final statistics and league rankings Browns coaches and personnel people should pay very close attention to, especially the sacks totals, as they prepare for the draft . . .

Offense: Overall 311 yards a game (30th in the 32-team league), 204 yards passing (30th), 107 yards running (19th). Defense: Overall 392 yards a game (31st), 143 yards running  (31st), 250 yards passing (21st). Penalty yards: 736 yards (31st surprisingly, only 10 yards more than Cincinnati)  Points scored: 264 (31st); points allowed: 452 points (30th ). Time of possession: 28:16 a game (30th). Sacks: 26 (tied for 30th with Detroit). Sacks allowed: a club record 66 (a distant 32nd, 17 more than runner-up Los Angeles). Turnover ratio: -12 (29th). And last but certainly not least, 138 quarterback hits (32nd). Is it any wonder the Browns went through five quarterbacks (not counting Terrelle Pryor) this season?
*       *       *
And finally . . . The final stats more specifically say Pryor was by far the most productive wide receiver, enhancing his chances of escaping Cleveland as a free agent. He wound up with 77 catches for 1,007 yards, but only four touchdowns. . . . The leading touchdown maker was running back Isaiah Crowell, who scored seven and came within 48 yards of a 1,000-yard season, He also caught 40 passes, after catching only 19 last season, for 319 yards. . . . Quarterback Robert Griffin III was dropped 22 times in five starts. . . . Longest kickoff return: 36 yards by newcomer Mario Alford; longest punt return: 18 yards by Duke Johnson Jr. Come back Travis Alexander. All is forgiven. . . . Most tackles: Christian Kirksey 148, including 96 solo. . . . Most sacks: Rookie Emmanuel Ogbah with 5½. . . .Interceptions: just 10, three each by Jamar Taylor, Joe Haden and Brien-Boddy-Calhoun and one by Tramon Williams. All 10 picks were by cornerbacks. That’s an indictment. . . . Cody Parkey missed five field goals, all between 40 and 49 yards. . . . Final Duke Johnson Jr. watch: 126 touches for 872 yards. That’s 6.92 yards a touch. Maybe next season.