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.”

Exactly.

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.