Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Who is the bridge quarterback now?

Well, well, well. Didn’t see that one coming.

Neither did Browns General Manager John Dorsey and it sent him back to the drawing board.

Late Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs (unofficially) traded quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins, a move that directly impacted the Browns. It is unofficial because it cannot be consummated officially for another month or so.

It had a direct impact on Dorsey’s plans to remodel his team from the studs out on offense. Smith was to be the key piece of those plans. The GM reportedly attempted to deal for Smith, but apparently with not enough ammunition to pull it off.

The Redskins had been looking for a reason to disinvite Kirk Cousins back for another season and found it through the Chiefs, who made Smith available to pave the way for Patrick Mahomes to take over their offense.

Smith would have been a perfect bridge quarterback for the Browns, the veteran presence who would immediately improve a moribund Cleveland offense and serve at least a couple of seasons as a teacher for the young quarterback Dorsey is certain to select in the college draft.

That radically changes the initial plans for Dorsey, who now faces the distinct possibility of having to choose from seconds as his choice to become an interim quarterback until the next rookie quarterback is ready.

The list past Smith and Cousins is weak at best. That means Plan B for Dorsey. Or C. Maybe D and E.

Unless Jimmy Haslam III opens the vault completely for Cousins and says, “How much is enough?” and even that might not be enough to land him, the list of possible bridge quarterbacks is not encouraging.

Cousins is more likely to wind up with either Arizona, Denver or Buffalo, teams desperate for a quarterbacks with solid defenses, strong running games and decent receivers.

At this point in his career, money might not be the deciding factor. It is entirely possible he would take less money than the Browns can offer in order to land with a franchise that has a much better chance than the Browns to make the postseason. He is also too young to be a bridge to the future quarterback.

There is also the remote possibility Dorsey can convince Cousins Cleveland is where he should be. In that case, he most likely would abandon his search for the young quarterback, at least at the top of the draft, and concentrate on filling other vital areas on the roster.

If that fails, leading candidates are the Minnesota Vikings trio of Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum and Sam Bradford, Cincinnati’s AJ McCarron, Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo, Blake Bortles of Jacksonville and Chase Daniel, who backs up Drew Brees in New Orleans and was a backup in Kansas City when Dorsey was GM there.

Then there are Jay Cutler and Matt Moore in Miami, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick and the freest of free agents, Colin Kaepernick, the toxic quarterback whose name inevitably lands on lists such as this.

Forget Jimmy Garoppolo. There is no way the San Francisco 49ers let him go after he pumped life back into a staggering franchise at the tail end of last season.

The Browns also might consider bringing back Josh McCown, who played surprisingly well for the New York Jets last season, to guide the high draft pick in the right direction as he acclimates to the National Football League.

The Vikings most likely will keep two of their quarterbacks – Keenum, who led then to the playoffs, and probably Bridgewater, who is still young enough to overcome an injury-filled career. Bradford, who has missed 32 games in seven seasons, is an injury waiting to happen.

Unless the quarterbacks landscape around the NFL changes drastically in the next six week, the leading candidates are Bradford, Daniel, Taylor (if released by the Bills), Bortles (if released by the Jaguars) and McCarron, who almost became Cleveland’s quarterback last season before the front office screwed up the deal.

Then again, it is entirely possible new offensive coordinator Todd Haley thinks he might be able to unlock the mystery that was DeShone Kizer last season, something head coach Hue Jackson was unable to do, and Dorsey concentrates on the draft selection.

What looked promising as recently as a few days ago now joins the Browns’ mounting scrap heap of disappointments and serves a reminder of just how difficult Dorsey’s new job is.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Silly season

It’s that time of the pro football year again, sports fans. And I don’t mean Super Bowl LII.

It’s the time of the year when normal fans of the sport like to play general manager. They believe they can forecast the future.

They jump all over rumors – real and otherwise, mostly otherwise – with regard to the annual National Football League college draft. They analyze, overanalyze and draw all kinds of conclusions, a vast majority of them incorrect.

It’s silly season once again and the draft zealots are off and running at a dazzling and incredibly dizzying pace. By the time the April 26-28 event unfolds in Arlington, Texas, what we see and hear today will not be even remotely close to what eventually transpires.

Who will the Browns select with the No. 1 pick? Will it be a quarterback over super duper running back Saquon Barkley? Will they trade it? Discuss. 

The lottery is exactly 87 days away and already, a fever has gripped its fandom. They try to make sense out of rumors spread throughout the NFL leading up to the big and very popular event.

They jump on a variety of Web sites and inject their thoughts based solely on their belief they have a good idea of what is going to happen. They do not hesitate to offer suggestions to those in charge of their favorite team.

There is no more vocal, ardent and emotional fan base than that of the Cleveland Browns. The brand new front office has given that starving fan base renewed energy and hope the immediate future is not nearly as dismal as the past 19 seasons have been.

And thus, they closely – and I mean real closely to the point they hang on his every word – follow the utterings of General Manager John Dorsey as he begins his quest to turn the NFL’s annual loser into a winner.

They attempt to parse his words during a time when general managers, head coaches, scouts and front-office people in general flirt with the truth to the media. Can you say smoke screens? Prevarication has become an art form with these guys.

What people on that level say at this time of the year means nothing. It’s not what they say that counts. It’s what they don’t say. Deception is the name of the game and it’s a game they enjoy playing.

Never let the opposition know you’re thinking. Keep them guessing. Sometimes it works. Much more often than not it doesn’t.

The gullibility factor lures ordinary fans into the picture and gives birth to nonsense, providing crazy scenarios that have absolutely no chance of eventuating. With two of the first four selections, for example, some fans openly suggest trades that makes sense to them at the time.

They are swayed by the thoughts of, in this case, Dorsey when asked of his thoughts on this player or that player. Those thoughts are taken seriously.

Case in point the Senior Bowl game last weekend in Mobile, Ala. Dorsey, who almost certainly will grab a quarterback with one of his two early picks in the first round, praised quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen.

Pundits, draft experts and fans jumped all over that and had Dorsey homing in on one of them with one of those choices. One site predicted the undersized Mayfield was a virtual lock to be the top pick in one of its early mock drafts.

Mel Kiper Jr. the venerable college draft expert with ESPN, is convinced, at least right now, that Dorsey will make Allen, who has a bazooka attached to his right shoulder, the No 1 selection. Hang in there. That will change soon enough.

That’s all part of silly season. Between now and late April, Kiper and his draft brethren will change the top of their mocks based on rumors and inside information. They almost certainly will look entirely different at the top by the time NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell puts the Browns on the clock.

In the meantime, we’ll all be subjected to the wild scenarios that exist in the minds of those faux general managers who valiantly continue to tap into Dorsey’s thoughts as they vicariously help him turn this franchise around.

Next up on the college draft rumor mill circuit, the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 27-March 5. That’s when quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen step front and center.

This will be the first time many teams will be able to see the top-rated underclassmen perform in person. They are solidly in the crosshairs of pundits, several of whom have the Browns taking Darnold, a few others believing Dorsey will select Rosen.

It will be interesting to see how the new Cleveland GM discusses them with the media. His words no doubt will further influence fans and pundits alike and once again change the course of conversation.

For the next 87 days.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Hail Haley

From the penthouse to the outhouse. That pretty much encapsulates Todd Haley’s strange, and yet challenging, trip from Pittsburgh to Cleveland as he adds to his National Football League coaching résumé.

The news Browns offensive coordinator, who has lived the good life for the last six seasons coordinating the high-power offense for the Pittsburgh Steelers, now gets a chance to see how the other half lives.

That will be the massive challenge in Cleveland for the combative Haley, whose reputation as a no-nonsense, hard-driving, polarizing figure precedes him to his new job. He is the antithesis of his new boss.

He becomes Hue Jackson’s first offensive coordinator, a job the head coach handled historically ineptly for the last two seasons. It entails not only scripting the new Cleveland playbook, but calling all the plays, two aspects that are certain to gnaw at Jackson’s ego.

It will be interesting to see how much latitude Haley receives to implement his own style of offense, which is dissimilar to Jackson’s. It very well could turn into a clash between two strong-willed and stubborn men. It’s entirely possible this will not end well.

I get the impression the front office values what Haley gives them to the point Jackson had better focus on the entire team for a change if he values his job security.

In Haley, the Browns ramp up the attitudinal approach to football. The Cleveland offense of the past two seasons needs a good swift kick or 10 in the hind flanks and he is the perfect choice to apply those boots.

His aggressive nature, which might not play well with several members of the current offense, has reaped too many positive results in the past to be ignored. In addition to his Pittsburgh success, Haley’s offense helped the Arizona Cardinals reach Super Bowl 43.

That accomplishment elicited a hearty endorsement from Kurt Warner, the Hall of Fame quarterback who quarterbacked that team and whose comeback flourished courtesy of Haley’s coaching.

“There is no doubt with what Todd has done with players and offenses in the past that he would be an asset to any organization in terms of improving them on the field,” Warner told Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley recently.

Haley has no problem getting in the faces of those players he believes are not performing up to their – and sometimes his – standards. His tough-love approach rankled players and yet, they ultimately played for him. That’s exactly what the Cleveland offense needs.

If it’s on his mind, it’s on his tongue. According to Bickley, Haley once called wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald a “one trick pony.” It was, he wrote, “criticism that accelerated the wide receiver’s development as a Hall of Fame player.”

Haley was more than the play caller for the incendiary Pittsburgh offense. He brought out the best in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Bell, the most dangerous trifecta in the NFL.

He identified their strong points and exploited them to the consternation of opposing defensive coordinators. That was an aspect of coaching Cleveland offense the last two seasons at which Jackson spectacularly failed.

Haley set very high standards in Pittsburgh. It is no coincidence the Steelers annually ranked in the top 10 on offense. Browns fans know that all too well considering the Steelers’ domination of their team during the last generation.

Now there is no question Haley will not have the kind of talent with the Browns that he enjoyed in Pittsburgh. There are no Le’Veon Bells, Antonio Browns or Ben Roethlisbergers on the Cleveland roster. That will prove to be his biggest challenge.

But he must have seen something to quickly accept the Browns’ offer to jump on board. Perhaps it was a chance at revenge after the Steelers chose not to renew his contract despite spectacular offensive results the last half dozen seasons. Playing his ex-team twice a season might have been too much to pass up.

In strictly a speculative way, it is entirely possible that one of the lures that brought Haley to Cleveland was an unwritten promise that he would be considered for the top job in the event Jackson stumbles and is cashiered.

Signing him also gives the Browns additional gravitas as new General Manager John Dorsey liberally massages the roster. His reputation as a wildly successful coordinator is certain to have a positive effect as Dorsey seeks to improve an offense that brought up the rear in the NFL the last two seasons.

Playing in a Haley offense is a lot more enticing than a Jackson offense, which should help Dorsey, Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf recruit free agents and be a prime influence in a trade or two.

No longer will Cleveland be the vast wasteland of the NFL, where veterans signed only if the price was right. The losing culture that has plagued this moribund franchise is almost certain to be a thing of the past.

Last season, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was, in essence, the head coach on that side of the football and Jackson was merely a bystander while in control of the offense. That figures to be the case with Haley now on the other side of the ball.

This now frees up Jackson to do what he was hired to do in the first place – be a head coach. That will be the biggest adjustment he has to make.

The primary jobs of a head coach are to establish a culture and coach his coaches, who in turn coach the players. In his first two seasons with the Browns, Jackson concentrated on the offense and had little or no time to be the head coach.

If he wants to be successful, he had better stay away from Haley and allow his new coordinator to do what he was brought to Cleveland to do.

Bottom line, there is no question Haley is the best offensive coordinator the Browns have hired since they were the old Browns and Lindy Infante coordinated back-to-back high scoring seasons (791 points) in 1986-87 with Bernie Kosar helming the offense.

That team was never too far behind in a game because of its ability to quickly ignite the offense and play catchup. Steelers fans enjoyed the same type of offense the last six seasons.

Now it’s Cleveland’s turn with Haley in charge. Unless Dorsey and his guys have the magic touch and are able to construct a radically different and more competitive roster this offseason, it won’t happen right away, but it will happen and sooner rather than later.

Suffice it to say, the Browns are finally, finally headed in the right direction.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Offseason thoughts . . .

Just like that, there is a glimmer of hope that Hue Jackson won’t construct the Browns’ offense and/or call plays in the upcoming season.

It’s all because Mike Mularkey, a well-traveled former offensive coordinator/head coach, has become available, courtesy of some interesting decisions by the Tennessee Titans.

Mularkey was hanging by a slender thread as the Titans’ head coach as the 2017 season wound down. His job, it was reported, hinged on whether the Titans made the playoffs. They did on the last Sunday of the season. A reprieve.

Then it was reported he was gone if the Titans lost the wild-card game. They didn’t, knocking off Kansas City, 22-21, their first playoff victory since 2008. Soon after, word filtered down that the club wanted to lock up Mularkey for five seasons as a reward.

Then came a 35-10 thrashing by New England in the division round and all of a sudden, that five-year pact disappeared. So did Mularkey, who reportedly mutually agreed with the team that it was time to leave.

And now, again reportedly, he is in the Browns’ crosshairs for the ostensibly vacant job of offensive coordinator and, presumably, play caller. Ostensibly because Jackson seems reluctant to give up the gig and presumably for the same reason.

Mularkey checks all the boxes for the job and would be a strong addition to the almost-dead Cleveland offense of the last two seasons. That, of course, is assuming he doesn't hold out for the head coaching vacancy in Arizona.

He has authored offensive playbooks for Pittsburgh (under Bill Cowher), Miami (under Nick Saban), Atlanta (under Mike Smith) and for half a season in Tennessee before taking over midseason in 2015 for the fired Ken Whisenhunt.

The Steelers were 23-8-1 in his first two seasons before he departed to take the head-coaching job in Buffalo (succeeding current Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) following a 6-10 campaign with Pittsburgh.

His innovative and trick-filled offense in Pittsburgh featured versatile players like Antwaan Randle El and Hines Ward, a couple of collegiate quarterbacks who excelled as wide receivers in the National Football League, It earned him the nickname Inspector Gadget.

Mularkey was quarterback Matt Ryan’s first coordinator with the Falcons, who were 43-21 in his four seasons and earned him another crack at head coaching in Jacksonville. The Jaguars were 2-14 in 2012, his lone season in north Florida.

If Jackson is serious about giving up all aspects of the offense, Mularkey would be the perfect choice. He’s been around the NFL long enough to have built up a solid résumé that has featured success wherever he has coordinated an offense.

Even though head coach picks his  coaching staff, there has to be at least some input and influence by John Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam III, to whom Jackson and the new GM report.

Late last month, Jackson rationalized handling the dual jobs the first two seasons as the Browns’ head coach, saying, “I didn’t think it was fair to give anybody that (OC) title and not have a football team that was worthy of that guy to be the leader of it when I didn’t think it was where it needed to be.”

Now that Dorsey is on board and the Browns will be much more representative than they have been the last half dozen seasons from a talent standpoint, that excuse, flimsy as it was, no longer holds weight.

If Mularkey is not at least vetted, the notion here that Jackson’s search for an offensive boss is a charade becomes even more evident.
*       *       *
He won’t say it publicly, but Dorsey has to still be agonizing privately over being handcuffed in selecting his own head coach. Six teams initially created vacancies by firing their coaches with the Titans making it seven a couple of days ago.

Chicago (Matt Nagy) and Oakland (Jon Gruden) have filled theirs with Detroit (Matt Patricia), Indianapolis (Josh McDaniels) and New York Giants (ex-Browns head coach Pat Shurmur) set after their respective current teams complete their seasons.

There is a coach out there, however, who has received little or no mention this season for a head-coaching job. He is not as high profile as the others, but Dorsey knows all about him.

It’s strictly a guess, a hunch, but for some reason, don’t go to sleep on Dave Toub, special teams coordinator for the last five seasons in Kansas City and eight seasons before that with Chicago, achieving success at both stops.

The Browns now have an opening on the coaching staff after Chris Tabor, who has coached the Browns’ special teams the last seven seasons, took his talents to Chicago a few days ago.

If Dorsey believes Toub, who has no head coaching experience, is ready to make the leap, one way to get him to Cleveland to replace Tabor without it being a sideways move would be to name him special teams coordinator/assistant head coach.

That way, when – not if – Jackson self destructs, however far into the 2018 season he makes it, Dorsey can elevate Toub to the top spot, at least on an interim basis and have his man in place.

Of course that’s wishful thinking, pie in the sky, speculation based mostly on a guess. At this point, though, the worst I can be is wrong.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Jackson’s hunt for OC a charade

It’s somewhat amusing that Hue Jackson is methodically breaking up the Browns’ offensive coaching staff, the one he shaped and coordinated last season.

In reality, it is a mistake in progress.

The reason being Jackson, the worst head coach in the history of professional football in Cleveland, is disassembling and reassembling the coaching staff on that side of the ball when there’s a chance he might not be around long enough to lead it.

There is no guarantee, Jimmy Haslam III’s promise to keep Jackson as his head coach notwithstanding, he will still be roaming the sidelines by the end of the 2018 season, let alone by the end of training camp this summer.

There is only hope by the owner that the Hue Jackson who led the Browns to a 1-31 record the last two seasons was a fake, an impostor, an aberration who cruelly foisted upon the club’s great fan base the worst consecutive seasons in National Football League history.

Most knowledgeable fans of this franchise, the ones who can clearly see the error of the owner’s ways, also have hope, the hope that Jackson’s lamentable connection to the club is aborted before the situation gets worse.

Allowing him to reshape the offensive coaching staff is a mistake of gigantic proportions because that’s the staff the new coach, whoever the poor guy is, will inherit and eventually dismiss as quickly as humanly possible.

The fact Haslam – not new General Manager John Dorsey because his hands are tied – is allowing this to happen shows lack of foresight on the owner’s part. For some odd reason, he believes this will make a difference. It won’t.

Jackson has finally acceded to the wishes of the front office to give up his role of offensive coordinator, as well as the playcalling. That won’t happen. His pride – no, make that his sizable ego –  will stand in the way of relinquishing both jobs.

The interviewing process looking for a new coordinator/play caller is a joke, a charade. Unless Haslam puts his foot down and demands Jackson give up that part of coaching, he’ll be back for season three with a hand somehow in the offense. He won’t. Put his foot down, that is.

Color me stunned beyond belief if Jackson acquiesces and eventually chooses a new face to compile the new playbook for the offense and become the new voice in the helmet of whoever quarterbacks the Browns next season. A divorce like that will be difficult for him.

Jackson, who dismissed quarterbacks coach David Lee, running backs/run game coordinator coach Kirby Wilson and a pair of special teams assistant coaches recently, is looking for someone who shares his offensive philosophy. Someone who believes, as he does, in the quick-strike vertical passing game with little emphasis on the ground game.

Hopefully, he will find someone who can adapt his coaching style to his players’ talents rather than force the players to perform in a manner that fits his approach. It was like trying to fit the square peg in the round hole. That, as much as anything, is why the Cleveland offense the last couple of seasons was embarrassingly awful.

In his search for a coordinator, Jackson thus far has found either retreads like Ken Zampese, who has signed on as the new quarterbacks coach, or hotshot young veterans who won’t take the job as OC unless playcalling is attached.

It would be a convenient built-in excuse for Jackson, if unable to find someone, to handle both aspects of the job for a third straight season Another reason for him to cling zealously to a job he has been proven most unworthy of handling.

If Haslam maintains his weaknesses when it comes to anything Jackson and trusts his judgment with regard to the coaching staff, rest assured Jackson will take full advantage and wind up communicating directly to his quarterback during games.

The most interesting aspect of this search is Jackson is rejiggering just the offensive staff, wisely keeping his mitts off the defense, clearly the best side of the ball last season, although the talent-challenged secondary struggled mightily all season.

It is a mute admission the so-called offensive guru has been anything but since arriving in Cleveland. Devoting himself to that side of the football has robbed him of his limited capabilities of being a head coach in the NFL.

But if surrendering the coordinator job and playcalling was a stipulation in Jackson’s return and he fails to follow through, it will be interesting to see how his owner handles it as this little scenario unfolds.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

One move left for Haslam

Further proof Hue Jackson is not the great coach Jimmy Haslam III believed he hired a couple of years ago . . .

Jackson has allowed the sobriquet “quarterback whisperer” to be attached to his name and reputation, but that has hardly been the case in his two extraordinarily long seasons as head coach of the Browns.

First of all, his enormous hubris ruled out any possibility of scanning the vast National Football League landscape for an offensive coordinator for those seasons. Oh no. Ol’ Hue can handle that one himself.

It took two years and 31 losses to convince Mr. Whisperer that coordinating offenses and calling plays robbed him even more of his limited capabilities as a head coach.

Wrapped up mainly in what was happening with his chug, chug, chugging offense, he oftentimes lost sight of what else was happening on the field. Head coaching is a whole lot more that controlling just one side of the football.

Most successful head coaches are solid strategists and tacticians, attributes Jackson struggles with. They think well ahead of what’s taking place on the field. They are several plays and, in some cases, a series or two ahead of that action.

They think ahead all the time. They plot all the time. Keen anticipation is essential and Jackson possesses none of these necessary attributes of being a successful head coach.

Right now, Jackson’s biggest boast is his team never quit this past season despite losing all 16 games. He, at least according to some, had a firm handle on the locker room. That’s how his owner seems to be rationalizing his coach’s improbable return.

Think about that for a moment. Jackson did not lose the locker room. His players played for him. They did not win a game and showed little or no progress, but they sure as hell played for him.

Never mind that he subjected his rookie quarterback to league-wide humiliation on a weekly basis – although DeShone Kizer missed the equivalent of two full games via two benchings and a migraine – and stubbornly fed him an offense better suited for the talents of a veteran.

Never mind he all but pledged his offense this past season would be more balanced than the year before, when it was obscenely pass heavy, and yet it was even more unbalanced in 2017.

Jackson should have known better than to jam a pass-heavy, field-stretching offense on a raw rookie who entered the NFL with the reputation of having a foreign relationship with accuracy in throwing a forward pass.

Rather than dumbing down the playbook in order to give Kizer a better chance of succeeding, Jackson relentlessly called on the kid to make plays of which he was incapable. Instead of teaching him how to read defenses and identify trouble before it happened, he pushed even harder on the throw-the-rock button.

The Browns, mostly Kizer, dropped back to throw the football roughly 69% of the time, up 2% from last season. The running game was virtually forgotten as the Browns became one of the most predictable offensive teams in the league.

As a result, Kizer threw a league-high 22 interceptions, a number that might have been a lot higher had a dozen other picks not been dropped. He was also the team’s second leading rusher with 419 yards on 77 carries, roughly 50 of them scrambles.

Jackson’s love of the quick aerial strike also led Kizer and his big arm to rack up only 30 so-called chunk plays among his 255 completions. Chunk plays in the passing game are those generally considered to be passes that gain a minimum of 25 yards. Less than two a game was not nearly enough.

Plays like those that excited fans and led to the false notion Kizer just might be the franchise quarterback the Browns have sought for nearly two decades. The 22 interceptions quickly snapped them back to reality.

Kizer more than lived up to his advance billing out of Notre Dame that he would thrill you one minute and break your heart the next minute. It was that inconsistency and propensity to continually make dumb plays that Jackson was never able to harness.

In the end, Kizer was not a better quarterback in week 16 than he was in week one or week eight or even week 12, Jackson has to share a large part of the blame for that failure.

He also had himself to blame by himself for allowing the Browns to begin this past season with three quarterbacks with a total of zero victories among them. It was a recipe for disaster and that was what was delivered.

If Haslam cannot see the flaws of the coach he professes to still believe in, then he was either not paying attention for the last four months to what was going on down on the field or he is delusional. 

When he bought the club from Randy Lerner, Browns Nation sighed a sigh of relief. It couldn’t get any worse, fans thought. Turns out they were wrong. But that can be fixed with one more simple move.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Rock solid front office

The hiring of Eliot Wolf as the Browns’ assistant general manager Wednesday completes a total rebuild of the upper echelon of the franchise’s front office management.

Wolf reunites with former Green Bay Packers colleagues John Dorsey and Alonzo Highsmith to form the most formidable front office the Browns have had since the return in 1999.

Three solid football men in charge of a college draft that, barring trades, will yield five picks in the first two rounds and six of the first 65 selections gives the Browns the kind of drafting gravitas they have not had in a very long time.

Feeling that much more comfortable in his new job as Cleveland’s general manager, Dorsey has now surrounded himself with two men whose approach to stocking and crafting a roster run parallel courses.

That almost assures Paul DePodesta, the club’s chief strategy officer, will be on the outside looking in come draft time in late April. That is if he is still employed by the club, which has taken a sharp turn in a significantly different direction with regard to player personnel.

Browns fans should feel comfortable and confident in the new three wise men now in charge of rebuilding this team. Definitely much more so than the trio in charge of the last two drafts who opted for quantity over quality.

It is believed Wolf’s new title with the Browns was created by the club in order to pry him loose from the Packers, who chose Brian Gutekunst over him as their new general manager, succeeding Ted Thompson.

Wolf is as close to being an NFL lifer as one could be even though he is only 35. He was in his mid teens when he began learning all about the NFL from his father, Ron, who was the Packers’ general manager.

It would not be surprising if Wolf eventually becomes the Browns’ general manager in the not-too-distant future with Dorsey moving up to the now-vacant office of president.

Highsmith will share the role of vice president in charge of player personnel with holdover Andrew Berry, who was the point man on player personnel for deposed de facto general manager Sashi Brown.

Ken Kovash transitions from player personnel to the club’s strategy department. The fate of others in the middle echelons of the front office is not known. If retained, it very well could be in a reduced role.

Fans can rest assure the Browns are finally headed in the right direction in a department that has seriously lacked the kind of personnel judgment that ultimately leads to success on the field.

Coach Hue Jackson will find it much more difficult to coach in lockstep with the philosophies of Dorsey, Wolf and Highsmith. No longer will he have reason to blame the front office for not providing the kind of personnel that will lead to success.

No, those days are long gone and now the Cleveland coach will have to be much more accountable to the new troika in charge. Reporting to the owners won’t carry nearly as much weight now as it did previously. It will all be on him from now on.

It’s about time.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

And furthermore . . .

Thoughts regarding the handcuffs John Dorsey sports in his new job as general manager of the Browns . . .

He has been tasked by Dee and Jimmy Haslam III to do something no other front office executives have been able to do in the last 19 seasons: Turn the Browns into a winning entity.

In order to accomplish what the Haslams have set forth, Dorsey has to be extremely comfortable with everyone in the organization. Everyone includes the head coach.

Terms of his signing on with the Browns included the uncomfortable position of having to accept the mediocre (trying to be charitable here) coaching of Hue Jackson.

That chokes off any possibility of recruiting his best replacement and radically changing the atmosphere of the locker room. Dorsey no doubt has several candidates in mind to replace Jackson, but they’ll remain candidates until he is permitted to make a move.

And since a few National Football League teams still have not filled their head coaching vacancies, there are several strong candidates out there and all Dorsey can do is twiddle his thumbs and hope a favorite or two of his is not snapped up.

He seems to be getting along quite well with Jackson right now. Sort of calming the waters for the time being while going about his business of filling out the new front office. Maybe that’s an act just to mollify the bosses.First things first. First the front office. Then the head coach.

It could be construed as the general manager’s attempt at being a good solider for the Haslams, who oddly believe their 1-31 coach of the last two seasons was an imposter and not the quarterback whisperer they hired in early 2016.

It probably never occurred to them that if Jackson really is the embarrassingly awful coach who helped drag the franchise into NFL history in every possible bad way and a mid-season change is required, it hamstrings the new GM.

How many mid-season coaching changes wind up on a positive note? How many viable coaching candidates are available at that time of the season to resurrect yet another miserable season?

Unless a change of head coaches is wisely made sometime between now and the beginning of training camp this summer, this will not end well.

For the umpteenth time, and I’m going to keep this up until the Haslams realize the error of their ways with regard to their head coach, Hue Jackson represents everything anathema to winning. 

It is entirely possible the optimistic outlook ventured by Joe Thomas, the Browns’ All-Pro offensive left tackle who strangely endorsed Jackson’s return in spite of all the losing, may have influenced them.

“I think Hue really has not been given the opportunity yet to prove what kind of coach he is,” the future Pro Football Hall of Famer said shortly before the Browns completed their 0-16 march into NFL history. He later went on to say, “I think he’s an excellent coach.”

Todd Bowles was given the same opportunity Thomas spoke of with the New York Jets, whose roster was torn asunder in similar fashion to the Browns’, and managed to win five games this past season.

Thomas and some of his teammates apparently felt comfortable with all the losing to the point where it seems to have affected the gray matter between their ears and want even more of the same with the return of their coach.

It probably never occurred to them that numerous poor in-game decisions by Jackson (so much for being charitable) were major factors in winning just one game the last two seasons and even that was slightly tainted because of a blown game-tying field goal by the San Diego Chargers in game 15 of the 2016 season.

Time to unshackle Dorsey’s handcuffs and watch him and his new front office staff take their first steps in justifying the Haslams spending a billion dollars to purchase this franchise six years ago. That, of course, includes the departure of Hue Jackson.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Cleveland’s Pit of Misery

John Dorsey once traded for quarterback Alex Smith. In doing so, he turned around a struggling Kansas City Chiefs franchise just like that.

The new Browns general manager now has a chance to do it again, but this time the task will be much more difficult.

If Dorsey hopes to pry Smith loose from the Chiefs, who most likely will wait no longer to install Patrick Mahomes as their main man at the position, he will be operating from a position of weakness.

As long as Hue Jackson is his coach, he has no chance whatsoever to convince Smith that Cleveland and its Pit of Misery (dilly, dilly) should be his next stop.

Yes, he has more draft capital with which to entice the Chiefs to part ways with the 12-year veteran in a trade. And yes, Smith still has one more season left on his Chiefs contract

But the whole idea of playing for a coach whose very name elicits thoughts of losing, a coach who has somehow convinced his owner that he can erase the dys from dysfunction, does not paint the accurate picture.

The losing culture that has plagued the Browns, especially the last two extremely forgettable seasons, resonates negatively around the National Football League. Who would want to play in Cleveland? The only way that happens is they overpay you.

The toxic nature of professional football in Cleveland needs to be cleansed more than just getting rid of a de facto general manager and hiring an honest-to-goodness one.

Smith will have other suitors to be sure, teams that are much stronger than the Browns, much more competitive than the Browns and able to surround him with the kind of talent with which he would be much more comfortable.

Dorsey’s ability to sell his new team to Smith will be challenged with Jackson lurking in the background. That, of course, is assuming he is in the GM’s crosshairs. And why wouldn’t he be?

Smith is coming off his best statistical season, throwing for 4,043 yards, 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Known for his ball security, he has thrown fewer picks in the last three seasons (21) than DeShone Kizer tossed this past season (22).

He has been a 60% or better quarterback the last seven seasons from an accuracy standpoint and has single-digit interceptions for each of those seasons. His touchdowns-interceptions ratio over that span – 132-43.

Smith would be the perfect bridge quarterback to whomever Dorsey selects with the top pick in the college draft in April. He know what that’s like, having been in the draft room when the Green Bay Packers took Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft.

Rodgers sat, watched and learned from Brett Favre for three seasons before taking over in 2008. Whomever Dorsey picks this year will be afforded the same opportunity as the new GM rebuilds the team.

His current team needs an injection of new faces, new voices, new attitude, new just about everything and that will not – and cannot – be provided by a coach whose very presence screams losing.

There will be nothing new about this team if Jackson remains in his current position. And the fact Dee and Jimmy Haslam III stubbornly refuse to take off their blinders only exacerbates the problem.

There has been some pushback from the fans, but obviously not enough to cause the Haslams to budge.

If they want to get a feel from their fan base, it would behoove them to give that base a platform from which to vent one way or the other. Plug into the dwindling season ticketholder consistency. Canvass them. Give them a voice.

Dorsey right now is operating with one hand tied behind his back with Jackson still around. He needs a better shot at doing the right thing as he launches his effort to replicate in Cleveland what he did in Kansas City.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Too good to be true?

It all seems to be falling neatly into place.

The Browns secure the No. 1 selection in the 2018 National Football League college draft and four of the best quarterbacks, three of them underclassmen, declare for said draft.

The franchise that needs a quarterback the most, the one that has wandered aimlessly for the better part of two decades, the one that has never had a stud quarterback since returning to the NFL in 1999, is finally in position to turn this whole mess around.

It is a mess that has reached historic lows never before seen in the nearly century old league. It has embarrassed players, coaches, owners, fans, the NFL and an entire city that owned a once-proud professional football heritage.

And now that the prime pieces appear to be dropping into an alignment that portends rewarding those extraordinarily patient fans, the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel no longer is an oncoming train.

With UCLA’s Josh Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold, Josh Allen of Wyoming and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield squarely in the crosshairs of new Browns General Manager John Dorsey's sights, the one stumbling block to success will finally be hurdled.

The capable Dorsey, who brings more wisdom and experience to his job than any of his predecessors with the new Browns, has been charged by owner Jimmy Haslam III to find a franchise quarterback.

And with the likes of Darnold, Rosen, Mayfield and Allen in a deep quarterbacks class, he has the opportunity to steer this franchise in the correct direction for a change.

The man knows how to cobble together winning football teams. As a scout, he was one of the prime reasons the Green Bay Packers have been so successful the last decade. And it took him only one season as general manager to resurrect the struggling Kansas City Chiefs.

The best part of the pending Browns resurgence is it cannot get any worse than the abject suffering this fan base has experienced for nearly two decades, the last half dozen seasons in particular. Under Dorsey, that will come to a screeching halt.

There is finally more than hope for next season and beyond. It is the realistic feeling that the ghosts of old Cleveland Browns teams past are finally stirring and the living nightmare that has haunted this franchise is about to disappear.

Never mind, for the time being, that the coaching situation needs to be fixed. Just know it will be and sooner rather than later. That’s one problem that will take care of itself in short order, hopefully before the start of the new season.

As for those quarterbacks, each brings a unique quality that will fit this new-look team.

Rosen is the cocky one with supreme confidence in his ability to make a successful transition to professional football. Having played his entire collegiate career as a pro-set quarterback, he is, by far, the most NFL ready to step right in and make a difference.

He is probably the best of the lot from a mechanical standpoint. There are few flaws in his delivery and he can make all the throws. But, and it’s a big but, Rosen also brings some baggage.

His outspoken, abrasive nature, according to reports, rubs teammates the wrong way. He is outspoken enough to declare he wants to be no part of the Cleveland sports scene and has all but urged the Browns not to draft him, which cannot sit well with Browns fans.

Darnold, on the other hand, is the quiet one, and the most inexperienced, having played a few games shy of two full seasons at USC. The red-shirt sophomore also might be the most gifted. His makeup is off the charts.

It has been written that he’s that rare type of quarterback who, when plays need to be made, will find a way to make them

According to an NFL personnel executive in the Los Angeles Times, “He’s got some incredible intangibles. That’s what you look for in a starting quarterback in the NFL. When Sam walks into a huddle, his teammates look at him and know they have a chance to win just because of him.”

It certainly didn’t turn out that way for Darnold and the Trojans against Ohio Sate in the Cotton Bowl game, though. His poorest game of the season is the one that will be remembered more by Buckeye fans than his scintillating game against Penn State a year ago in the Rose Bowl game.

One caution with Darnold. He is not the type who can step right in and look the part at the next level. He needs to be nurtured, to sit out at least one season, watch and learn from a veteran quarterback before taking over, much like Aaron Rodgers did in Green Bay with Brett Favre. Nobody knows that better than Dorsey, who was with Green Bay when Rodgers was drafted out of California.

What Darnold possesses in solid football instincts, he lacks in mechanics, but not to any sizable degree. That aspect of his game, such as his long delivery, for example, is easily correctable. Leadership qualities, which he has in abundance, are not taught.

Allen, the biggest of the top group at 6-5, 240 pounds, has arguably the strongest arm, but lacks accuracy (he’s in the 56% completion range). Sound familiar? The winless Browns suffered through that little scenario this past season. He is not a difference maker.

Mayfield is, but the Heisman Trophy winner cannot overcome his biggest weakness – his height. Barely an inch taller than six feet, he achieves his greatness with sheer grit and determination, qualities certain to draw the attention more than a few teams.

The only one of the group to play four seasons at the collegiate level, Mayfield is also the oldest (he’ll be 23 in April). He has been compared to Johnny Manziel by several observers, which could be viewed in a number of ways, only a few of which can be deemed positive.

What Browns Nation has gone through the last 19 seasons is somewhat reminiscent of the Indians wandering in their own little desert of futility for nearly four decades until the mid 1990s. It took them that long before Cleveland could once again be proud of its baseball team.

And it wasn’t until LeBron James came along to boost the Cavaliers to the top of the NBA world that that franchise gained national attention and won the city’s first championship since 1964. Now, it’s the Browns’ turn.

The Browns, the one Cleveland team that stimulates more conversation than their friendly sports neighbors, have languished far too long competitively as the third wheel in a three-wheel city. That is about to change.

This team is on the verge of drafting its franchise quarterback of the future, the one player who will finally provide the impetus to propel it where it was supposed to be when resurrected in 1999.

My personal choice is Darnold, who brings uncommon savvy for someone so young to the table. With the right head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, there is no limit to how good he can be. Unfortunately, they are not in place right now.

For the first time in recent memory, the future for this franchise is aglow with promise. The owner now needs to back off and let it finally happen because it wasn’t working the other way.