Friday, February 16, 2018

McCarron not the answer

Now that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron has gained unrestricted free-agent status, we are about to find out just how much clout Hue Jackson has in Berea.

The Browns’ head coach all but frothed unashamedly when his front office and the Bengals agreed on a deal that would have brought the fourth-year quarterback to Cleveland for a pair of high-round draft choices at the trade deadline last season.

Jackson campaigned hard for McCarron midway through last season’s winless journey through the schedule. He had coached Andy Dalton’s backup for a couple of seasons as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator and wanted him in Cleveland.

Not certain what Jackson saw in McCarron that made him push so hard to obtain him. He hadn’t been able to beat out Dalton for the starting job and was destined to be a career backup with an average arm.

DeShone Kizer was a disaster in his rookie season for the Browns and Jackson apparently wanted to right the ship. He needed to save the season and McCarron, a fifth-round pick by the Bengals in the 2014 lottery, was his only hope.

But the trade-deadline deal fell through due to an e-mail glitch at the deadline. Sometimes, it has been said, the best deals you make are the ones you don’t make. This one qualified as one.

When McCarron secured his unrestricted free-agent status the other day, fans and observers alike naturally thought Cleveland would be his next professional football stop.

Only one problem. His new status means 31 other National Football League teams also have a shot at signing him once free-agent season opens up in a few weeks. Most the teams in the market don’t need an AJ McCarron, of course, but some might and that’s when it will become interesting.

So how does Jackson and his fading clout fit into this picture and how much of a factor will he be if the Browns make a run at McCarron? Or will they?

Now that John Dorsey is running the show, he will make the big decisions. He’s the one who will decide which direction the Browns will head when it comes to the quarterback situation.

When Sashi Brown called the shots for the Browns, Jackson’s words and thoughts with regard to the quarterback situation carried some weight. After all, Brown’s football acumen barely filled a thimble.

Look for Jackson to renew his efforts to bring McCarron to the northern part of Ohio. The only difference this time is the person he will lobby this time knows a tad more about the NFL than his predecessor.

Dorsey is not looking for a young, untried veteran like McCarron. He is looking for that veteran quarterback on the downside of his career who can be a mentor to whomever the new general manager selects in the college draft.

McCarron, who will be 28 in September, is an NFL infant by comparison. He has started only four games (three regular season and one playoff) in four seasons. Why the Browns would even consider him is a mystery.

McCarron replaced Dalton, who broke the thumb on his throwing hand in game 13 of the 2015 season, Jackson’s last season as offensive coordinator, and completed two-thirds of his passes with six touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.

He doesn’t seem to fit the mold Dorsey envisions. The guess here is the Browns at least monitor the interest in McCarron around the league before making a decision. Gauge how much value he has.

Count on Jackson sticking his nose in there one more time, though, and making yet another pitch for McCarron. This time, it should fall on deaf ears.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Sayonara to bad offense

There is no question whatsoever that the weakest side of the football for the Browns the last two seasons has been the offense.

There is no argument, rational or otherwise, that can refute that claim. It is chiseled solidly in National Football League history. A 1-31 record is a mute and accurate testimony to that fact.

That’s why the recruitment and subsequent signing of Todd Haley as the club’s new offensive coordinator is easily and unquestionably the most important addition to the team this season.

This team has been on life support on offense under the guidance of head coach Hue Jackson the last two seasons. In that short period of time, the Browns provided some of the most inept and stupefyingly bad football when in possession of it.

The offense owned the football for just 28 minutes a game in the last two campaigns. In last season’s winless journey through the schedule, that offense produced a meager 26 touchdowns, two fewer than 2016, and 227 of the league-worst 234 points.

Wait. It gets worse.

That offense scored 20 or more points in a game only four times last season and 10 or fewer points seven times. That’s almost half the games for the fabled Jackson offense.

In seven games in front of the home folks last season (not counting the loss to Minnesota in London), the Browns managed to score a measly and embarrassing 86 points.

Every week for 16 weeks last season, it was like Groundhog Day for the Cleveland offense. It was the same thing over and over and over with the same results. Jackson wore the same bewildered look on his face on weekly basis as his offense struggled.

He had no clue as to why the mistakes and losses piled up even though the answer was plainly evident. He tried to force-feed his stretch-the-field scheme to a group of players incapable of executing it effectively. It was a misfit from the start.

That will change this season and Jackson, thankfully, will not be a part of that change although Haley, whose offensive philosophy differs from his new boss, said he would work in concert with Jackson and incorporate some of his offense.

He said as much during his first news conference with the Cleveland media Wednesday. I don’t believe that will happen.

Haley’s coaching style and philosophy are the opposite of the stubborn Jackson. He is much more flexible. Something he said during the news conference supports that contention.

“I’m not a system guy, so to speak,” he said. “What I believe in is playing to every player’s strength that you have as best you can. Putting players in position to succeed, playing to their skill set.”

How refreshing. Catering to the individual talents of the players he coaches. Actually giving them a chance to be successful.

In other words, the exact opposite of Jackson. And that is why the Browns’ offense you see next season and hopefully many seasons after that will look nothing like it has the last two laborious (for the fans) seasons.

Haley also pointed out something that has resonated throughout this franchise the last two seasons, but has not been adhered to – the running game.

“In this division,” he said, “you better be able to run the ball at some point in games when they know you’re going to run it, whether it’s running out the clock when you have a three-point lead or having to run it because the weather’s bad and it’s snowing sideways or whatever your variables are.”

Jackson promised his offense would place more emphasis on the ground game the last two seasons. He broke that promise almost on a weekly basis, calling pass plays nearly two-thirds of the time.

That’s about to change.

“I told all the coaches when we sat down and met for the first time that our job is to take the players we have and put them in the best possible chance to succeed and not worry about a lot else,” Haley said. “That’s really what the focus is and will be.”      

In other words, Browns fans can look forward to a much more diverse – and less predictable and stodgy – offense this season. With the upcoming free-agent season and college draft, there should be plenty of new faces on that side of the football.

General Manager John Dorsey is most likely in the throes of the planning stages for his housecleaning and it would be surprising if his top priority isn’t fixing an offense badly in need of repair.

And when he is done reshaping and upgrading that offense, his head coach no longer will be able to blame everyone but himself, as he has done the last two seasons, for whatever failures lie ahead.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Cousins not in Browns' future

For those of you who harbor the notion Kirk Cousins will be the Browns’ next quarterback, time to move on.

Cousins will make a lot of money in the free-agent market this year, but none of that money will emerge from the pocket of Jimmy Haslam III no matter how much he offers.

Why in the world would the hottest quarterback in the free-agent market even think about signing with the Browns? To play for the not-even-arguably worst head coach in the history of the National Football League? He would have to be fitted for a straitjacket if those thoughts coursed through his mind.  

The Browns, rebuffed in their efforts to deal for Kansas City’s Alex Smith, undoubtedly have set their sights on Cousins. But it would be stunning if he ends up in the Seal Brown and Orange.

Money is usually the great dictator in decisions such as this, but in this case, Cousins is going to see tens and more likely well over $100 million from suitors other than the Browns.

Money like that, especially from teams far better than the Brown from a potential and talent standpoint, far outweighs whatever number General Manager John Dorsey, through Haslam, throws at him.

Why sign with a team just now reaching for its bootstrap in an effort to yank itself out of the dunghill, and one that can offer the most money, when he can sign elsewhere with a more promising team for boatloads of dollars, anyway?

Cousins will make a ton of money in the process as no fewer than four teams will throw outrageous amounts of wealth in his path. He most likely will wind up with a franchise that has a legitimate shot to play more than 16 regular-season games.

He is in the unique position of choosing where his future lies. Cleveland might be on his radar out of courtesy and he probably will go through the motions of entertaining their offer. But don’t read anything into that.

“At the end of the day,” Cousins told SiriusXM radio Friday, “I want to win.” That says it all. It also means either Denver. Minnesota or Arizona will emerge as the winner with the Broncos and Vikings the favorites.

If it’s the Vikings, the Browns have a shot at the Minnesota spoils, which means Case Keenum, Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater might wind up in Cleveland as the mentor to whomever Dorsey selects in the college draft.

The Browns naturally will go through the motions of extending their offer to Cousins unless, of course, his agent tells the Browns not to bother. That offer likely will be outrageous for a quarterback who will turn 30 in training camp and sports a record of 28-33-1 as a starter.

Hampering Dorsey’s efforts to recruit Cousins is his head coach. If he was anyone other than Hue Jackson in that position, then maybe the argument could be made that the table has been wiped clean from top to bottom and the losing culture that has gripped this franchise for nearly two decades is in the throes of disappearing.

As long as Jackson remains in the picture, the Browns' ability to lure free agents is hindered by his mere presence. That 1-31 record the last two seasons hangs like a 100-pound anvil around his neck.