Tuesday, February 12, 2019


 Browns General Manager John Dorsey is standing firm in his belief that signing troubled running back Kareem Hunt Monday was the right thing to do.

“We did our investigation . . . and we feel comfortable moving forward,” he said late Monday, emphasizing this was an organizational decision. “At the end of the day, it’s a Cleveland Browns decision.” That ostensibly means everyone from top to bottom.

The response by Browns Nation, the constituency the club cares most about, was pretty much as expected. Reaction was swift and decidedly mixed. Color that constituency conflicted.

There are those, admittedly the minority, who believe Dorsey is shortsighted in his attempt to improve the club’s roster. That he’ll go to any lengths to do so. Winning trumps everything else, including violence against women.

Hunt, an emerging young superstar on the National Football League horizon, has abused women in the past and been involved in three separate incidents that landed him on the wrong side of the law.

That does not sit well with a segment of the club’s fans. They believe beating up women and generally behaving like a thug off the field should not be rewarded, at least by the Browns.

There are also those, the majority, who really don’t care about the past and welcome Hunt with open arms under any circumstances. As long as it strengthens the team in the future, what difference does it make?

They see past (ignore?) his indiscretions and see only what he has accomplished in the NFL in a brief period of time and picture him doing the very same thing with the Browns.

They don’t care how he comports himself off the field. All they see is one of the bright young stars of the NFL wearing the Seal Brown and Orange and playing for his hometown team.

Then there are those who believe in second chances and would welcome someone with Hunt’s immense talent. That kind of rationale sort of justifies the decision so long as it helps the Browns.

It is clear, especially given Dorsey’s track record of drafting and signing players with troubled pasts, that one of his philosophies is nothing ventured, nothing gained. He is a bit of a maverick in that vein.

Each NFL club does its due diligence when it comes to the college football draft, the future of the league. All players are vetted in an effort to stem the growing tide of domestic and substances abuse, as well as assault in general.

Some miscreants slip through the cracks. Hunt is one of them, having lied to the Kansas City Chiefs (when Dorsey was the general manager there) about one of his incidents, which ended with his release.

Players have a tough time understanding they represent their teams at all times on and off the field. Misbehaving off the field reflects not only on them personally, but on their employer as well.

Fans who abhor the Hunt signing have pushed back through social media outlets. The Browns no doubt expected some pushback with such a controversial move. That’s where the conflict kicks in.

The latter segment of fans, some of whom own season tickets, has suffered with this franchise through the last two decades. And now that the club is on the verge of busting through and representing Cleveland as no one has for the last 35 years, the Hunt thing emerges.

They are further bothered that Dorsey admits he has not tried to speak with the victim of one of Hunt’s attacks. That’s a concern that troubles them to the point where the only way they can fight back is with their wallets.

In the meantime, the Browns can only hope the passage of time will be the great separator for this public relations imbroglio.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Another Dorsey gamble

Is there no end to John Dorsey’s penchant for gambling on the job? Apparently not after Monday’s thunder-bolt announcement that running back Kareem Hunt is now a member of the Browns.

The announcement stunned just about everyone on the National Football League landscape and perpetuated the notion that Dorsey, who drafted Hunt while general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, is fearless when it comes to signing players with off-the-field problems.

He did so in Kansas City with Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill and a few lesser lights, and in Cleveland last season with wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Hill has gone on to become one of the most dangerous receivers and return men in the NFL.

One could also argue Dorsey’s biggest gamble with the Browns so far was the selection of Baker Mayfield with the first overall choice in the last college football draft.

Mayfield emerged from college with a spotty reputation. His arrest for public intoxication and taunting antics while at Oklahoma turned off a lot of people, especially fans of Ohio State. But that has kind of turned out all right.

Hunt, who became a sensation as a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017, saw his budding career suddenly placed in jeopardy after being suspended by the NFL following the revelation he assaulted a woman in Cleveland a year ago.

He became a free agent immediately after the Chiefs abruptly cut him in late November last season (for lying about the Cleveland incident) and was placed on the exempt list by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

It is also being reported that Hunt was involved in two other non-football related altercations at a resort in Put-In-Bay Island and another at a Kansas City nightclub. The NFL Network is also reporting Hunt is undergoing alcohol and anger-management counseling. 

It is not known how long the league’s investigation into these matters will take or when a definitive decision will be rendered.

Rumors were rife at the conclusion of last season that Hunt, a native of Willoughby, would be a prime target in the offseason despite his obvious problems and suspended status. But it was Dorsey who stepped up and beat his adversaries to the punch.

“My relationship and interaction with Kareem since 2016 in college was an important part of this decision-making process,, but we then did extensive due diligence with many individuals, including clinical professionals, to have a better understanding of the person he is today and whether it was prudent to sign him,” he said in a prepared statement.

Two important factors, the GM said, were Hunt taking “full responsibility for his egregious actions and showing true remorse” and pointing out he is ”undergoing and committed to the necessary professional treatment and a plan that has been clearly laid out.”

The 23-yearold Hunt in a statement called himself “a work in progress as a person, but I’m committed to the support systems I have in place to become the best and healthier version of myself.”

Hunt, who has rushed for 2,151 yards, caught 79 passes for 833 yards and scored 25 touchdowns in 27 career games, signed a one-year contract with the Browns worth $1 million, according to the NFL Network. He would be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2019 season.

It is clearly a gamble worth taking. It will also be interesting to see how long the Browns stick with Hunt considering the time they invested in Josh Gordon before finally giving up and trading him to New England last season.

The difference was Gordon was a serial offender of the league’s substance-abuse policy and served suspensions that have robbed him of most of his career.

It is also clear the NFL will not react casually in this matter even though this is Hunt’s first offense of the policy. With a trio of charges pending, it will be interesting to see which one of the three stages the league assigns him. It is entirely possible the league will suspend him for at least six games and as many as 12.

For the time being, Hunt’s place on the roster should not have an effect on Dorsey’s and head coach Freddie Kitchens’ plans for the 2019 season. That’s assuming Hunt will miss at least half the season.

Speculation is bound to suggest the GM will try to move versatile running back Duke Johnson Jr. to make room for Hunt. It would be foolish to do so, pending Goodell’s verdict in the Hunt case.

Using a three-headed monster at running back seems to work for the New England Patriots with Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White. Why not the Browns with Nick Chubb, Hunt and Johnson?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Random thoughts . . .

 The space for chips on Baker Mayfield’s shoulders is disappearing with the latest snub, the one that deprived him of a signature National Football League honor.

Having had to walk on to win jobs at two different colleges was bad enough. Winning the Heisman Trophy in 2017 was salve for one of them.

When it came time to select the Associated Press offensive rookie of the year in the NFL last season, the Browns quarterback finished a close second to Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants in what many observers believed was an upset.

Not that Barkley didn’t deserve the honor by ringing up spectacular numbers, a few of which broke club records. But his contributions did not in any way move the needle for the Giants, who win five games last season.

Mayfield, on the other hand, moved the needle almost seismically in Cleveland in ways that changed a culture that had stagnated and lingered for the better part of two decades.

He immediately grabbed hold of a moribund franchise and almost magically turned it into one that not only gained instant respect around the league, but reached the point where the “wait till next season” trope took on an entirely new meaning.

He caught the media’s attention – apparently not enough, though, since Barkley edged him out – by shattering the NFL record for touchdown passes in his rookie season, although he began the season on the bench for the first two and a half games.

He elevated this sad franchise to heights not seen by the lakefront since the late 1980s when Bernie Kosar thrilled the Browns faithful by taking them to the precipice of the Super Bowl on a few occasions.

Mayfield’s reward? Another cold shoulder. That’s where the next chip comes in.

It seems that setbacks in life serve as motivators for the Mayfield persona. Being short (for an NFL quarterback) is yet another reason to show skeptics he can be as productive as the bigger guys.

There are those who believe that not winning the offensive rookie award can inspire him, can motivate him to perform even better this season. That’s close, but not quite correct. Substitute will for can in that thought and you’ve got it right.

Not winning – Mayfield prefers to think of it as losing – that award definitely will be in his thoughts throughout 2019 and beyond. That’s just the way he thinks. It comes naturally to someone who has fought his entire life as an athlete.

Now factor in the notion that rookie sensations are frequently victims of the dreaded sophomore jinx. Sometimes it takes an entire season to figure out hot rookies in efforts to cool them down.

There is no question Mayfield will wear a bull’s-eye on his uniform this season. It’s just another motivating factor for a young man who very well might have to play this way his entire career. It’s a challenge he more than stared down as a rookie.

Drew Brees and Russell Wilson are perfect examples of smallish quarterbacks who have defied the odds and produced spectacular careers. Brees is a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Wilson has at least one leg up.
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There is no question Mayfield has become the face of the franchise, which has really not had one since the return in 1999 when you stop and think about it. Unless, of course, you consider Joe Thomas.

With all due respect to the future Hall of Famer, I don’t. An offensive tackle on a team that racked up losing records in 10 straight seasons after posting a 10-6 mark in his rookie season? Really?

There isn’t one player who has worn the Seal Brown and Orange the last 20 seasons good enough and popular enough to be considered as the face of this sad franchise. Mayfield changed that in a blink.

Mention his name these days and fans, not just in Cleveland or Browns Nation but anywhere in the NFL stratosphere, and the associative response is inevitably the Cleveland Browns.

His success has also caught the attention of the NFL. The fact he was among those chosen to appear the league’s terrific 100th anniversary video that debuted during the Super Bowl is proof.

Mayfield was in it for just a few seconds (1:13 into the wild two-minute spot) as he urged New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to “get out there, old man.” Brady obliged, peeling off his five Super Bowl championship rings and dumping them into Mayfield’s hands. “Hold these,” he said. Mayfield smiled broadly, almost wistfully.
*       *       *
Whattaya know. It took an ex-Brown to make the play of the game in last Sunday’s Super Bowl. New England cornerback Jason McCourty, who struggled through a 16-loss season with Cleveland last season, successfully defended a pass that would have given the Los Angeles Rams a 7-3 lead over the Patriots late in the third quarter.

If Rams quarterback Jared Goff a second and a half earlier had spotted wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who took advantage of a blown coverage to break wide open, that would have been the score and who knows what would have happened after that.

The Rams struggled all game against a Patriots defense reminiscent of the brilliant 1986 Chicago Bears defense of Buddy Ryan. A touchdown at that time – they settled for a field goal – might have energized a defense that had held its own against the Patriots in the snoozefest.

McCourty arrived just in time to deflect the ball away from Cooks in the back of the end zone If Goff sees Cooks early, the wide receiver catches the football in stride and McCourty would not have been anywhere near him.
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There is an old saying in the NFL that has proven true many more times than it hasn’t. Offense wins football games. Defense wins championships. A good offense will almost always stop a good offense. A great defense makes it nearly impossible for a great offensive team to win.

Case in point: Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta last Sunday. The Rams entered the game with the second-best offense in the league after the Kansas City Chiefs, who were disposed by the Patriots in the AFC title game.

Great defenses generally make great defenses look mediocre at best, awful and embarrassing at worst. The team that averaged more than 32 points a game during the regular season managed only a field goal in 60 minutes, a 53-yard blast by Greg Zuerlein.

The flummoxed look on the face of Rams whiz kid head coach Sean McVay throughout the game said it all. The this-can’t-really-be-happening expression never went away.

His Rams owned the football a dozen times. They punted on nine of them. The other three wound up in the field goal, a missed field goal and an intercepted pass.  They never ran a play in the red zone.

Great defenses shut down great offenses. That should resonate in Berea come draft time in April. The Browns’ offense needs tinkering in a few areas. The defense needs major work.
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Finally . . . The Patriots played a lot of zone in the secondary, relying heavily on a blitzing pass rush. It confused Goff all evening. Expect to see a lot of that from new Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who ran a similar defense at Carolina with a variety of looks at the snap. . . . Hey, wasn’t that former Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton making a couple of nice plays for the Patriots? Sure was. . . . Now on to the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 26-March 4 in Indianapolis.