Catching up . . . again
Let’s start with the fresh stuff and work back to recent events that have aged the last few weeks.
John Dorsey arrived in Cleveland about 16 months ago with the reputation of getting things done in a hurry.
It took him less than one season to overhaul the roster of the National Football League’s most moribund franchise and emerge with what can arguably be called the most surprising record in the league last season.
The fact that he labeled it unsatisfactory – it all depends on your perspective – was a clear signal it will not be any different this season.
Sending guard Kevin Zeitler, the club’s best offensive lineman the last two seasons and one of the best in the NFL overall, to the New York Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon a few days ago proves it.
Shipping a high quality offensive lineman in his prime (he’s only 29) takes plenty of nerve and a gambling gene that constantly needs to be scratched. Never mind that Vernon is high quality, too, and fills a need.
What Dorsey has done in the process is weaken a unit that struggled with the ground game last season. It seems as though that was the only way he could justify taking Austin Corbett at the top of round two in last season’s college draft.
Corbett, who played just about every minute of the 2018 exhibition season and sat out just about all of the regular season, is not Zeitler. At least not yet. It is unfair to draw that comparison, and yet here we are.
With problems at left tackle – Greg Robinson struggled in the run game and excelled at protecting Baker Mayfield when he wasn’t holding the opponent – and now right guard, Dorsey is rolling the dice on a unit vital to the success on that side of the ball.
It is entirely possible the GM will go shopping in this year’s college lottery to help that unit in an effort to sustain the success it enjoyed in the second half of last season. Because right now, the quality quotient is well below last season’s with Zeitler’s absence.
Vernon, on the other hand, definitely fills a need and checks off one of areas that plagued the club last season – the pass rush. When one man (Myles Garrett) has 13½ of the team’s 37 sacks, you’ve got a problem.
Vernon, who labored last season playing in a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker with the Giants, returns to end in the 4-3 look of new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and should finally take some of the pressure off Garrett.
Emmanuel Ogbah certainly hasn’t the last two seasons and most likely will see more time inside if he makes the final cut or survives long enough to make it to summer camp.
This could very well turn out to be one of those unusual trades that helps both teams. Zeitler will fit in nicely with the Giants, whose offensive line has struggled the last couple of seasons. Vernon will help the sack total rise. It all depends on Corbett.
Rampant speculation that Duke Johnson Jr. might not be a member of the Browns this year is troubling. Rumors that refuse to go away suggest numerous NFL clubs would love to have the running back on their roster.
Why in the world would Dorsey risk losing one of the best playmakers on the club by trading him? He says he isn’t trying to do that, but would not refuse to take calls from other clubs with that in mind. In other words, Johnson is not untouchable.
Dorsey dances gingerly down that two-way street with a player who would look great on a team that knows how to best utilize this talents. Something the Browns have had difficulty with.
Is Johnson a running back? Or is he a receiver? He’s both. He’s the kind of player you want to own the football because he makes good things happen with his feet. Get him the ball and watch him make plays.
If new head coach Freddie Kitchens is such an offensive genius, it shouldn’t be that difficult for him to scheme plays that best suit Johnson’s talents. That talent has been wasted far too long in Cleveland.
Can’t blame Dorsey for cutting Collins, whose inconsistent play last season contributed to the disappointing defensive showing last season. It wasn’t just him, to be sure, but the large contract that kept him in Cleveland strangled his chances of remaining.
Sashi Brown vastly overpaid Collins after he played very well for a half season after joining the team in a trade midway through the 2016 season. There was no way he was going to renegotiate the four-year, $50 million contract.
Keeping him did not justify the money he was set to make considering how far his game had fallen off. “There were some inconsistencies,” Dorsey said following Collins’ release. “He may have been nicked. All I know is he is a very talented football player. You can’t have enough of those guys on your team.”
A classic case of damning with faint praise.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
Free agency lurks around the corner with the first day of the 2019 league year set to begin at 4 p.m. on Wednesday shortly after all 2018 player contracts expire. Contract negotiations with free agents are permitted on Monday with the trading period beginning Wednesday at 4.
The annual college draft will be conducted April 25-27 in Nashville. The Browns, barring unforeseen maneuvering by Dorsey, are scheduled to select 17th in the opening round with needs at defensive tackle, offensive line, linebacker (inside and outside), wide receiver and the secondary (in that order).