2011 Holmgren Report: Defensive Backs

Last year we thought we’d introduce ourselves to Mike Holmgren by offering a report of each position group. The reports contained a ‘Roster Upgrade Advisory System’ not unlike that of Homeland Security. This year, even though the big show has been around for a year and has Tom Heckert in house, we thought we’d give the reports another shot.  Previous reports: OL

As Rick mentioned in yesterday’s piece on the offensive line, NFL teams looking to add pieces this offseason are in a bit of a quandry due to the pending labor issues that could halt free agency all together. 

Evaluating 2010

Last year, WFNY listed the  upgrade advisory within the defensive backfield as “severe.”  Given what the team had going into last season, it made sense that two early draft selections and a key trade would ultimately land the Browns three new players within their secondary.

Starters: Eric Wright (CB), Sheldon Brown (CB), Abe Elam (FS), TJ Ward (SS), Joe Haden (CB)
Reserves: Mike Adams (CB/FS), Ray Ventrone (S), Nick Sorensen (S), Sabby Piscatelli (S), Eric King (CB), Coye Francies (CB)


PlayerGamesSolo TackleAst. TackleTotal TackleSackYds LostIntYdsIntTDPass Def.Safety
T.J. Ward169525123002390100
Abram Elam166514792162180100
Joe Haden16587651561010180
Sheldon Brown  1651126300200100
Mike Adams1539346110251060
Eric Wright13366420010090
Ray Ventrone16181190000000
Nick Sorensen15100140000000
Sabby Piscitelli               53040000000
Eric King43030000000
Coye Francies22130000000

Sure, Joe Haden was not necessarily a “starter” by technical terms, but the rookie cornerback exceeded all expectations by playing in all 16 games and taking over admirably for a sub-par and ultimately injured Eric Wright.  On the season, Haden’s six interceptions were among the best in the league (T-5th), earning him a spot as a Pro Bowl alternate.  Haden’s 18 passes defensed were also top-five in the NFL. His partner in crime TJ Ward (What!? No Taylor Mays!?) started from Day 1 and led the Browns in total tackles.  Not a bad draft, eh?

Unfortunately, Wright was a complete disaster through all 13 games, getting obliterated early in the season by Anquan Boldin and subsequently picked on from that point forward.  Also unfortunate is that the team was forced to part ways with Brandon McDonald, leaving them with three cornerbacks on the active roster.  For this reason, we have names like Eric King and Sabby Piscatelli recording nine combined games of action.

All in all, the defensive backfield was much improved over the past year in terms of talent.  The lack of a consistent pass-rush left them vulnerable at times, and Eric Wright’s well-documented regression (and Eric Mangini’s reluctance to sit him in the wake of said regression) did not help matters much.  But with the spot-on selections during draft day coupled with the addition of veteran Sheldon Brown, the unit is in a lot better shape than it was one year prior.

Under Contract

  • Mike Adams: 2011: $1.1 million, 2012: Free Agent
  • Sheldon Brown: 4/2/2010: Signed a three-year, $15.25 million contract. The deal included a $5 million signing bonus. 2011: $3.1 million, 2012: $3.7 million, 2013: Free Agent
  • Coye Francies: 2011: $480,000, 2012: Restricted Free Agent
  • Joe Haden: 7/31/2010: Signed a five-year, $42 million contract. The deal contains $26 million guaranteed, including a $12 million signing bonus. Another $8 million is available through incentives. 2011: $2,558,165 (+ $4 million roster bonus), 2012: $5,765,505, 2013: $6,936,429, 2014: $6,678,193, 2015: Free Agent
  • Ray Ventrone: 3/5/2010: Signed a three-year, $2.2 million contract. The deal includes $200,000 in bonuses. 2011-2012: $700,000, 2013: Free Agent
  • TJ Ward: 7/26/2010: Signed a four-year, $4.027 million contract. The deal contains $3 million guaranteed, including a $2.075 million signing bonus. Another $973,000 is available via a “likely to be earned” onetime escalator clause. 2011: $405,000, 2012: $490,000, 2013: $575,000, 2014: Free Agent

So, of all of those names in the stat sheet above, only four of them are under contract beyond next season.  Presently, the team will have free agents Eric Wright and Abe Elam to consider.  But given Wright’s season of play and the recent release of all former Mangini-acquired New York Jets, it would not surprise many to have both men move on to another employer assuming free agency occurs.

Browns Roster Upgrade Advisory Level: Elevated

Would it be wise to use the sixth-overall draft pick on another cornerback? This is obviously a highly-debatable topic.

LSU’s Patrick Peterson is presently listed as the third-best draftable player per Scout’s Inc.  Peterson is considered to be among the elite and would also contribute in special teams. Thus, using the sixth pick would represent a bit of a value and would provide the Browns with their defensive backfield for at last the next five years.

Of course, this current Browns team has many holes that need to be filled if they are planning to be a viable contender any time in the near future.  If the front office opted to pass on Peterson to replace a member of the front seven on the defensive end, it would be acceptable.  The placing of the “Elevated” need is based more on need for depth more than high-priced talent.  While Haden and Ward represent a solid future, this is a team that can not succeed with three cornerbacks on Opening Day.

Other rookies that have graded well per reputable sources: Prince Amukamara,  CB – Nebraska; Jimmy Smith, CB – Colorado; Rahim Moore, S – UCLA; DeAndre McDaniel, S – Clemson

Notable free agent DBs: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB; Champ Bailey, CB; Antonio Cromartie, CB; Roman Harper, S; Quintin Mikell, S

  • saggy

    i have been leaning toward peterson for some time. I really think that if the browns have 2 lockdown CB’s we can blitz whenever the heck we want. big time DL’s are the equivalent of fantasy baseball pitchers: you can find value late, and there is always another one ready to break out. I don’t feel that way at all about CB’s. I think if you have a chance to draft a true ELITE CB – and it is a position of need – you should do it.

    It’s hard to make that point with regards to all the holes on the D-Line but i think it’s pertinent here.

  • Harv 21

    Never blamed Mangini for not replacing Wright with Haden earlier. For all we know, breaking Haden in slowly during his season was the perfect method to develop him his rookie season and led to his confidence and success by week 16. And if it was Mangini’s priority to properly develop the rookie when his own job was on the line, speaks awfully well for Mangini.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    Unless it is a quarterback, top 10 picks need to be starting from Day 1. If anyone lacks confidence on the Browns, it is not Joe Haden.

  • crobarred

    I would have hoped the Browns could have found a roster spot for Larry Asante when they drafted him in the 5th round. I think he would have been a better backup than Sabby or Ventrone.

  • Harv 21

    Well, that’s kind of an outcome determinative statement about Haden, Scott, which is my point. Had he started game 1 and been burned badly he may not have appeared very confident at all. Re other top ten spots, we may want them them to contribute immediately but not sure that it’s best for every player to start game1.

  • Nate_3

    I agree with alot of the points in the article, but I really doubt Peterson will be there at 6 and Amukamara is a big reach at 6, so I don’t see us drafting a CB. I’m on the AJ Green bandwagon b/c I think he is just way too good to pass up. If he’s off the board I’d bet money we go D line.

  • paulbip

    Amukamara is a top 10 pick. Take Green if there or Peterson if Green gone. If both gone, take Amukamara and be set in the secondary for years to come.

  • bobby

    I dont care who you have in the secondary, if you cant get to the QB you cant stop the pass. Getting DL isnt just for pass ruch either. If we dont have good players up front, then theres no chance to stop the run and Peterson/Haden wont matter at CBs. Look at GB. They had 2 undrafted FAs starting in the 2nd half of the SB didn’t they? well these guys were good enough because of Clay Matthews, BJ Raji, AJ Hawk, etc. I dont have a problem locking Haden on 1 side and doubling the other with a S. I think we go Green or Dareus or a top DE if 1 were to fall.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    I agree with bobby…DBs are used when the D-Line doesn’t “get there.” Drafting a D-Lineman will help with two problems in the first round. Drafting a CB will only solve one.

    Ultimately though, when you have a top-10 pick, you take the best player available regardless of position. That’s one reason why I don’t generally like trading down. You’re passing on the best players available so that you can have more picks in the later rounds when less talented players are available. Just take the best guy on the board.

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