Once again we welcome free-lance journalist Mark Leonard to share his thoughts on the NFL and the Browns. Mark is from Lorain and grew up a Cleveland fan. You can find his other WFNY guest pieces here.
Quite possibly, it is. With the sport in legal strife, trades and free agent signings are prohibited. It is not even clear which veterans are (or aren’t) free agents. Is it enough to have four seasons in the league or must one have six?
Without that detail clarified, one can’t even evaluate how essential was Stanford FB Owen Maricec’s selection. Is Lawrence Vickers, a five-year veteran, still exclusively Browns’ property or is he not?
Much has been sufficiently made of how damaged are organizations such as Cleveland’s because of this ownership vs. players disagreement. The Browns are one of the clubs with a first-year coaching staff. Given the state of the game, those are particularly hurt by the inability to conduct mini-camps, OTAs and meetings with in-house personnel. They cannot fully install the offenses or defenses, both of which happen to be completely new in Cleveland’s case, of course.
And, like all professional clubs, the Browns cannot sign draftees, recruit undrafted free agents or negotiate with unsigned vets. All business, now that the draft has been conducted, is frozen.
What’s next? No one knows.
Mock drafts for 2012 are presently being circulated, so lean is league news. Draft orders vary, dependent upon whether one employs last year’s standings or mythological power-polls. Accordingly, the Browns may be picking first, third, sixth or virtually anywhere through 32.
Yes, it’s absurd and ridiculous. But you already know and have concluded as much.
Making circumstances all the more frustrating is that this might’ve otherwise been a remarkable year for the Browns to be liquidating some of their suddenly-expendable assets. Just as Cleveland is leaving one system behind in favor of another, so, too, are other teams.
Whereas the Browns are converting from the 3-4 to the 4-3, there are clubs moving in the opposite direction. Houston, for example, is forsaking the 4-3 for the 3-4. In other words, it would be conceivable the two organizations might cooperate in an exchange of now-ill-fitting personnel.
The Texans no longer have use for system-specific 4-3 personnel, much as the Browns no longer cherish 3-4 individuals. Houston might be packaging for the North Coast players like pass-rushing DE Mark Anderson and 3-technique DT Amobi Okoye, perhaps receiving in return pieces such as Derreck Robinson, Titus Adams, Jason Trusnik and Ko Quaye. In the process, maybe Cleveland also gets the deposed Steve Slaton, a speedster who’d make a fine change-of-pace RB in its Peyton Hillis-Monterio Hardesty backfield.
OLB Matt Roth has a full six seasons in, so he cannot be dealt; but Vickers—shopped with fellow restricted free-agents Abram Elam, Chansi Stuckey and Brian Schaefering—might have loosened from Minnesota assets like DE Ray Edwards, CF-type FS Madieu Williams and deep-threat WR Bernard Berrian.
Armed with a feature-back like Adrian Peterson and burdened with about 18 free agents, the Vikes might appreciate an offer such as that, much as the Texans would probably enjoy getting respectable 3-4 compensation for their potentially-valuable 4-3 DLs.
Additionally, there are coverage OLBs who’d be hitting the market from West Coast outfits, players who’d factor well with a defense converting to the 4-3 and in search of weakside starters. San Diego’s Kevin Burnett and Oakland’s Thomas Howard both run well and are in the midst of their prime years.
For their still-shaky OL, the Browns might find solace in the availabilities of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jeremy Trueblood and Davin Joseph. Similarly, wouldn’t one imagine Texans’ DC Wade Phillips would like to avail himself of his most recent LDE, Dallas’ Marcus Spears? Or Jets’ castoff Shaun Ellis? Or maybe even former Brown Kenyon Coleman?
Outstanding 4-3 MLB options exist in Nick Barnett and Barrett Ruud, as well as in Steven Tulloch, Quincy Black and Kirk Morrison. Among the DL viabilities are Tommie Harris, Justin Bannon, Barry Cofield and the Jenkins brothers, Kris and Cullen. Don’t you suppose there is at least one GM thinking in terms of a package deal for those two?
Might Eric Wright have been bartered for Carolina’s Richard Marshall? Safeties Chris Hope and Michael Huff would’ve found a market for themselves, maybe even as a tandem. And wouldn’t it be wild to witness the bidding on longtime Raider CB Nmamdi Asomugha?
The average NFL fan has yet to miss a single game, even of the practice variety, yet he’s been deprived nonetheless. Damage may not quite be irreparable, as both the players and owners contest to maintain is true for themselves. But it is undeniable.
Some are even left to read nonsense articles like this one in place of authentic sports news.
One thought which must be revisited, based upon events of draft weekend, is the imagined departure of 12-year veteran DL Robaire Smith. Whereas it had been assumed the Browns would probably prefer to go young up front and allow the old pro to move along to greener pastures in his fading career, possibly positioning himself with a 3-4 winner, it may now be Robaire will be retained for a variety of reasons.
Rather than pairing former NT Ahtyba Rubin with a quick penetrator, the team seems intent upon having interchangeable giants inside, evidenced by the drafting of Baylor’s 335-pound Phil Taylor. This indicates there will not be a wholesale reconstruction emphasizing lighter, more mobile athletes able to enhance team speed. And it suggests there is a still a place for a rugged space-eater like Smith.
He’d rotate with Taylor and Rubin, as well as with returnee Travis Ivey, while contributing sage leadership, influence, run-stuffing and professional discipline, bringing along the youngsters surrounding himself.
Robaire is among those most familiar with Shurmur, of course, having played under him when the coach was a graduate assistant at their alma mater, Michigan State. No doubt, Robaire is also accustomed to some of the principles employed by new Def-Coor Dick Jauron and top aide Ray Rhodes. Though there have been indications his aged frame is breaking down, exemplified by the back injury sustained early last year, Robaire may be occasionally relied upon for sizeable impact given the direction Jauron is taking his D-line.
A genuine negative of last week’s Browns’ draft was its inability to address one of the club’s foremost and persistent flaws. Nothing whatsoever was done about the club’s lack of suddeness on the offensive side of the football.
Though this year’s edition figures not to again be the sport’s oldest, it remains one of its slowest, a deficiency particularly apparent when it possesses the ball. Who must oppositional DC’s prepare for? Who keeps them up at night? Who threatens them deep? Who opens things for his teammates? Who can score from anywhere on the field? Who will attract the attention of opposing secondaries? Who can explode from the blocks, elude tacklers, operate in space and frighten opponents?
Scoring touchdowns has not been an organizational forte over recent seasons. Even with teams forced last autumn to focus upon the bullish thrusts of big-back Hillis, the cast was unable to distinguish itself, beyond the similarly-predictable achievements of TE Benjamin Watson.
That nothing of substance was done to rectify this distressing truth ranks as the singularly most alarming development of draft weekend, at least insofar as Browns’ interests are concerned. Perhaps that remedy was sacrificed with the third-rounder that secured Taylor’s services.
Lastly, it again happened that an imagined Browns’ draft class went nearly en masse to another organization.
In 2005, it had been hoped then-GM Phil Savage would deal-down from pick 3 overall in order to come out of Round One with Troy OLB DeMarcus Ware and LSU DE Marcus Spears, followed by the selections of Virginia DE Chris Canty and Minnesota RB Marion Barber. All became Cowboys instead.
This spring, UNC DT Marvin Austin, Troy slot-receiver Jerrel Jernigan, Indiana OT James Brewer and Michigan State MLB Greg Jones had, at different times, populated this writer’s pre-draft wish lists for Cleveland. All are now Giants.
So, the psychic projection system seems to be functional. It’s simply errantly directed.
(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)