April 16, 2014

What’s next for the Browns?

Taylor3According to the NFL Players’ union, as of Tuesday morning the Cleveland Browns are still sitting on $31,828,788.00 worth of cap space for the 2014 season.

The Browns entered free agency with around $45 million. They have signed free agents Donte Whitner (S), Karlos Dansby (ILB), Ben Tate (RB), Jim Dray (TE), Andrew Hawkins (WR), Isaiah Trufant (CB) and Paul McQuiston (OL). They re-signed kicker Billy Cundiff, and let go of QBs Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, as well as LB D’Qwell Jackson. Shawn Lauvao (G), Oniel Cousins (G) and T.J. Ward (S) left through free agency.

The big question mark remains Alex Mack, though it would seem that the team most interested in obtaining Mack is now out of that market. Baltimore traded for center Jeremy Zuttah from Tampa Bay.

The Browns of course have the right to match any offer that Mack gets, but teams have been hesitant to try and pry the transition tagged player away from the Browns.

On Tuesday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam met with reporters from the NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando. He told the gathered throng that he believes Mack wants to be a Brown. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. What seems very likely is that the Browns will be willing to match nearly any offer handed to to the Pro Bowl center. Haslam himself said that Mack is the kind of player that they want around long term.

The Mack situation aside, what is the next move for this organization? [Read more...]

Video: Nick Swisher and Mike Polk Jr. are Bro-tastic roommates

Mike Polk hits another home run with this video from spring training. Love the posters of horses next to Swisher.

 

Extending Terry Francona and wearing too much green … While We’re Waiting

WFNYBanner www

Beane Counters. I am obviously not one of the big advanced metrics guys on the site. I did enjoy this piece by Grantland’s Jonah Keri. In it Oakland GM Billy Beane talks about the kind of people he wants to hire in his organization and says that sometimes these lower tier front office types could be more valuable in the long run than free agents.

I’ve thought for a while that the two most important skills in an organization are identifying (or evaluating) and developing talent. In baseball terms, how good would an organization be, regardless of market size, if they had a pipeline of talent coming through the minor leagues every year? The answer is obvious. In the NFL the draft is such a HUGE deal, but what if you could increase your chance of hitting on each pick by 15-25%? How much better would your team be year in and year out?

—-

Terry Francona is the closer. At least according to his new closer John Axford. Francona, WFNY’s sportsman of the year for 2013, is more than just a manager. He is a recruiter as well. We’ve heard it before about players like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, but even guys like Ryan Raburn and John Axford are saying this guy is the reason players want to come to Cleveland.

Perhaps this season, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about a contract extension for Francona, who signed a four year deal last year. It couldn’t hurt to let the players know that the manager they love so much is going to be around for the long term. That’s kind of a funny sentence to type in this town.

—-

 Cavs Rank continues at Stepien Rules  with #6 Austin Carr.

 —-

The St. Patrick’s Day special uniforms are getting a tad ridiculous. I totally get the Celtics having a special uniform for the day. I could even understand an NBA or NHL franchise playing a home game that has a significant Irish population getting in the act.

But why in the world are MLB teams playing spring training games in the middle of the desert undergoing such drastic changes for a game? Makes no sense. I know, I know. $$$$

Bengals make it official: decline to match Browns’ offer for Hawkins

The Browns found out on Tuesday what they had suspected all along. The Bengals won’t be matching their offer to restricted free agent wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.

The Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis had this to say about the former Cincinnati and University of Toledo pass catcher-

“I don’t want to let Andrew go without making note that he has been a very hard working and contributing player,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He has set a great example of being a great teammate. But we’re fortunate to have a lot of depth at wide receiver, and we’re excited to move forward. Our leading receivers from last year will all return, and we have another group who know our system and have earned our confidence that they are ready to see more action.”

“It’s a given that we will invest in players to the limit of the salary cap, but the system means teams have to make choices, and we don’t believe this match, at this time, would serve our goal of allocating resources roster-wide for the best possible team come September.”

The Browns reportedly offered Hawkins a four year deal worth $13.6 million ($4 million guaranteed). $5.8 million of that is thought to be the first year cap number.

The Bengals are not without cap space. The most recent figures released by the NFLPA have the Bengals $26.6 million under the cap. They do have money tied up at the wide receiver position however, which is why they likely passed on Hawkins.

The Browns are now $31.828 million under the cap.

[Related: Will Alex Mack's future come down to who blinks first?]

Will Alex Mack’s future come down to who blinks first?

MackThe transition tag is seldom used in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns and Alex Mack may be realizing why that is.

When the decision was made, I wrote that the Browns were gambling a bit. Signs pointed to the Browns wanting to get a long term deal done with Mack, but needing more time to get the deal done.

Since the transition tag was placed on Mack, and the one year offer was tendered, Mack (or perhaps better stated his agent) has taken the foot off of the accelerator on getting a new deal done. The Mack camp has stated that they wanted to test the free agent market, and were in no hurry to sign the Browns’ tender.

Meanwhile, the Browns have lost guards Shawn Lauvao and Oniel Cousins in free agency and have seen the top guards and centers in free agency signed by other teams. If they played a game today, John Greco and Jason Pinkston would likely start at guard, with Garrett Gilkey as the back-up.

The point there is that the Browns are running out of options in free agency to improve the offensive line, especially if they end up losing Alex Mack because they don’t want to match an offer that he receives. [Read more...]

Ben Tate contract details revealed

The NFL Players Association revealed details about Ben Tate’s contract with the Browns on Tuesday.

The deal was originally reported to be a heavy incentive based contract. In the end, $1 million ($500 thousand each year) is tied to performance bonuses.

Regardless, the deal is still less than the four year deal that the Redskins gave to former Browns guard Shawn Lauvao. In fact, Tate’s base salary will not be among the top 20 running backs in the league.

[Related: Three questions about the Browns offseason thus far]

Browns still have $33.74 million in cap space

According to figures released by the NFL Players association Monday morning, the Cleveland Browns still have $33,740,038 in salary cap space remaining for the 2014 season.

That figure includes recently signed Ben Tate and the hold for Alex Mack’s transition tag.

The team will reportedly get another $75,000 in cap relief from Brandon Weeden’s signing with the Cowboys.

Only the Oakland Raiders ($59.273 million) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($46.173 million) have more cap space than the Browns.

[Related: Ben Tate is a good signing but not without risk]

Michael Bourn out at least a week with hamstring soreness

Cleveland Indian Michael Bourn was pulled from Sunday’s game in Arizona with “mild tightness” in his left hamstring.

He was re-evaluated on Monday by the Tribe’s medical staff and is optimistic that he will still be ready to go when the Indians open the season on March 31st.

Bourn felt the tightness running from first to third on a single by Nick Swisher in the first inning. He would score and remain in the game through his at-bat in the second, but was replaced by Tyler Naquin for the home half of the inning.

According to Bourn, the injury is not related to the one he suffered in last year’s playoff game that required off-season surgery.

[Related: Animated- Santana homers and Masterson strikes out 8]

NFL Free Agency: Browns meeting with Ben Tate; Alex Mack in no hurry

Free agent running back Ben Tate came to Cleveland on Thursday the team confirmed, and remained in town on Friday.

Tate is 25 years old. He has rushed for 1992 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averages 4.7 yards per carry for his career. Tate has been primarily a back-up to Houston’s Arian Forster for the past three seasons. He is listed as 5’11″ and weighs 215 pounds.

—-

One free agent who is not in a hurry to take a visit or sign a deal is center Alex Mack. The Browns applied the transition tag to Mack meaning they have the right to match any deal that the 5 year veteran works out with another club. Mack could also chose to sign the Browns’ one year tender, play out the season and be a free agent all over again.

Reportedly, Mack has four teams interested in making a deal with him. That could be an agent smokescreen as well.

 [Related: Joe Haden takes exception to NFL Network tweet]

Joe Haden takes exception to NFL Network twitter poll

Who is the best Corner in the NFL? That’s the question posed on twitter by the NFL Network on Friday. The network gave three choices with hashtags. You could tweet to vote for Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib or Derrelle Revis.

Haden asked if there was an “other” choice.

We’re with you Joe. Haden should have been in that discussion.

[Related: Talib's contract raises the bar for Haden extension]

Picture: Jason Kipnis drilled by Jeremy Guthrie, shows off wound

Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis was hit by a pitch by Jeremy Guthrie in Cleveland’s 12-6 win over the Royals in Arizona today.

Perhaps hit isn’t a strong enough word.

Kipnis took the fastball in the back, and following the game showed off the mark via his twitter account.

Um, ouch.

Kipnis doubled and drove in a run pushing his spring training average up to .375.

The Browns sign TE Jim Dray, are you him?

Dray

The Cleveland Browns announced today that they have signed tight end Jim Dray to a free agent contract. According to the Arizona Republic, the deal is three years for $5.625 million.

Chances are you are not familiar with Jim Dray.

Those very familiar with Stanford football may recall that Dray had a horrific knee injury in 2007 that resulted in “two surgeries (Oct. 18 and Dec. 6) to repair his ACL, PCLA, LCL, hamstring, lateral band, posterior capsule and popitillas.” Dray spent a year rehabbing the leg and came back in the middle of his senior season.

Dray was a seventh round pick of the Cardinals in 2010. He started 15 games for Arizona last season, catching 26 passes for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

He is 6’5″ and 250 pounds, and should be a blocking tight end and big target over the middle.

[Related: Bengals now unlikely to match offer for Hawkins]

 

Indians send out 12 from big league camp, including Lindor

Lindor HRThe Indians today reduced the roster in Major League camp by a dozen players.

The team reassigned shortstop Francisco Lindor, catchers Jake Lowery, Roberto Perez and infielders Tony Wolters, Joey Wendle along with outfielder Tyler Naquin to Minor League camp.

The Tribe also optioned pitchers Austin Adams and TJ House along with infielders Jesus Aguiar, Jose Ramirez and outfielder CARLOS Moncrief to Triple-A Columbus. Infielder ERIK Gonzalez was sent to Single-A Carolina.

Lindor had four hits in fifteen at-bats in Cactus League action, including a home run and a double. He drove in four runs and struck out three times.

[Related: Raburn rocking, Bauer rocked]

NFL Free Agency Notebook: First Impressions

Whitner Haden DansbyHappy New Year.

On Tuesday at 4:00, the NFL calendar officially flipped to 2014. It also signaled the beginning of free agency, and with loads of cap space the Browns were poised to be players in the market. The Browns moved quickly on a pair of defensive players to replace T.J. Ward and D’Qwell Jackson.

Karlos Dansby is the new linebacker in the middle for Mike Pettine. As durable and dependable as D’Qwell Jackson has been for the Browns, Dansby is something that Jackson never has been- dynamic. Dansby is a much more aggressive linebacker, and quite honestly a bigger playmaker.

As I was thinking through the switch from Jackson to Dansby, I tried to remember a big time play from Jackson last season. Truth be told, I couldn’t come up with one. Jackson has long been a guy that makes a bunch of tackles four yards past the line of scrimmage, not in the backfield. Dansby has much more big play potential, including an ability to get to the quarterback from the inside backer position. It’s also hard not to notice the difference between Jackson’s tackles (78 solo, 65 assists) and Dansby’s (113 solo, 8 assists).

In this case the change is an upgrade. Which is a little hard to say, because I really like Jackson the person. [Read more...]

Uniform trends, adding pitches and new games: While We’re Waiting

WFNYBanner www

Uni-Watch creator Paul Lukas talks about the pendulum of uniform changes. Is change really inevitable? If so does that mean design will always push against tradition?

The Browns will reveal new uniforms sometime around the 2015 draft. While I usually hate change for the sake of just changing, I don’t think this is the apocalypse of Cleveland sports.  Lukas says that fans usually fall into two camps, the newer is always better and the get off my lawn groups. I don’t think that has to be the case. Take us through the process. Explain things to us. Give me a reason to jump on board. When the Seahawks incorporated the 12th man (the fans) in their design? I was jealous. It doesn’t have to be a gimmick. [Lukas/Uniwatch]

—-

Former Tribe pitcher and now broadcaster Jensen Lewis talked with FanGraphs about pitchers coming to spring training and trying new pitches. We already reported that Zach McAllister is working on a slider. In the interview Lewis discusses why pitchers resort to these new pitches. Some, like former Indian CC Sabathia have to do something to make up for diminishing velocity. Most simply don’t have overpowering stuff and have to constantly tweak being deceptive. It’s a good read. [Collette/FanGraphs]

—-

The Akron RubberDucks are holding a name the mascot contest. You can’t see the new mascot yet, as they aren’t unveiling him until opening day. Winner gets season tickets. Make your jokes about winning season tickets to a AA baseball team, but Akron does a good job.

I had the chance to sit and talk with owner Ken Babby last fall. I came away from the interview impressed. He doesn’t strike me as a guy out to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s a dad first, and knows how to surround himself with good people.

—-

Since we’re showing personal flavor in WWW now, I thought I’d chime in with the occasional board game banter. A while back I wrote about the other hobby of mine and had a decent response to the piece. So this week I’m presenting a newer game that my family really loves.

steamparkThe game is called SteamPark. The object is to have the most profitable theme park. It has a steam punk setting, and the artwork is just fantastic. All of the components are quality, and there are plenty of them. The game involves several mechanics, but the primary one is a dice race. Each player has a set of dice with action symbols on them. Players simultaneously roll their dice in a race to see who can get the actions they want and claim the earliest turn cards. These cards determine order of play and have special bonuses or penalties. It is a really cool twist on typical dice rolling.

Players can build rides, attract visitors (which may or may not stay in your park), install stands such as concessions or bathrooms, clean your park, expand your grounds or apply bonus cards. There are multiple ways to make your park profitable, but be careful not to ignore your growing dirt problem. At the end of the six rounds that dirt can have a serious penalty.

The game plays 2-4, and with the six turn limit really shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes after you learn it. It says 10+ on the box, but my nine year old loves it and does just fine without any concessions given. You will likely have to get this one online or at a local comics/games shop. No Target, WalMart or Toys R Us deals yet.

Browns sign Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins to four-year offer sheet

(Update: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Bengals plan on matching the Browns’ offer. Given the $5.3 million guaranteed in the deal and the Bengals depth chart at wideout, the move is considered a surprise by many who cover the league.)

HawkinsOn the first day of free agency the Browns were busy replacing a pair of defensive leaders in D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward. After coming to terms with safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Karlos Dansby, the team started to address the offense.

Cincinnati wide receiver Andrew Hawkins was signed to a four-year offer sheet worth a reported $12.2 million dollars. According to the NFL Network’s Albert Breer, a little over $4 million of that is guaranteed. However, the National Football Post’s Aaron Wilson reports the deal is worth $13.1 million.

Either way, the Bengals now have ten days to match the offer made by Cleveland, as Hawkins was a restricted free agent. The Browns will not owe any draft picks if the Bengals decide not to match the deal.

Hawkins, a University of Toledo Rocket, is a 5-foot-inch, 180-pound slot receiver. He just turned 28 on Monday.

In three seasons, Hawkins has 86 receptions for 995 yards and four touchdowns.

[Related: Browns ink Dansby for four years, $24 million]

Donte Whitner coming home to Cleveland, signs four-year, $28 million deal

The Browns have reached an agreement with free agent safety Donte Whitner on a four-year contract worth an estimated $28 million.

The move means that the Browns are willing to say goodbye to free agent T.J. Ward. Whitner is a Cleveland native and an Ohio State Buckeye alumnus.

Whitner was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2006. He was an anchor of the San Francisco defense for the past three seasons. The 28-year old  has been to a pair of Pro Bowls.

[Related: Karlos Dansby signs with the Browns]

Mack’s agent confident he can structure a deal Browns won’t match report says

Early Monday evening SI’s Peter King tweeted about Browns center Alex Mack. Last week the Browns applied the transition tag to Alex Mack meaning he could negotiate a deal with another club, but the Browns had the right to match the offer and retain the free agent.

According to King, Alex Mack’s agent (Marvin Demoff is the lead representative) believes that a deal can be made that the Browns won’t want to match.

If Mack doesn’t accept an offer from another team, he can sign the one year tender from the Browns for just over $10 million dollars and become the highest paid center in the league and be a free agent next season.

One tactic that agents have previously used to get around these kinds of situations are the inclusion of “poison pill” clauses. These clauses guarantee outrageous bonuses for things like number of games played in a certain stadium or state. The most famous of these happened between the Seattle Seahwaks and Minnesota Vikings when they were bidding for the services of Steve Hutchison and Nate Burleson respectively.

These clauses are not believed to be illegal technically, though the NFL “discourages” the use of them.

If King is correct that Mack stands to gain by getting another team involved in making an offer, then this statement by his agent could be a ploy the day before free agency begins as well.

[Related: The Alex Mack contract gamble]

Top pick Anthony Bennett out three weeks with knee strain

The Cleveland Cavaliers announced on Monday that first round pick Anthony Bennett will miss the next three weeks with a left patellar tendon strain. Bennett had an MRI on Sunday at the Cleveland Clinic that revealed the strain.

The injury kept Bennett out of one game, and may have been a contributing factor in his limited minutes over the last two weeks.

Jason Lloyd is also reporting that Kyrie Irving missed practice Monday because of an illness.

For the season, Bennett averages 4.1 points per game and 2.9 rebounds. In February, he averaged 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.

[Related: Zydrunas retirement ceremony in pictures]

NFL Free Agency Rumor: Browns “very serious” about acquiring Donte Whitner

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that the Browns are “very serious” about bringing Donte Whitner to Cleveland to replace SS T.J. Ward.

Whitner, a Cleveland native and Ohio State Buckeye made just a hair under $5 million dollars in 2013. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Browns, Bears and Jets all inquired about Whitner over the weekend.

There is still a chance that the 49ers hold onto Whitner as well.

“The 49ers are “still pushing” to retain Whitner, but it appears likely there will be a competitive market for his services when free agency begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Whitner, 28, has spent the past three seasons with the 49ers and earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2012. He is expected to receive a more lucrative contract than the three-year, $11.75 million deal he signed in 2011.”

Perhaps signing with the Browns would allow Whitner time to finally change his last name to ‘Hitner’ like he tried to do last season.

Buckle up Browns fans. With $50 million dollars in cap space, free agency won’t be boring this year. The Browns will likely be connected to a lot of rumors. The safety position in particular should be interesting.

[Related: Jets expressing interest in T.J. Ward]

[Related: Jairus Byrd seeking $9 million per season]