April 23, 2014

Calling out the worst of all NFL draft clichés

2012 NFL Draft

Leading up to an NFL draft, there are a lot of hackneyed conversations that will drive a fan absolutely crazy. It seems that some fans want to rely on simplistic rules to simplify the NFL draft for themselves. It’s a coping mechanism to help deal with the fact that most fans have do not possess nearly enough information to truly decide what their team needs or how they should build for the future. It’s not an indictment of fans to not know, but it is an indictment for fans who pretend like they do.

Know what, exactly? It’s infuriating this time of year, but how many fans do you come across — at the bar, calling sports talk radio or on Twitter — who think of themselves as the only one qualified to run the war room of their favorite football team? Imagine every nugget of their “wisdom” being delivered with a confident, smug smile that says, “I just know I’m right.” Instead of looking at each team like a complex system that needs lots of different pieces, we get a lot of vague, simplistic misconceptions. And with that, here are my least favorite draft clichés.

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“Nate’s Room” now resides in Cleveland

Nate Burleson
Nate Burleson, a 32-year-old wide receiver, signed a one-year deal with the Browns, a team (hopefully) on the rise. But how exactly did that deal come about? We went straight to the source.

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Alex Mack might have missed the party


Four weeks ago, before millions and millions of NFL free agency dollars were committed, Alex Mack’s agent got boastful with Peter King who wrote it up for his MMQB column. It caused anyone with half a memory for the NFL to go searching for rule books and articles in Google with the keyword “poison pill” as the discerning criteria. And as a thousand Internet researchers hit the enter key to confirm their inklings that “poison pill” contracts were illegal, it was easy to imagine Mack’s agent sitting somewhere with his eyes shut tightly and with his fingers crossed that somehow he could will the reality of the situation away. It’s hard to conclude anything other than the notion that Alex Mack wants out of Cleveland, but it’s even harder to conclude that he’ll find his way out this year.

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Sorting out the Browns wide receiver situation

Little2The Browns announced the signing of Nate Burleson on Sunday night. Burleson will be 33 when the season begins. He has had a nice NFL career, but at this point he isn’t exactly the threat opposite Gordon that would make the Browns a dangerous offense. (Quarterback notwithstanding.)

The Browns currently have the following receivers on the roster: Josh Gordon, Nate Burleson Greg Little, Travis Benjamin, Andrew Hawkins, Josh Cooper, Charles Johnson, Tori Gurley and Vernon Conner.

Gordon is the legitimate number one receiver. He is one of the best in the league and still hasn’t reached his potential. Travis Benjamin tore his ACL last season against the Chiefs in week 8. He should be ready to go for the beginning of the season. Benjamin is dangerous because of his speed and agility. Hopefully he is able to fully come back from this injury. Even if fully healthy, he is a slot receiver and return specialist.

Andrew Hawkins is the free agent acquisition from the Bengals. Obviously the team thinks enough of him to outbid the Bengals for his services. Looking at his career to date, you wouldn’t think that Hawkins is being primed to be the second option behind Gordon. He is a very nice 3rd/4th option. [Read more...]

In the 2014 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns should consolidate picks

2012 NFL Draft

The Cleveland Browns have a lot of picks in the 2014 NFL draft, but they don’t need 10 new players by the time the weekend is done. The Browns have plenty of needs and should do plenty of work to address those needs in the draft, but more important than anything, they need as many star-level players as possible. I know a lot of this sounds very obvious, but I get the sense that because many think of this as a “deep” draft that the idea of trading down has become palatable to increase the number of picks. While I can’t lay out an actual game plan for what I want the Browns to do, as a general rule for this draft, I’m less interested in having all those third- and fourth-round picks become players than I am seeing if they could be consolidated into one or two picks in higher rounds.

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WFNY Roundtable – Preliminary thoughts on the NFL Draft


The NFL Draft is (not so quickly) approaching, and today we decided to see where everyone’s head is currently at with respect to the Browns’ draft possibilities. Check out the conversation below: [Read more...]

What would it look like if the Browns traded for Mike Wallace?


There was a sense of relief that the Cleveland Browns didn’t sign Mike Wallace last off-season after the details of his contract emerged. The fact is, as badly as the Cleveland Browns needed help at receiver, it was an absurdly large contract. How absurd? Now that there’s been a shakeup in the Dolphins front office there are rumors via Jason La Canfora that the Dolphins would like to explore the idea of taking an $8.8 million cap hit for the right to trade Wallace right now. So, without advocating it, I thought it might be interesting to look at the financial implications of trading for Wallace. [Read more...]

Jimmy Haslam sounds like the Browns owner we always wanted

 Jimmy Haslam Steely

Maybe 2013 will go down in Browns history as a strange outlier. Maybe we’ll all laugh about it as the trial by fire (of a thousand suns?) that Jimmy Haslam needed in order to figure out how to run a football team and be the kind of team owner he always envisioned becoming. After reading his latest Q&A with the media from the NFL meetings in Orlando, I’m starting to see the possibility that Jimmy Haslam can be the owner we all hoped he would be when he secured ownership of the team from the Lerner family. [Read more...]

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...]

Cleveland unlikely to see David beat Goliath in Sin Tax vote

David vs. Goliath 600

I am very wary when talking about sports at its occasional and inevitable intersection with politics. Sports debates are contentious enough without that injection of volatility juice plus lightning into Frankenstein’s monster. Here in Cleveland we’ve already been through it once in the past calendar year to some extent as Joe Banner and the Cleveland Browns negotiated the financial implications of improving Cleveland Browns stadium. That construction is already underway and Joe Banner is gone from Cleveland, but now it’s officially Sin Tax season. The two sides of the debate have established themselves, but it seems to me that it will be an uphill battle for the opposition. [Read more...]

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...]

Over Troubled Bridgewater

NCAA Football: Louisville at West Virginia

He isn’t who we thought he was. As Theodore (“Teddy”) Bridgewater was spraying footballs all over the University of Louisville’s field house, the ball fluttering every which way as it traveled in the general direction of a wide receiver, it became evident that the top end of the impending 2014 NFL Draft would provide even more question marks than had originally been surmised. For a player who spurned the NFL Combine in preference of showcasing his own talents in a one-spotlight room to falter as bad as Bridgewater did is rare. For a player who has thrived much of his collegiate career by completing passes on the run to not just miss at doing so, but miss in a way that led to unanimous panning is another.

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Three questions about the Browns off-season (so far)

The Browns seemed to be set to be one of the most active teams in free agency as the period began. They signed Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner very quickly and were off to the races. They followed that up with an offer sheet to Andrew Hawkins, a smaller move on special teamer Isaiah Trufant before making another marginally big splash over the weekend with running back Ben Tate. As I write all that out, it really does seem like they’ve been active, but there are a couple things that the Browns haven’t done which has surprised me and makes me curious about their strategy and plans. So let’s explore what the Browns have done and what it might mean for their plans from this point forward.

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Ben Tate is a good signing, but not without risks


Ben Tate seems intent on making friends in Cleveland. Since his deal with the Cleveland Browns got close he’s taken to social media to ingratiate himself to the Browns faithful. It’s pandering, but in Cleveland it’s much appreciated by the fans. It’s a strategy for a player that works just fine, but I hope Tate realizes that it eventually has to be backed up with actual play on the field. For the Browns, signing Ben Tate is a good move, but it isn’t without risks. No, the two-year commitment and estimated $7 million aren’t a problem at all, at least not in theory. The problems arise if Tate isn’t able to become the featured back the Browns so desperately need.

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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...]

Let Free Agency Commence!

What do the Browns have cooking today?

What do the Browns have cooking today?

I have no idea what the Browns will do with free agency this year, but I have some clear ideas about what I think they should and shouldn’t do. Despite the massive amount of money and the ever growing list of players available, I still think it’s a bad idea to build a team too much through free agency. This Browns team, despite their struggles of a year ago, is still a relatively young team and improving from a player experience level standpoint. My biggest preferences are for overpaying for continuity and continuing the Banner trend of grabbing guys in their 20′s as opposed to their 30′s.

So let’s start by going through some of the rumored players linked to the Browns. [Read more...]

NFL Free Agency: Browns should pass on Matt Schaub


Technically, Matt Schaub isn’t a free agent. Yet.

The Houston Texans are expected to release the veteran quarterback any day now. He had a disastrous 2013 season, including four straight games in which he threw an interception that was run back for a touchdown. He was repeatedly booed in his home park and the team is looking to move on from the Schaub era.

Several insiders have reported that the Browns, Raiders and Jets will all be potential suitors for Schaub once he is released.

Jason LaCanfora even went as far as to say that the Browns are the place where Schaub makes the most sense. [Read more...]

The Alex Mack Contract Gamble

Alex Mack

On Monday the Browns placed the transition tag on free agent center Alex Mack. If Mack signs the one year tender and does not agree to another deal with the Browns or any other club, he will play for a little over $10 million dollars in 2014.

That would be a nice raise.

In 2013 Mack made his second Pro Bowl, and played every offensive snap of every game for the fifth straight year. He was playing on the last year of his rookie contract and earned a little over $5 million for his services.

The Browns are taking a gamble by placing the transition tag on Mack. The first and obvious gamble is that Mack could be signed by another team to a deal that the Browns are unwilling to match. Let’s say the Raiders (picking a team with a lot of cap space, not because there are rumors of Mack to Oakland) decided to offer Mack a five year contract at $9 million per year. That would make Mack the highest paid center in the league, likely until he’s 33 years old. If the Browns decided that was too rich a deal for them, they would lose Mack and not get anything back from the Raiders in compensation. [Read more...]

The Browns have a lot of money, so why not just spend it all?


Even before we can get into what the Cleveland Browns should do with their numerous draft picks, we’ll start to get some clues about their goals this season by what they do with free agency. We’ve learned quite a bit already as the Browns made the decision to cut D’Qwell Jackson last week. The agent for Ahtyba Rubin indicated to the press that the Browns and their giant defensive lineman are on good terms, so unless he’s really playing a high stakes poker game, it appears Rubin won’t follow DQ52 out the door. The Browns are consistently linked to Bills free safety Jairus Byrd due to his connections to Mike Pettine in Buffalo. In addition, the Browns still haven’t finalized anything with either strong safety T.J. Ward, center Alex Mack, or even an early extension with cornerback Joe Haden. That’s a lot of moving pieces, but what should the team do? They’ve got lots of money available in cap space. Shouldn’t they just line them all up and pay everyone? Not necessarily.

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NFL needs to examine its proposed method for cleaning up language

Browns QBert Swearing 595

I fully support the NFL’s initiative to clean up it’s language and reform their (ahem) unorthodox workplace. We’ve seen some of the strange and destructive side effects of allowing such a “unique” culture to persist around the game of football. We have a better view of it than ever before thanks to the information age. From Richie Incognito in the professional ranks, all the way down to Steubenville, it’s been an interesting couple of years for the culture of football as it stands trial in a great many courtrooms – both real and of public opinion. Seeing it all up close and personal, the NFL is right to change their ways, but that’s not what I want to talk about. While I support the NFL’s common sense initiative, I’m scared of the way they are proposing to eradicate this language from their game – namely via 15-yard penalties.

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