July 31, 2014

Browns sign Jim Leonhard

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Jim Leonhard announced on Twitter that he has signed with the Cleveland Browns.  He has played in nine NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, and Denver Broncos.  He is 31-years old and played college football at the University of Wisconsin.  He is very familiar with Mike Pettine’s defense because of his multiple years playing in his system with the Ravens, Jets, and Bills. Last season under Pettine, he started seven of the 16 games he played in.  He had 41 tackles, six passes defended, and four interceptions, a career high for Leonhard.

He is expected to compete with Tashaun Gipson at the free safety spot.  Gipson will most likely win the job, but Leonhard will definitely play his fair share of snaps.  Leonhard is a smart and experienced safety who still has ability to make plays on defense.  He will be a good teacher to Gipson and the younger safeties.  His experience with Pettine’s defense gives him the chance to catch up faster and be a real threat to play this season.  This addition gives the Browns’ safety position more experience and depth.

(Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images North America)

Browns fans seem content with current quarterback competition


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If this Cleveland Browns training camp continues the way it started, a true quarterback controversy will never develop. You get the sense that the national media has been gearing up for it all along because Johnny Manziel is popular. He is a high profile player who generates excitement whenever you talk about him. His jersey sales alone tell you that. Among Browns fans in Berea for camp every day, he’s the guy everyone wants to see. That said, I don’t get the feeling that Browns fans are all that eager to see him beat out Brian Hoyer for the starting job. [Read more...]

Things get heated… Training Camp Notes 07.29.14

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Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought Monday’s practice lacked the competitive fire that we’ve been hearing about.

The dial on the intensity knob got turned up on Tuesday. There were bodies flying around. There were footballs thrown at heads. There was pushing and shoving. There was a skirmish that included at least 15-20 players.

The tone for the day was set by coach Pettine, who told the players that he didn’t want a flat practice with the off day coming on Wednesday. He wanted some enthusiasm. He wanted some fire. He got it.

The team was in full pads again on Tuesday, and worked heavy on the run game just like Monday. This time the ball was moving toward the sidelines more, and the defense was making sure that the ball carriers were stopped and were constantly swatting at the ball trying to force fumbles.

The offense took exception to the intensity with which they were punching at the ball.

Running back Ben Tate found himself wrapped in the arms of several defenders on one particular running play, and ended up firing the ball at Ahtyba Rubin’s head. Now Rubin doesn’t quite have the temper of Phil Taylor, but he certainly isn’t going to stand by and let a running back fire a ball at him. A scrum ensued. I think some of the players that were involved were kind of caught up because of their proximity. [Read more...]

Art Modell’s grave waterer to be charged

Belichick and ModellI don’t believe we posted the video here, but I think most Browns fans heard about it. A Browns fan made a deliberate act of going to Art Modell’s grave and emptying out a catheter in order to urinate on Art Modell’s grave. Regardless of how you feel about the sentiment, there’s little debate as to the legality of such actions and Baltimore County authorities plan to take action. According to the Baltimore Sun, the man will be charged with some form of disorderly conduct which is punishable by a maximum sentence of two years and a $500 fine.

I just hope this all goes away quickly. As Deadspin pointed out at the time they posted the video, there’s no better way to make a villain look sympathetic than to overstep the lines of decency. It’s important to try and maintain a spot on the high road. I found myself straddling that line by actively rooting against Modell ever being included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and well short of traveling to his burial place to (ahem) make a statement of any kind.

The big problem with something like this is that it leads to quotes from David Modell that I can’t really disagree with.

“We agree wholeheartedly with the State’s Attorney that folks should have confidence that the final resting place of their loved ones is not defiled,” he said. “We are a country of laws and just because you’re angry doesn’t mean the law no longer applies to you.”

I prefer not to be put in a position where David Modell and I have to agree on much of anything.

[Also see: Josh Gordon has reportedly passed “at least 70 drug tests”]

Josh Gordon has reportedly passed “at least 70 drug tests”

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We found out recently that Josh Gordon hired Richard Sherman’s lawyer to help handle his appeal with the NFL. In that case Maurice Suh called into question the specimen collection process and created doubt around the “he-said, he-said” case between the player and the collector. Now, Pro Football Talk is reporting what Josh Gordon’s strategy heading into the appeal on August 1. No surprise, the argument will once again center on the sample.

In the NFL, drug tests are split into two samples. They test one and then depending on the result test the second to double check. Here’s what PFT has to say.

For Gordon, the “A” bottle showed a concentration of 16 ng/ml, only one nanogram per milliliter above the limits of 15. The “B” bottle showed a concentration of 13.6 ng/ml — less than the threshold.

But because the “A” bottle was labeled “A” and not “B” and because the “B” bottle was labeled “B” and not “A”, the end result is a positive and a minimum one-year banishment from the NFL. Flip the bottles when it’s time to apply the labels, and Gordon isn’t facing a suspension.

The really interesting thing to me was what PFT stated before these details: Josh Gordon has passed at least 70 drug tests according to PFT’s source and was really close to passing this test as well. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Gordon’s legal team is hinging their argument on the stated inconsistencies in addition to the potential for the test being skewed by second-hand smoke.

We will see how effective these defenses are. For Gordon, the stakes are high as he faces the road that Justin Blackmon has traveled with an indefinite ban requiring application for reinstatement. Josh Gordon and the Browns would rather see him win a fight over the sample collection process (and the potential cause) regardless of how minute the technicality might be.

Then again, even as Josh Gordon has passed over 70 tests, he’s always one test away from finding himself out.

[Also see: A look at Kyle Shanahan’s Zone Run Game, Part I: Cleveland Browns Film Room]

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

 

A look at Kyle Shanahan’s Zone Run Game, Part I: Cleveland Browns Film Room

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Another year in Cleveland, another coaching change for the Browns. And yet, like clockwork, training camp rolls around and fans become cautiously optimistic about their team. It is no different this year.

“THIS Year. This is it, man! Last year, everyone thought that would be the year, but c’mon, now: You know THIS is the one. This Pettine dude is the real deal. I mean, look at what he’s already done this offseason with the draft and free agency. He has that feel about him that you just don’t get with everyone else. A true leader.”

Whether you have had preemptively positive thoughts about about Bill Belichick, Butch Davis, in the past few weeks with Pettine, or at any point in the past couple decades in the seemingly unending search for a head coach, the idea that the Browns finally made the correct hire has certainly crossed your mind. This optimism evolves after every coaching search and before any meaningful games are ever played for a few reasons.

[Read more...]

Josh Gordon has hired Richard Sherman’s lawyer for appeal

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Josh Gordon’s appeal date with the NFL is set for Friday, August 1. The Pro Bowl receiver is facing a year-long suspension for violating the terms of the league’s drug policy again.

When he has his chance to defend himself in front of the NFL, he is taking the most ammunition he can find.

According to Adam Schefter, Josh Gordon has hired attorney Maurice Suh, who successfully argued on Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s behalf back in December of 2012. Sherman was facing a four-game suspension that would have kept him out of the playoffs. Suh’s defense centered around the collection process.

“The decision really relied most heavily on the collection problem, and it comes down to that the arbitrator believed Richard Sherman over the collector’s recounting of the facts,” said Suh after the Sherman case. “This is a case in which there were two different versions – the collector tried to refute what Richard had said about what had happened, and frankly, we didn’t feel the collector was believable and we tried to bring that up in cross examination.”

Gordon is appealing in order to get his suspension reduced in hopes of playing this year.

[Related: Balancing competition and aggression, training camp notes]

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

Balancing competition and aggression… Training Camp Notes 07.28.14

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Competition.

We’ve heard for months that the coaching staff and front office want to see competition for every position. Whether it is a high profile battle between Hoyer and Manziel, or a more subtle one between Kirksey and Robertson, this was going to be a camp marked by competition.

And it is. Sort of.

Last year, the tone set by coach Rob Chudzinski was a competitive one, but in a much different way. There were competitions between the offense and the defense. There were peanut butter sandwiches for dinner on the line. There was hooting and hollering. There were defensive backs jawing at receivers. It was louder. It was obvious.

This year the competition is more business-like. More internal. For the first day in pads, the team was pretty subdued. There weren’t many big pops or crashes. And that was by design. Coach Pettine stressed the importance of “being a good teammate” before practice. They don’t want to see anyone get hurt.

There is a difference between competition and aggression according to Pettine. While he wants the team to be characterized as tough, that doesn’t mean they beat up on each other. Other coaches have said they wanted a tough team. Will Pettine succeed where Shurmur and Chudzinski failed? [Read more...]

Internal Goals: Barkevious Mingo looks forward to his sophomore season

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With twelve minutes and twenty-four seconds left in the fourth quarter of a tie game against the Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson harnessed a hand-off from his quarterback, Christian Ponder, and took two quick strides forward, finding himself just inside of his left tackle, Matt Kalil. Peterson, widely considered to be one of the best—if not the best—running backs in the league since being drafted in 2007, immediately darted to his left where he would run past several would-be tacklers for what would amount to a five-yard gain. One of those defenders, a guy tasked with doing everything within his power to meet Peterson behind the line of scrimmage, yearning to beat him to the quarterback immediately following the snap, was Barkevious Mingo.

[Read more...]

Johnny Manziel, Ben Tate and more – Craig on “Browns Insider”

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It’s always nice to be asked to do different radio and web shows. Dan Labbe hosted Browns Insider for the Northeast Ohio Media Group / Cleveland.com last night and I called in and chatted with him about Day 2 of Browns Training Camp.

Other guests included Mary Kay Cabot, Tom Reed and Bud Shaw. If you just want to listen to me, forward to the 45 minute mark.

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

Photos of Browns Training Camp from 2014-07-27

I’m not a good photographer by any means, but in case you couldn’t be there, here’s the way things looked from my vantage point. Look out for the “bro bump” between Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby. Plus a few shots of Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

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The Browns have some veteran confidence… Training Camp Notes 07.27.14

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Sunday’s camp practice was kind of boring. I’ve been to enough of these now that I think I can get a sense of when the intensity is at a pitch and when it’s not. Maybe Day 1 was something of an energy dump, like a fighter who punches himself out in the first round and day two was a bit more relaxed, but the intensity just wasn’t totally there. It’s early though, so I’m not drawing any conclusions from that. The thing that I can’t help but come away from my first day covering camp is to notice the veteran confidence they have this year. [Read more...]

It’s Hoyer’s World… We just live in it: Training Camp Notes 07.26.14

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BEREA, Ohio — The sun was shining. A smattering of hip-hop—2 Pac, Birdman, Drake…of course—and classic rock echoed through the speakers. Thousands of Browns fans poured into the Cleveland Browns practice facility, all with hope in their back pockets, each of them getting their first look at the 2014 squad.

There were Superfans. There were signs. There was a little rain, but just enough to get some reporters to close their notebooks for a few minutes. There was Johnny. There was Brian. There was Josh and Jordan and the Joes. Some players rode bikes, others took part in what would stand to be the first day of two-and-a-half weeks of practice time before the collective is forced to synthesize all that’s been provided to them and turn it in to a product worthy of all the fan fare.

And boy was there fan fare.

[Read more...]

Browns think Johnny Manziel has regressed in practice, worry about partying

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In a topic that’s been beaten to death, even on these very pages, we have something of an update. Mary Kay Cabot is reporting from sources within the Browns that they are “stunned” by Johnny Manziel’s non-stop antics during this off-season.

Manziel regressed in practice after the first week of organized team activities, and some in the organization attributed it to too much jet-setting and not enough dedication to the playbook.

Team officials had bought into Manziel’s pre-draft promises to tone down the partying and leave his frat-boy lifestyle back in College Station, Texas, and they’ve been stunned by his non-stop antics, sources said.

I know there’s massive disagreement on this issue and how big of a deal it is. There are questions as to if what Johnny Manziel is doing is even out of the ordinary compared to his peers. Is it just that Johnny has a bigger spotlight on him? These are the things we’ve already gone round and round on as the Browns approach training camp with the rookie. If you believe the reports prove the Browns have legitimate concern, then it’s troubling.

When these things are reported, however, you never truly know what the intent of the source. Maybe the Browns are leaking something like this to send a message to Manziel that party time is officially over with the start of camp. Maybe they’re simply trying to get him to be the best he can be and think this negative talk might just motivate him. Some believe that much of the chatter surrounding the team’s Week 1 starter was done with similar goal in mind.

But for those like our own TD who have said, “Call me when it impacts the Browns during the regular season,” it should at least be a concern that the Browns think that Manziel has regressed in practice while simultaneously partying all over the country.

The only one who could be happy with report like this has the last name, “Hoyer.”

Browns expect Brian Hoyer to start Week 1

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According to ESPN’s Bob Holtzman, the “feeling in the Cleveland locker room” is the Browns will start Brian Hoyer in Week 1.

Earlier this week, Browns head coach Mike Pettine said that he would make the starting quarterback proclamation during the third week of Training Camp, heading into the team’s first home game of the 2014 season. Holtzman, however, expects Pettine to make the announcement “well before” the third preseason game, inferring that the decision has been all but made despite the team using a first-round draft pick on Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and the proclamation of a quarterback battle heading into the season.

“We’re all expecting Hoyer to start,” one player reportedly told Holtzman. In an interview with 850AM/WKNR earlier this week, Pettine suggested that Manziel could spend his rookie season as a “package quarterback,” similar to how Colin Kaepernick opened his career in San Francisco, thinking being that the Heisman Trophy winner would bring additional threat of a ground game to the Browns’ backfield.

Hoyer is expected to practice without limitations as the team begins Training Camp on Saturday. The regular season kicks of on September 7 when the Browns travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers.

[Related: A look at Browns Training Camp position battles]

(Joshua Gunter/ The Plain Dealer)

Alex Mack and Paul Kruger named to “All-Bad Contracts” team on Grantland

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I read articles like this the way some people slowly peak at a poker hand hoping to find aces, except opposite. I’m hoping beyond hope that as I scroll through a Bill Barnwell list of bad contracts that there are no Cleveland Browns on the list. Unfortunately, due to the way the Browns’ off-season unfolded with Alex Mack, they find themselves listed prominently. Here’s Barnwell’s explanation.

Mack’s five-year, $42 million contract guarantees him a staggering $26 million, $7 million more than any other center in football. He’ll have a 2014 cap hit of $10 million; no other centers cost more than $7.3 million. Because the Jaguars structured the deal to discourage Cleveland from matching, they also left Mack with a player option in 2016, which he can use to hit free agency again. No center is worth this sort of deal, even a good one.

Obviously I agree with him that Alex Mack is overpaid. I guess, I might try and lessen the blow of that by saying it’s not like overpaying a quarterback. I think even if Alex Mack is overpaid, he’s likely to earn somewhere around 80% of the money he’s been given. Also, giving that money to an incumbent player on the offensive line should be easier to project than using money on a receiver or other skill position player to come in from another system. Then again, I very well could be looking at this through Browns-colored glasses.

The Browns don’t go unscathed on defense either thanks to last year’s acquisition of Paul Kruger from Baltimore.

Cleveland saw the possibility to steal a young pass-rusher away from its rivals and gave Kruger a mammoth five-year, $40.5 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. He mustered up a mere 4.5 sacks in his first year with the team, often looking like their third-best pass-rusher behind rookie Barkevious Mingo and supplanted incumbent Jabaal Sheard.

There’s a silver lining here for the Browns on Kruger though. The team smartly front-loaded the Kruger deal and a quick look at my notes from back when Kruger was signed shows that it won’t be horrible if they have to cut him loose after this year.  The way the Browns designed the deal by front-loading it with a roster bonus, they can cut him heading into 2015 and it will only cost them $3.86 in dead money while saving them $4.34 million should they need it. There’s always a third option of converting some base salary to bonus to spread it out, but they’ll likely opt for just cutting him if he doesn’t play better in Pettine’s defense this year than he did last year.

I recommend reading the whole piece though. While it’s not fun to read about bad Browns contracts, it’s a gas to see Joe Flacco and Troy Polamalu listed prominently.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

A look at Browns Training Camp position battles

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Browns Training Camp kicks off on Saturday morning and the city is buzzing for football. The Browns had a big offseason full of big name additions. They changed the coaches, front office, and a few players. This unknown brings fans a lot of things to watch during the preseason. This year’s camp is very intriguing with a lot of newsworthy aspects. There are a lot of position battles that will be interesting to watch during training camp and the preseason games.

Here is my breakdown of the top position battles to watch during the preseason and my predictions for who will win each battle. Comment below with who you think will win each battle and what other battles you are watching. [Read more...]

Setting standards for the Browns… While We’re Waiting

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It’s Friday and it’s been a great week of podcasts. Did you check them all out?

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Setting standards for the Browns isn’t easy… As the Browns sit on the precipice of starting training camp, I feel really good about the team. Shocking, I know. I’ve given in to the fact that these feelings mean absolutely nothing. I’ve talked myself down this road before where I convince myself that the defense has it together in such a way that they’ll carry the team. Or more specifically in the recent past, I’ve convinced myself that the Browns can be carried on the back of a player like Peyton Hillis. Each time there’s one thing that’s horribly consistent. I’m always wrong to be optimistic.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t like Mike Pettine, Ray Farmer, Brian Hoyer, Joe Thomas, or anyone else who will be entering camp this week. It doesn’t mean that they won’t finally cancel the pity party that I seem to have annually around Thanksgiving. It’s merely to point out that the burden of proof is on them.

I like the off-season moves. I like the draft. I’ve been hard on Johnny Manziel, but you all know pretty well that I like him a lot too. I like Ben Tate and Terrance West and Jordan Cameron and Joe Haden. I liked the idea of drafting Justin Gilbert to hopefully raise the level of the secondary not named Joe Haden. I liked the free agency acquisitions of Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner. Right now, that’s not worth much of anything.

I’ve liked moves in the past too whether it was Frostee Rucker, Jason Campbell or Ben Watson. Even as some of those players worked out alright, it didn’t matter. By the end of the season those were just new names that replaced old names, both of which were only capable of winning four or five games in a given year.

That’s why last year I stopped with predictions and just set standards. That’s why again this year, even as I support this team and the moves they’ve made to improve, I won’t give them a pass just yet. Yeah, I’m co-signing as much as any fan or commentator can co-sign on a team’s personnel moves, but it’s not on me to produce results or say that the team has done enough to produce those results. It’s merely my job to set realistic expectations.

So I’m going to do it again this year and say that my expectations are for this team to win eight games. It might be a game more or a game less, but I think that’s reasonable to ask. It’s a league with year-over-year turnarounds all the time. It’s also a year where the Browns spent a healthy amount of time bringing in veteran free agents as well as newly drafted picks.

Again, I can’t co-sign for all the players they brought in, but it tells me this team wants to win more games than they did last year. It tells me that this is a team that won’t be content executing a lackadaisical first year in some pipe dream of a five year plan. And with that in mind my standard is eight wins and I think that’s more than fair. That’s still a failure in a lot of NFL cities to go 0.500. So with that, you’re welcome Cleveland Browns. Now show me something.

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Speaking of football, I would have found this interesting or funny once upon a time, but now the idea of youths pummeling each other on a football field just leads me to think of head injuries. Do we need to adopt weight classes like MMA and boxing?

*****

Weird Al Yankovic has the No. 1 album in the country. It’s really crazy when you think about it for a variety of reasons. The music industry is in a weird spot in terms of, you know, “sales.” Weird Al released eight music videos in eight days to promote it. He’s also an age where he’s not completely over the hill as a performer and yet his target audience that he has built since the late-70′s is probably as big as it will ever be. I grew up on “Eat It” and “Fat” and “Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White.” And here I was this week playing “NOW That’s what I call polka” for my son which parodies Mylie Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” among other songs. My favorite song, though, is one that didn’t sink in for me when it was a real song, and that’s Royals by Lorde. No, it wasn’t until Weird Al unleashed “Foil” on us that it stuck in my head like an incurable disease.

That’s enough for me this week. Have a great weekend everyone. Listen to some Weird Al.

Josh Gordon may have checked himself into rehab

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Mike Garafolo reported Thursday night on FOX Sports One’s evening show America’s Pregame that Josh Gordon checked himself into rehab after his July 4th arrest in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Patient confidentiality being what it is, it may be difficult to confirm if Gordon did in fact complete the program unless it comes from Gordon himself.

Would a completed rehab program have any weight at all in the eyes of the NFL as far as reducing his impending suspension? Could the rehab program itself be the reason Gordon’s hearing hasn’t already happened?

[Related: Josh Gordon's hearing set for August 1st]

 

Josh Gordon’s hearing is set for August 1

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“Good things come to those who wait,” is a famous phrase, but in the case of Josh Gordon we’ll have to see if it’s true. Chris Wesseling of NFL Network is reporting that Gordon’s appeals hearing to determine whether and how long he’ll be suspended is August 1 in New York. At this stage of the game, I bet Gordon wishes it had happened a long time ago.

The timeline begins the day after the draft. While Browns fans were in the afterglow of a draft that saw them get one of the best corners in the draft and also one of the most decorated quarterbacks coming into the league, we were smacked by Josh Gordon news that he might have failed another drug test.

Hey, anyone know when Josh Gordon’s appeal is?

Then, over Memorial Day weekend, Josh Gordon was pulled over for speeding. No big deal, right? Most of us could get caught doing 74 in a 60 MPH zone. Oh, but one of his passengers was cited for possession of marijuana. That doesn’t look good during an appeals hearing. At minimum, it probably requires a discussion, right?

Hey, anyone know when Josh Gordon’s appeal is?

Not until after the July 4th weekend when Gordon was pulled over and arrested for DWI in North Carolina. As it turns out, Gordon’s reported BAC was 0.09 and the legal limit is 0.08. “Close” obviously isn’t good enough, but if this was an isolated incident for a guy, you might chalk it up as a one-time mistake.

But this is Josh Gordon and now we know his appeal is scheduled for August 1st. It’s scheduled after he was pulled over for speeding and one of his passengers had pot and also after getting popped for DWI while also coming off a season in which he was suspended while also trying to overcome a checkered past involving drugs throughout a shortened college career.

I’m out of breath and I wonder if Roger Goodell’s run out of patience. We’ll see on August 1st.

I think it’s safe to say that Guiness lied in their advertising, at least in the case of Josh Gordon and Browns fans.