August 15, 2014

Dick LeBeau expects Johnny Manziel under center on Week 1

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Could the Cleveland Browns really consider starting a rookie quarterback against Dick LeBeau and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Week 1? LeBeau appears to think so, taking what has recently transpired in Browns Training Camp and extrapolating it toward the first week of the 2014 regular season.

“I’m expecting (Johnny) Manziel to be the starter,” LeBeau told Cleveland.com’s Tom Reed. “That’s what I’m expecting. What he did in college is not an accident. He did it often enough against good teams. [...]

“I think he is going to be a handful for all of us,” said LeBeau, a Pro Football Hall of Famer. “You watch all his games and he created plays, he made plays, he kept plays alive.

“He has the ability to see people and the touch with the football to get it in there late in the down. I think he will be successful at this level.”

Could there be some gamesmanship taking place? Reed added that other organizations, while not as willing to go on the record like LeBeau, privately believe that the Browns are slowly moving toward making Manziel, the No. 22 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Opening Day starter.

While Brian Hoyer is presently listed as the No. 1 quarterback on the team’s depth chart, and is expected to start this weekend against the Detroit Lions, Manziel has been picking up steam, flashing his ability to create on the run, make smart decisions—throwing out of bounds, sliding before contact—and general growth when it comes to the team’s playbook.

General belief remains that Hoyer will start the season under center, allowing Manziel to take over at some point down the road as the team’s schedule becomes less onerous.

[Related: The Johnny Football smokescreen is covering the Browns]

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

Running down the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the AFC North with @SteelersDepot – WFNY Podcast – 2014-07-29

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Dave Bryan of Steelers Depot is one of the most well-informed people when it comes to the AFC North. Steelers Depot might cover the Browns mortal enemy in football, but it’s really well done. Whether he’s breaking down players or their contracts, Steelers Depot does it right. So today we talked about the Browns, the Steelers and the rest of the AFC North.

Check out this episode!

Joe Haden shoos away kid in a Hines Ward jersey

Joe Haden was (probably) kidding, but he shooed away a child in a Hines Ward jersey who was in line for an autograph. As we all know, you should report child abuse and I’m not talking about Joe Haden. To think that some awful father in Northeast Ohio would put his kid in a Stillers jersey for an event featuring Joe Haden is just criminal.

Pouncey’s deal with Steelers surpasses Alex Mack’s contract

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The Steelers have locked Maurkice Pouncey to a rich five-year extension. NFL contracts are very confusing, but the deal is $44 million over five years and paid the center a $13 million signing bonus. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth over Alex Mack’s money and he wasn’t coming off of an ACL tear. Mack’s deal had no signing bonus, but was fully guaranteed salary for the first two years totaling $18 million.

Pro Football Talk is good with NFL contract stuff and had this to say.

Amazingly, the new money exceeds the package paid earlier this year by the Browns to center Alex Mack. Mack had signed a five-year, $42 million offer sheet in Jacksonville, which the Browns matched. Maurkice Pouncey’s $44 million over five comes roughly nine months after tearing an ACL — and with a full year left on his rookie deal.

I don’t get the feeling that Alex Mack is the kind of guy who is worried about being “the highest paid center in the NFL” but even he might admit in a private moment that it was a hell of a short run for him with that title belt. For the Browns, it seems to be something of a validation of their process and decision to ultimately sign Alex Mack to the offer sheet the Jags constructed. As the league’s salary cap continues to grow, it’s hard to figure out all the proper efficiencies to signing players and how much to spend on various position groups on the roster to give yourself the best chance to win.

Let’s hope the Browns are on to something with the amount of money they are committing to their offensive line. Although, that would mean the Steelers are, too, with their new deal for Maurkice  Pouncey.

The ends don’t justify means in Peter King’s defense of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi

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Peter King is one of the best NFL writers in the nation and as a national guy his perspective can sometimes be instructive to help local fans take blinders off. As a follower of the Browns, it’s pretty easy to lose perspective on the more overarching story-lines that make up an NFL season or era as you’re consistently living and dying with week-to-week results. It’s with that in mind that it’s definitely worth considering when Peter King instructs Browns fans to “Stop cursing Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi.” [Read more...]

How far can NFL teams go to keep “away” fans away?

NFLShieldCould the Browns someday work to eliminate Steelers fans from Browns games? Wouldn’t that be sweet? Could they only sell tickets to fans who live in a certain area? Those two questions will be answered soon, it would appear, thanks to a lawsuit filed by a 49ers fan against the Seattle Seahawks.

I’m fascinated by this lawsuit. On the one hand, I get that the Seahawks really wanted to keep their stadium filled with Seahawks fans for their playoff game against the 49ers. It’s understandable in a playoff environment where you know a game is going to sell out. But even though it makes sense to me, did it violate any laws?

“The practice of withholding the sale of tickets from the public at large and allowing only credit card holders limited to certain areas is a violation of the Federal Consumer Fraud Act and/or common law,” according to the lawsuit filed April 15.

In the case of January’s game, the Seahawks limited ticket sales only to credit cards with addresses in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t have much of an opinion on how this should turn out, but I’m interested nonetheless. Also brought into the equation for the fan, John E. Williams III, is the NFL’s reliance on public subsidies and money from taxpayers to build stadiums. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts his cause though, because public subsidies and taxpayers are garnered locally to build that stadium.

The future of the 12th man isn’t exactly hanging in the balance. Regardless of the outcome, I’m guessing Seattle’s homefield advantage will remain substantial whenever the team is good. Still, it will be interesting to see if this new territory in ticketing is legal or not.

Recently, the Columbus Blue Jackets did something similar for their playoff opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They restricted credit card sales to Ohio in an effort to pack the house with hometown fans. Pittsburgh has often had a very sizable Penguins crowd when playing in Columbus.

[Related: Tribe weekend wrap: swept away in San Francisco]

Wide receivers galore: Browns reportedly hot after Emmanuel Sanders

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How unhappy are the Browns with their wide receiver options outside of Josh Gordon? In addition to multiple inquiries regarding those in the slot, the front office in Berea is also reportedly hot after Pittsburgh Steelers burner Emmanuel Sanders.

CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports the Browns “will be in on” free agent Sanders as a Plan B to Andre Roberts. Cleveland was reportedly interested in Roberts as a complement to Gordon, but the 26-year-old agreed to terms with the Washington Redskins on a four-year, $16 million contract. The New England Patriots thought enough of Sanders last year to sign him to an offer sheet. In 2013, he hauled in 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns—all career highs.

Comparing Sanders to Greg Little and company, he had just two drops (out of 112 targets) in 2013 as compiled by ESPN Stats & Info—one of the lowest drop percentages in the league. He turns 27 on March 17.

It’s dangerous to extrapolate all of this interest into anything more than due diligence, but it would appear likely that—assuming the Browns address the wide receiver spot through free agency—the odds of players like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M’s Mike Evans being acquired through the NFL Draft are quickly fading.

Image: Jim O’Connor-US PRESSWIRE

Browns 2014 cap space projected to be over $45 million

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Chris Pokorny and our friends over at Dawgs By Nature have done some math and determined that the Browns should have somewhere north of $45 million available in cap space for the upcoming off-season. We all knew it would be a great deal of money, so it’s not a surprise, but even more than last year, I expect the Browns to be aggressive in trying to prop up their new coaching staff. That doesn’t mean that I think Banner and company will lose their heads, but I do expect them to spend in free agency, likely starting at home with T.J. Ward. Alex Mack? I’m not so sure yet.

So, how did Pokorny arrive at $45.46 million? The Browns have committed $98.19 million to existing players. The salary cap is projected to be $126.3 million, giving the Browns just over $28 million. Then add in 2013 carry-over of $24.54 million and you arrive at $52.65 million. Alas, the Browns do have a bit of dead money for guys like Owen Marecic and over $6.5 million in Trent Richardson bonus cash. That reduces the $52.65 million down to $45.46 million.1

It certainly puts the Browns in a position to make strides in the AFC North where the Steelers are currently projected to be about $10 million over the cap. They can replace more expensive players with cheaper ones in the draft, and also ask veteran players to restructure, but in a year after the Steelers had to become scrappy in order to be 8-8 it should give the Browns an opportunity to play catch-up. The same with the Ravens who feature some very expensive deals with Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and even Ray Rice. The Ravens will have some tough choices as well. That is the good news. The bad news? The Bengals aren’t in bad shape with their projected $22 million available.

It should be fun to watch this Browns team attack their second free agency with this much cap space. I know most Browns fans are hoping it really does start at home with T.J. Ward and Alex Mack, two of the Pro Bowl players mentioned in Jimmy Haslam’s sales pitch to Browns fans this past offseason. There’s no telling how highly the Browns value their two free agents, but it’s hard to imagine there’s anyone out there who can pay much more.

[Related: Indianapolis Colts hire Rob Chudzinski as special assistant]

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Footnotes:

  1. For what it is worth, Davone Bess’ contract is fully guaranteed for 2014, meaning that (unless the team can recoup any of these funds through legal action), cutting him would not save the team any additional money. []

Steelers Depot helps break down the Browns and their coaching search – WFNY Podcast – 2014-01-15

WFNY Podcast LogoDave Bryan from Steelers Depot (@SteelersDepot) is one of the best podcast guests we have. He’s super knowledgable, and is always great at breaking down what’s happening without the rose-colored glasses.

  • Dave Bryan and not being a homer for the Steelers
  • Is there ever a justification for firing a coach after one year?
  • Brian Hoyer and whether he can get the Browns to the next franchise QB
  • The perception of the Browns head coaching job
  • Adam Gase and why is he such an attractive candidate?
  • Josh McDaniels and his taking his name out
  • Jim Caldwell and Whisenhunt
  • Jake Locker and what can become of it
  • Chris Johnson and his poison contract
  • Ray Horton ending up with Whisenhunt in Tennessee
  • Ray Horton’s defense and Dick LeBeau’s defense
  • Chud talking to other potential coaching candidates
  • The hiring of Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh
  • T.J. Ward and Alex Mack better be brought back
  • Alex Mack and how the Browns need to bring him back
  • Moving Schwartz to guard and getting a new right tackle
  • The All-22 version of the national championship game
  • Football attendance at games
  • Making NFL stadiums smaller over time
  • Browns fan experience in the stadium is far better
  • The government attacking TV blackout policies
  • Dave would be shocked if the Browns didn’t bring back Ward and Mack
  • Did the Browns waste a year of not front-loading deals?
  • The Browns can only franchise one player between Ward and Mack
  • The Steelers and the Shamarko Thomas deal with Cleveland
  • Johnny Football and whether the Steelers would be concerned about him
  • Johnny Manziel is a guy that you root against
  • Manziel as a boom or bust guy
  • Could Brian Hoyer be that bridge to the QB of the future?
  • The Ben Roethlisberger extension

Check out this episode

Scott Raab talks about Rob Chudzinski being fired and Andrew Bynum – WFNY Podcast – 2013-12-30

WFNY Podcast LogoScott Raab couldn’t be finished with the WFNY Podcast for 2013 after what happened over the weekend, so we decided to do one more in 2013. We touched on all of the obvious topics including…

  • Scott Raab talking about the Browns
  • Dumpster fire’s use in the mainstream
  • Joe Banner and the ego that goes with firing Chud
  • Jimmy Haslam’s role in the firing
  • The informational path from Mike Lombardi to the media
  • How should fans react to this today?
  • Was Rob Chudzinski the wrong guy for the job?
  • Rob Chudzinski’s own issues and how they impacted his own firing
  • Tony Grossi’s post about Chud refusing to cut Greg Little and Shawn Lauvao
  • Professional sports leagues are cartels, not pizza parlors
  • Scott: “We’re prisoners, not customers”
  • Is there anything Haslam and Banner could say for Scott?
  • Media should have an adversarial relationship with the front office
  • The Kyrie Irving situation is going to end the same way the LeBron one did
  • The Art Modell move continues to haunt coverage of the Browns
  • Andrew Bynum, the media and the Cavaliers’ future
  • Brian Windhorst continues to be one of the best Cavs beat reporters
  • The Kyrie Irving scenario and how it’s playing out [Read more...]

Cleveland Browns vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 17 Open Thread

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The Browns season mercifully ends today. A lot of key players are missing, including Joe Haden. The Steelers are 7-8 and still have an outside chance at the AFC’s second wild card with a win and help. The Browns are 1-9 in their last 10. This afternoon’s game should go over quite well!

Join us here in the comments for some Week 17 NFL action. We can always talk quarterbacks too, if that’s more of your style. Oh and Rob Chudzinski’s job might be in jeopardy. Fun times in Cleveland!

NFL News: Joe Haden, four other key players inactive for Browns finale

All-Pro cornerback Joe Haden is among five key contributors that will be inactive for the Browns regular season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers today.

The 24-year-old Haden will miss the game because of a hip pointer that has bugged him over the last week. Rookie Leon McFadden will make his first career start in Haden’s absence.

In addition, both Phil Taylor (concussion) and John Hughes (knee) on the defensive line are out. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and Billy Winn will get the starts there.

On the offensive side, guards Jason Pinkston (concussion) and Shawn Lauvao (thigh) will not play. John Greco will switch over to right guard and start, while rookie Garrett Gilkey will make his first career start at left guard.

Tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) is active and expected to start.

With all of these injuries, the Pittsburgh Steelers offense is lined up for a field day at home. Receiver Antonio Brown ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards and already was a matchup nightmare. Without Haden, the Steelers could pass all over the Browns, who also are missing one of their most disruptive forces on the line. It could be a long end to the season.

[Related: NFL Draft 2014: Quick thoughts on QBs before Browns finale]

NFL Draft 2014: Quick thoughts on QBs before Browns finale

campbell brownsWe’re hours away from the end of another disappointing Cleveland Browns season.

Somehow, impressively, the Browns are again 4-11 and on the verge of a top eight draft pick. It’s maddening how consistent this franchise is at being among the bottom-fourth worst teams in the NFL. And it’s time to look briefly at the quarterbacks that might be around at the top of the draft.

Today, the Browns can knock the Steelers out of the playoff race for good. That’d be fun. Winning is generally ideal. But in the Cleveland world we live in, winning might not be the preferred option for many fans as we dive into the quarterback rankings.

For the third straight season, the Browns ranked among the five worst teams in passing, per Pro Football Focus. It’s also gotten worse, from No. 28 in 2011 to No. 29 last season and No. 31 this year. That’s an issue and it’s not that surprising anymore when Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell throw 85% of the team’s pass attempts through 15 games. The quarterback position is in shambles. Is a better draft position the most important goal right now? [Read more...]

Will Browns be motivated enough to dash Steelers playoff hopes?

chudzinski presserI have no doubt that on Sunday the Cleveland Browns players will be trying to win as they’re somewhere near a touchdown underdog on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t believe that players and coaches involved in an NFL schedule think about the NFL draft or anything other than doing their jobs and maybe trying to have fun as they play out their schedule. The Browns might not win this weekend in Pittsburgh, and they might even be generally unmotivated, but it won’t be “tanking” if they lose.

In a violent game like NFL football, we’ve seen what can happen to a quarterback who gets lazy in pursuit of the safety of out-of-bounds lines and take an unnecessary hit.  In a game where players get hurt all the time while trying their hardest, the injury rate has to be even higher when players are laying off and only half playing. There’s no way of measuring this, of course, but it makes loads of sense.

What does this mean for the Browns game this weekend? [Read more...]

Cleveland Browns close home schedule with 38-31 loss to Bears

1005034_10152097985714684_1828176681_nThe Browns scored two touchdowns on defense, but still were unable to hold off an uneven Bears team as they fall to 4-10 and close out their home schedule. There were some highlights in this game, but as with most games this season, not nearly enough. The Browns haven’t appeared to be a team that’s given up at all this season, but they looked simply demoralized as they gave up a 40-yard run to Michael Bush that took the Bears to 38-24. That was part of a 21-0 beating the Browns took in the fourth quarter before Josh Gordon scored a garbage time TD with less than a minute to go. Another mostly competitive game lost. I’d say it was crushing for Browns fans, except that that horse has long since left the barn.

It wasn’t a game without some fun. I had a good time watching Tashaun Gipson take a pick back for a score. Watching Billy Winn’s strip-tackle which led to T.J. Ward’s fumble return TD was fun too. Watching Edwin Baker run with energy and aggressiveness was a kick, even if he did it against one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. Ultimately though, the lasting memory of this one will be hearing Bears fans cheer louder than Browns fans as the clock slipped away. [Read more...]

Where His Demons Hide

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If you have ever wondered what it would be like to watch a Clydesdale pull away from a Pomeranian, fast forward to roughly the 1:36 mark in the third quarter of Sunday’s contest between the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots. In a lumbering fashion that could seemingly be a result of adrenaline married with freakish, God-given measurables, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon stumbled a bit out of the starting blocks, his body moving slightly faster than the legs which serve to propel. After roughly two or three steps, regaining composure, Gordon turned in to his right, corralling an absolute strike thrown from the hand of veteran quarterback Jason Campbell, taking in the oblong piece of inflated leather in stride. The man attempting to hinder Gordon on this day, New England’s Aqib Talib, also came equipped with top-end measurables which include a 40-yard dash time clocked south of 4.5 seconds, but also a mouth that moves faster. Unfortunately for Talib, despite a several-yard head start, the foot race between the two would be roughly twice the space encompassed by the NFL combine test, as Gordon would take the pass 80 yards in a approximately nine seconds—this all including the point in the foot race where Gordon would slow his gliding gallop down at the 10-yard line, Talib and teammate Devin McCourty (who is also a member of the 4.4 Second Club) well having become an afterthought, and begin to execute the early stages of what could best be described as a man turning on an oven, stirring a pot and then taking his shirt off and leaving it on a burning stove.

[Read more...]

Cleveland Browns – What to watch for now that the games are meaningless

josh-gordon-nfl-record-cleveland-brownsIt’s officially past the point of the Cleveland Browns football season where the games matter anymore. Instead of rooting for good teams ahead of the Browns in the standings to lose, now all that matters is if the bad teams below them win.  Once again December football is meaningless on the shores of Lake Erie, but because we just can’t help but watch here are some things to keep an eye on.

Josh Gordon’s statistical superiority

Heading into week 14 Josh Gordon has amassed 1249 yards, leaving him 40 yards shy of Braylon Edwards single season franchise record of 1289. Edwards record setting season came over the course of 16 games while Gordon has come within one long play of breaking the record after playing in just 10 games. Gordon’s big play ability has him at 19.5 yards per catch, putting him second in the NFL behind the Saints’ Kenny Still who is averaging 20.6 yards per catch, but only over 23 catches.

Gordon not only has a chance to break the Browns’ single season mark for receiving yards, he has a real shot at leading the league in receiving yards. Currently Gordon sits third in the league, 50 yards behind Calvin Johnson and 28 yards behind Andre Johnson (with one game in hand). For a team who has been miserable to watch offensively for the last 14 season it would be a nice consolation price to boast the league’s leading receiver. [Read more...]

NFL News: Tomlin fined and Steelers may yet see draft pick punishment

Mike Tomlin’s sideline transgression was going to cost him and the Steelers. That much we knew. Now, there’s an idea of just how much. Ian Rapoport is reporting that in the first wave, Mike Tomlin’s pocket will be hit to the tune of $100,000. Although the rest of the punishment is unknown, he also reports that the NFL is still considering taking away or downgrading a draft pick by the time it’s all said and done.

Pittsburgh lost the game to Baltimore on Thursday night, and you can only imagine the outrage that would have ensued if Baltimore had lost. During the game, Mike Tomlin stepped onto the field of play as Jacoby Jones was racing down the sideline to try and return the ball for a touchdown. He appeared to need to take a step inward to avoid Mike Tomlin and almost simultaneously he was tackled by the last available Steelers defender to save the touchdown.

The Steelers lost the game and stand to lose even more, it seems.

For further backdrop on sideline incidents, read Jacob’s first post on this topic.

NFL News: Steelers might lose draft pick for Mike Tomlin incident

NFL News: Steelers might lose draft pick for Mike Tomlin incident

The Pittsburgh Steelers are facing fines and could lose a draft pick after coach Mike Tomlin’s balancing act on the sidelines on Thursday, reports CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora.

According to a league source, there likely will be stiff financial penalties, regardless of the coach’s intent, based on past disciplines for similar incidents. The team also is worried, per sources, that they might lose a late-round draft pick as well.

Pittsburgh lost to Baltimore on Thursday to fall to 5-7 on the season. They beat Cleveland last Sunday in decisive fashion, but then the Tomlin incident of watching a kick return on the scoreboard and nearly interfering with Ravens’ Jacoby Jones marred a tough loss in the spotlight.

In 2009, Jets assistant Sal Alosi was part of the team’s tripping crew for returns and the team was fined $100,000. Alosi was suspended for the rest of the year and later fired. More serious punishments did not occur since Alosi was a low-level assistant. Alosi is now the strength coach for UCLA.

The Browns own the 2014 third-round and fourth-round picks of the Steelers after draft day trades back in April. Pittsburgh received fourth- and fifth-rounders in the separate deals to make selections in the 2013 draft. They also traded a conditional draft pick for left tackle Levi Brown earlier in the season.

Certainly, losing another draft pick, even if in the sixth or seventh round, would again hurt the Steelers going into the 2014 season. They’re heating up after a slow start to the season.

[Related: Browns’ unexciting draft low on fun, but high on strategy]

NFL News: Pittsburgh’s William Gay fined for hit on Jason Campbell

Pittsburgh’s William Gay was fined $15,750 on Friday, thus confirming that last Sunday’s officiating crew missed a penalty on his hit to the head of Browns quarterback Jason Campbell.

The fine specifically was for “unnecessary roughness based on the delivery of a forcible blow to the head/neck of a quarterback in the pocket.” The fine amount was identical to the one assessed to San Francisco’s Ahmad Brooks earlier this season after his controversial hit of New Orleans’ Drew Brees.

Browns coaches all week have pleaded for the NFL to consider replay review on such calls because of the magnitude of a decision. The referees on the field had said the hit was to the shoulder of Campbell, but it was pretty clearly the head while watching again on television.

The play also represented a huge swing of events for the Steelers, who lost on Thursday to fall to 5-7. The score was 13-3 and Pittsburgh returned the ball to the goalline for an easy score moments later. A correct penalty would have kept the ball for the Browns, perhaps keeping the game within reach.

Campbell has been officially ruled as out for this Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Brandon Weeden will make the start for the 4-7 Browns instead.

[Related: WFNY Stats & Info: Four facts for Browns-Jaguars on Sunday]