August 2, 2014

Cleveland Browns ranked 22nd in PFT’s preseason power rankings

I have a tendency to obsess on power rankings when they’re out of whack in a bad way. That’s why I felt it necessary to talk about ESPN ranking the Browns dead last in their power rankings from May after this year’s NFL draft. It’s not that I think the Browns should be favored to win the Super Bowl, but my hyper-realistic expectations are simply to demand that they get in the range of going .500 in a season. And as I always say, that’s not a prediction. That’s just a minimum level of standard that I’m willing to accept on an annual basis, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable. Anyway, I focus too much on the negative, so today I’m focusing on the positive.

Pro Football Talk is rolling out their preseason power rankings and I have been waiting (and waiting) for the Browns and it feels good. PFT has decided right now that the Browns are 22nd. This puts the Browns ahead of the Redskins, Cowboys, and Texans. The Browns are chasing the Lions, Rams, and Jets.

We know all the parts about the Browns’ roster, but PFT has a somewhat optimistic view of the schedule.

The Browns begin their season at nemesis Pittsburgh, then host top-class New Orleans and stout Baltimore before the Week Four bye to end September. However, October and November could be more favorable for Cleveland. Though the Browns play five road games in this stretch, three are against the Jaguars, Titans and Bills. The Browns also have home contests against the Raiders, Buccaneers and Texans. If Cleveland is ready to take a step forward, it will make the most of these two months before closing out the season with home games against tough Cincinnati and Indianapolis and road matchups at Carolina and Baltimore.

While the schedule doesn’t necessarily come into play when making up power rankings, the info is instructive. The Cleveland Browns are a team with lots of question marks, but they retained center Alex Mack, seemingly improved the defense across the board and added one major X-factor in Johnny Manziel, should Brian Hoyer relinquish his position atop the Browns QB depth chart.

That’s just enough promise for the writers at PFT to vote the Browns 22nd.

“Smoke and Fire” or “Smoke and Mirrors”: While We’re Waiting

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My favorite time in the otherwise excruciating pre-NFL Draft season is the period where wannabe GMs and 140-character analysts attempt to read between the lines of coach and general manager quotes to decipher just who their favorite team is going to draft. This stage is in full swing now that Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer have gone on the record to say very little about their draft intentions, leading others to attempt some form of jerk-off Pavlovian deconstruction—if Coach X says Y, he must mean Z!

The latest comes from Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk1 who, in a psychoanalysis that rivals Dr. Phil, attempts to turn Ray Farmer’s open praise of Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins into some cat-and-mouse shenanigans that—somehow—lead the Browns to coveting an offensive lineman.

In the same interview, Farmer heaped praise on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel (“Exciting, electric. He’s dynamic”), Khalil Mack (“I would say he’s a physical anomaly”), Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans and Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles (“Both of those guys are talented players.”). Of course, none of these players drew a “wow,” but to extrapolate smoke from such quotes is a fools errand. Next Monday can’t come soon enough. 

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The collateral damage from the Chief Wahoo debate is starting to drip over onto apparel companies. The Associated Press reports of a Pacific Northwestern plea for Nike Inc. to stop selling MLB-licensed merchandise emblazoned with the Indians’ secondary logo. Nike would not be printing (and, thus, selling) merchandise with Chief Wahoo on it if the logo were not among the bevy of MLB-licensed images provided to the company for distribution. It’s realistic to assume that the company could also choose to not produce apparel with said imagery on it (the Washington Redskins are mentioned in the report as well), but this would also assume that Nike didn’t just decide to do away with the abuse of overseas labor.

This isn’t to say that the Swoosh won’t catch on eventually. But it is to say that the corporate inertia in Washington County is among the slowest in the entire sports world. And this includes Major League Baseball.

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Those of you able to stomach the NBA Playoffs have been blessed with one of the better first rounds in recent memory. Five of the eight series went seven games with each of the five being completely up for grabs. San Antonio was on the wire. Toronto’s bid for the second round was blocked at the final second. And this doesn’t even include the issues in Los Angeles with Donald Sterling and the Clippers. I mean eight (EIGHT) first-round games went into overtime—more than the last four seasons of playoffs combined.

The most compelling series, at least from a Cleveland fans standpoint, should have been the Houston-Portland series, if only because of the play of one Damian Lillard. If you missed it, Lillard sank an incredible buzzer-beating three pointer off of a simple curl that vaulted his team into the second round while simultaneously forcing some Cavalier fans to debate whether or not they would rather have Lillard over Kyrie Irving. For your viewing pleasure:

damian lillard three-pointer

I think the way the fans’ arms raise in unison may be my favorite part of the whole gif, but I digress. If you recall, Lillard was one (of the many) point guards to terrorize Irving this season, hitting a game-winner in one of the Cavaliers’ best games of the 2013-14 season. He has a huge cult following of NBA fans, has his own massive sneaker deal (Adidas) and is an All-Star in his own right. And now his team (though surrounded by talent that dwarfs that of Cleveland) is heading into the second round of the playoffs. The debate isn’t without merit. Who would you rather have?

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Speaking of Kyrie Irving and shoe deals, Jordan Zirm over at Stack Media discusses the 2014 free agency landscape on the sneaker front, doing so with legendary sneaker business analyst Matt Powell. While Powell couldn’t confirm the rumor, he’s under the impression that Kyrie Irving will in fact be getting his own line of shoes this coming season. He’s had two consecutive years of PE (Player Exclusive, for the out of touch). His own shoe would put him in rarified air with guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. Does Irving deserve to be in that company? Given his commercial appeal with Pepsi MAX and Foot Locker, it appears that Nike believes so.

***

Only three more episodes of Mad Men left, you guys. Is this season living up to your expectations?

***

And just because: That’s just isn’t fair, Ronaldo.

RONALDOGIF

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Footnotes:

  1. This type of nonsense is certainly not limited to Florio. You could throw a rock at a Clevelander’s Twitter feed and plunk someone who thinks they’re in tune with NFL wisdom. It’s an epidemic, really. []

Browns have “no comment” on Lombardi’s Browns documents

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Is it a big deal that recently ousted Browns employee Michael Lombardi was seen at the NFL combine with documents emblazoned with Cleveland Browns logos? The answer is that none of us have any clue. It certainly seems less than ideal for the Browns, but whether or not it is an actual impropriety or not is impossible to know without finding out from the Cleveland Browns. The team, however has issued two separate “no comment” statements to ProFootballTalk and Mary Kay Cabot.

This could mean a couple things.

1. Maybe the Browns really aren’t sweating it. The team obviously didn’t feel the need to keep Lombardi out of work through the end of the draft, which you would think they could have done by simply paying him to stay home. Maybe they reserved no such rights in Lombardi’s contract, but it seems unlikely that Lombardi would have had leverage to exclude non-compete and non-piracy language from his contract negotiations with the Browns.

2. Maybe the Browns are embarrassed and just hoping this goes away. Who would let a year’s worth of scouting information go straight into the hands of another NFL team? The Browns seemingly just did.

3. Maybe the Browns are pursuing this issue with the league. We have no evidence of this and it is pure speculation, but maybe the Browns didn’t enjoy seeing their logo in the Pats loge at the combine and are seeking to have the situation addressed through channels that require them to not comment at the current time.

Mary Kay Cabot’s report also indicates that Ray Farmer isn’t concerned because the club “followed proper procedures” with Lombardi’s departure. Again, I’m unsure what this means. Does it mean that Lombardi’s exit was handled in such a way that he’s doing something wrong by having documents with Browns logos? Does it mean that it was handled in such a way that it’s cool that Lombardi have those documents?

We’ll find out eventually. Probably. Maybe.

For now, the Browns, unsurprisingly, have no comment.

Colt McCoy agrees to pay cut, wins backup spot for 49ers

It may not have much to do with the Cleveland Browns anymore, but I still love following the news about former Browns that we pinned hopes and dreams to at various times. Colt McCoy has apparently been named the backup to Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco as of yesterday, but that wasn’t the real news as far as I was concerned.

Among all the quotes about Colt McCoy failing to meet, let alone exceed expectations and struggling to pick up the offense, there was this little tidbit.

It was a big weekend for the quarterback, who helped his chances of staying by agreeing to a pay cut as well.

Earlier in the year, Yahoo! reported that Colt McCoy had played enough in the 2012 NFL season to exercise some contract escalators. That took his cap number in 2013 and made it $2.325 million. Of course he was then traded from a team flush with cap space to one at a very different cap cycle with highly compensated players all over the field. Additionally Colin Kaepernick – signed through 2014 – is set to have a cap number of $1.398 million in this upcoming season as the starter. The former 2011 second rounder will presumably cash in at some point, but wouldn’t it have been comical if he was in a situation where it would make logical sense for Colt McCoy to pick up the tab at a restaurant on the road this season?

The rumors on Twitter have it that McCoy reworked his deal so that he will only make the veteran minimum of $630,000 and has a chance to earn some money back if he’s active and plays. This being the NFL where guys can get cut at almost any time, $630,000 is far (far) better than $0. Plus there was the added pressure of the 49ers signing Seneca Wallace last week, so it probably made all sorts of sense for the former Texas Longhorn.

[Also See: Sunday Six Pack: Reasons to stay optimistic following loss to Colts]

 

 

NFL News: Officials poised to crack down on celebrations

Pro Football Talk notes reports from both Vikings and Panthers camps that officials have specifically mentioned ball-spinning as celebrations that could draw 15-yard flags this season. In instances like this, the NFL isn’t necessarily creating new rules as much as it is making a point about enforcement or interpretation of existing rules.

In a lot of ways this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s obnoxious to have something change the outcome of a football game that has so little to do with talent at playing football. On the other hand, void enforcement for unsportsmanlike penalties the game might break into constant scuffles and fighting. But the first point is what always drove me so crazy about Dwayne Rudd’s helmet toss loss. It was a rule that he broke, but in no way did enforcement of that penalty help determine which team played better football that day.

Yes, there’s something to be said about composure and focus, but I think you also see my point.

So, it stands to reason that there will be a few instances this season where guys will get flagged for doing something that went unflagged a year ago. It will likely change the face of a game either in the Browns’ favor or against it, and it will still have very little to do with which is the better football team on the field on a given day.

If there’s one nice thing about Ben Watson’s departure it is that at least we won’t risk his group celebration penalties that seemed to happen a couple times per year.

[Related: .@Steelersdepot talks Browns, Steelers, Bengals, Ravens, Shamark-nado, Phil Dawson and more – WFNY Podcast – 2013-08-05]

Raiders sign former Browns safety Usama Young

The connections between the Raiders and Browns seem to keep getting stronger, or at least more strongly anecdotal. First the report that the Raiders badly wanted to keep Desmond Bryant, whom the Browns signed in free agency. Now, Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Raiders have signed former Browns safety Usama Young. Details of the deal aren’t available yet.

Darin Gantt of PFT makes the connection that Usama Young will rejoin his former Saints secondary coach Dennis Allen, now with the Raiders.

So, even if the money is nowhere close to being equal, I’ll still take the Desmond Bryant for Usama Young swap. Young was expected to nail down a starting spot for the Cleveland Browns, but ultimately couldn’t stay healthy for parts of his two years with the team.

Young originally signed a 3-year deal with the Browns for $5.9 million. He earned $1.7 million in 2011 and $1.8 million in 2012 before the Browns decided to save the approximately $2.25 million in cap space by cutting him loose.

[Related: Raiders "badly wanted to re-sign Desmond Bryant, per Peter King]

Cleveland Browns current cap space $28.7 million

The Browns got busy this off-season with Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger on reasonably large deals. They followed that up with a few more smaller signings, but it hasn’t come anywhere close to exhausting the space the Browns have available. According to Mike Florio and his cohorts at ProFootballTalk, the Cleveland Browns still have $28.7 million available in cap space.

That puts the Browns second in the entire NFL behind the Bengals. Here are the top five.

Bengals:  $28.9 million.

Browns:  $28.7 million.

Buccaneers:  $28.8 million.

Jaguars:  $26.6 million.

Eagles:  $26.3 million.

I wouldn’t expect the Browns to finish the off-season anywhere near that obviously. The Browns will have to sign their draft picks and it is also reasonable to assume a current Brown like Alex Mack or T.J. Ward could see an extension that makes a meaningful impact on the salary cap for 2013. As we’ve continually pointed out this off-season, Joe Banner appears to be front-loading deals when he has cap available to do so.

[Related: Breaking down Paul Kruger’s and Desmond Bryant’s Browns contracts]

Rob Chudzinski talks about Weeden, Desmond Bryant, and the Browns off-season

Rob Chudzinski went on Pro Football Talk’s “PFT Live” this week and had a few quotable quotes…

On the organization in place right now…

“From the short amount of time that I’ve been here with Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and the rest of the people in the organization, it’s an exciting time. There’s definitely a feel in the air here, in the building. There’s a sense and a real feel of people working together and being on the same page and collectively working together for the same goal.”

 On the assumption around the league that it’s just a matter of time before Weeden is “supplanted.”

“Well, we’re going to go through our process. And looking at Brandon and the rest of the team coming in,  you know studying and looking and making an evaluation. That’s a small part of it. And you really can’t tell until you get out there on the field and get in meetings with guys and really get a chance to coach them. You’ve got to talk to them and see how they react to that and see what they can transfer from the meeting room to the field. And then go through the process of making mistakes and making corrections and then making improvements. That’s the real part I’m real excited about.

Just looking at Brandon on tape from last season you saw some skills that excite you and you saw progress. For a young quarterback particularly, when you see progress, that’s a good sign. So we’re all excited about getting not only Brandon, but Colt and Thaddeus Lewis as well and the rest of our team out here.”

What’s your philosophy going to be as a head coach in terms of being hands-on?

“I’m going to be involved in all phases. Obviously I have a background with Norv and have known him for a long time. He was a big part of shaping my philosophy as an offensive coach.  I have all the faith in the world in Norv. He’ll call the plays, but like all phases I’ll be part of that and the gameplans.”

 

On Desmond Bryant’s off the field struggles…

“You have to do the research on him. Going through a process of going into and looking into his background. Obviously one of our strength coaches had a chance to be around Desmond on a day-to-day basis. You know, we went through that process and feel like it’s not indicative of the type of person he is. He’s an outstanding person and he made a mistake. He’ll make amends for it and has made amends for it. We’ll move on.”

On playing 25% of your games against the Steelers and the Ravens…

“I expect, I mean obviously Baltimore just won the Super Bowl, both those organizations are outstanding organizations. They have outstanding people, coaches and players… it’s going to be a heck of a challenge. Then you throw Cincinnati in there and they’ve been to the playoffs the last two years. They’re adding pieces and playing pretty good football as well…”

On what he expects to see in 2013 in terms of turning the team around…

“I think what we need to see is progress in going towards our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to win and our ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl.”

Chud finished this question talking more about getting guys on the field, installing systems and “focusing on the day.” Talked about getting better every day, “incrementally” and “building” and the “process.”

I know that will annoy a lot of fans who’ve had enough of the “process” and “building” but Chudzinski has a little more to work with. Even Florio couldn’t help but say that it’s time for the Browns to turn it around. It would be good for the sport that touts parity for a team like the Browns to be competitive more than twice every 14 years, at least according to Florio.

[Related: What the Browns should have said about Phil Dawson]

 

Browns up to No. 22 in the PFT power rankings

Pro Football Talk says the Browns are going to “blow their chance at another top-five pick” in proclaiming that the Browns are currently the 22nd best team in the NFL.

Power rankings are for entertainment purposes only, of course, but it is at least a little bit of fun for Browns fans to see their team considered superior to others after pre-season punditry wondered if the Browns could even win a single game this year. So, who, exactly is it that the Browns are ranked ahead of right now?

Who are the unlucky ten?

23. Titans: The team that currently is in Houston gave the owner that used to be in Houston a double-barreled middle finger this season.

24. Lions: Why do they even try to do anything other than give the ball to Calvin Johnson? Oh, wait. They don’t.

25. Jets: Why do they even try?

26. Panthers: Here’s hoping the new G.M. gives Ron Rivera a fair chance to show he can get it done.

27. Cardinals: The passes made by Ryan Lindley are about as effective as the passes Audra Lindley used to make at Norman Fell.

28. Chargers: Speaking of Norman Fell, the guy who likes like him will soon be free to manage an apartment building in L.A.

29. Eagles: At some point, Andy Reid’s final year in Philly will make it impossible for another owner to sell him to a fan base as a viable coaching option.

30. Chiefs: Officially, we’re neutral. Unofficially, we’re Chiefs fans until further notice.

31. Jaguars: It’s time to slay the fatted calf in Jacksonville.

32. Raiders: Not-so-slowly but surely, Mark Davis is proving Mike Silver to be right.

[Related: Browns’ rookie trio on verge of very rare feat]

PFT: Banner Hopes for Long-Term Leadership Stability

New Browns CEO Joe Banner joined Pro Football Talk’s live video spot Friday for an exclusive interview talking about his plans for the franchise. In Mike Florio’s summary on the 15-minute-long video, he shared this highlight on Banner’s hope that after possible offseason changes, the Browns leadership remains the same for the long-run:

Banner also said that, despite the various changes in offensive and defensive philosophy in recent years, more changes to the approaches on offense and defense and, in turn, the personnel could be coming.  But if there’s another wave of changes, they will be the last changes for a while.  The Browns under owner Jimmy Haslam plan to take a long-term view, finding people and principles they trust and sticking with them, in the hopes of establishing the kind of continuity every team needs in order to succeed.

Be certain to hear the rest of Banner’s comments, especially when paired with his June appearance on the PFT show. It’s pretty intriguing to look back and see how everything was reported then about Banner’s possible involvement, and where things stand today.

Here is an embedded copy of the video from PFT:

[Related: Pat Shurmur’s future: One way or the other, Jimmy Haslam needs conviction]

NFL Rumor: Joe Haden took Adderall as a Las Vegas ‘pick-me-up’

From mysterious Twitter rumors to possible NFL review and “no comment,” we’re continuing to see more buzz on the Internet about the alleged Joe Haden drug suspension story.

This time, the word from a Pro Football Talk league source yesterday is that the reason for Haden’s failed test is “pick-me-up” Adderall use during an offseason trip to Las Vegas. According to the report, Haden does not likely have a prescription for Adderall, a common ADD medication.

The report from PFT continued to say it likely was a one-time use and that if Haden had a prescription, he possibly could more easily avoid league suspension. However, since Adderall is not a performance-enhancer, writer Mike Florio proposed why it is possibly against league policy in the offseason.

Of course, the NFL requires random year-round drug testing for all players. This latest article theorizes that word is flowing out very early in Haden’s review process, so a final decision still might not arrive for quite a while.

[Related: Haden Won’t Comment on Alleged Drug Suspension- “It’s a League Matter”]

Richardson and Browns Reportedly Negotiating

Mary Kay Cabot is reporting that the Browns and Trent Richardson’s agent Jimmy Sexton are in the same physical space and negotiating a contract.

The only possible sticking point left could be “offset language.” As we’ve discussed previously, the money shouldn’t be an issue anymore now that Andrew Luck and RG3 have both signed ahead of Richardson.

This offset language specifies that even if the player in question gets cut and re-signed by another team whether or not the cutting team gets credit for money in the new contract. For example, if the Browns cut a guy who is owed $2 million and he goes out and signs a deal elsewhere for $1 million, the Browns would love to have contract language that cuts their responsibilities in half. The chances of getting anything like that in Trent Richardson’s contract appear to be pretty slim.

Also, not so incidentally, Trent Richardson is represented by CAA as is Robert Griffin III, who was able to avoid any such offset language in his Redskins deal, as PFT pointed out on July 18th. So, I think we all know where this is headed.

[Related: For Browns, Youth Might be Painful at Times this Season]

PFT: Browns 4th with $18.5 million left in cap space

Now that the dust has settled from the last round of free agency, Pro Football Talk has calculated how much cap space that teams have remaining as we head toward the draft and free agency continues. Here are the top ten according to their calculations.

Bengals:  $20.5 million.

Jaguars:  $20.2 million.

Seahawks:  $18.9 million.

Browns:  $18.5 million.

Titans:  $18.4 million.

Buccaneers:  $18.3 million.

Chiefs:  $17.0 million.

Eagles:  $16.2 million.

Vikings:  $14.5 million.

Broncos:  $13.8 million.

The Browns haven’t been overly active so far other than signing their own players, of course. Also remember that my estimates indicate with the number of draft picks that the Browns have that they’ll need somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million available to sign draft picks.

Controversies Sell Better Than Corrections

Thanks to the quiet of the bye week in Browns town, the Peyton Hillis “story” was big news all week long.  It cluttered the airwaves at 92.3 WFAN and even Adam the Bull couldn’t help but say that teams should keep stuff like this “in house” but that he was glad they didn’t because it was good for his afternoon drive-time show with Dustin Fox.  You can certainly debate whether or not it was good for his show, but there is little doubt that it was all around a bad week for Browns fans as an unnecessary potential wedge was being driven between Browns fans and Peyton Hillis.  All of it began with a report from Adam Schefter about alleged “whispers in the Browns locker room.”

You may or may not believe me, but I honestly didn’t want to talk about any of the Peyton Hillis stuff.  I didn’t think it was much of a story.  We’ve been through this before with beloved players like Josh Cribbs.  We love Browns players, but we love the Cleveland Browns team even more.  When that team is seemingly at odds financially with a player, it is a sticky situation.  Everyone would be better off if we just acted like Tom Heckert and only discussed these things after deals are completed.  That’s obviously unrealistic, but now we’re finding out so were Adam Schefter’s reports. [Read more...]