April 17, 2014

Your move, Browns – Alex Mack signs Jacksonville offer sheet

Who else would report it, but Adam Schefter? Alex Mack’s deal has reportedly been signed and it’s all pretty straight-forward.

So the Browns are on the clock even before the NFL draft. I have no idea how long they’ll take, but I think this is probably a pretty palatable deal if they were true to their word they wanted him back. It gives Mack a good amount of guaranteed money and also the right level of flexibility for a guy who was drafted by Mangini under Randy Lerner before coming up for renewal under Jimmy Haslam and Ray Farmer. Think of it this way, to keep it in perspective. Alex Mack was in the building at the same (very short) time as George Kokinis.

This is certainly far from as bad a deal as what many Browns expected. It also continues to show how silly Mack’s agent was when he said he thought he could create a deal that the Browns would have difficulty signing. The Browns aren’t guaranteed to sign this deal, of course, but it’s not the team killer anyone would have imagined in light of the agent’s posturing.

Hopefully shortly, we can just put this to bed.

Also see TD’s excellent work on new Cleveland Browns receiver Nate Burleson.

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

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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 discusses relationship with Bill Parcells, role in NFL Draft

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What a difference a year makes. About this time in 2013, Jimmy Haslam was reassuming his role as chairman of Pilot Flying J, placing the Cleveland Browns in the hands of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, and speaking only through press releases and legal filters. There was a point where the team he had just purchased was merely a line item within a world in disarray. Today, though still under the microscope of legal scrutiny, the team’s majority owner has reassumed his role of a hands-on owner, sitting down with Browns beat writer Tony Grossi to discuss the lay of the land in Berea.

Grossi and Haslam discussed the team’s relationship with Alex Mack (Jimmy believes Alex wants to play in Cleveland), Bill Parcells (he’s not coming to Cleveland), and Brian Hoyer (he’s a “gamer.”). But the biggest takeaway, in what was another offseason of front office turmoil and severed solid and dotted lines, is the fact that Haslam says that the NFL Draft will be entirely in the hands of general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine.

“We will agree strategically that these are the positions we’ll concentrate on, but Ray and Mike and the football guys will make those football decisions,” said Haslam. “Zero chance [I tell Ray to draft a certain player or position]. We will have so many conversations between now and the draft about who we’re picking, this position or that one, who are the top three or four. We will be all planned out. That’s what getting ready’s all about. We’ll all participate.”

Given the current organizational structure, with Farmer, Pettine and team president Alec Scheiner reporting directly through Haslam, it appears, at least in quote, that things are headed in the right direction—a far cry from this mess, anyway.

Ray Farmer says the Cleveland Browns are not trading Joe Haden

Haden2It really is the silly season. I had no idea that the Browns would have to make such a ludicrous statement today until they did. Alas, Ray Farmer has told the beat reporters that the Browns will not be trading Joe Haden.

This is apparently in response to a tweet that Joe Haden sent last night simply said, “it’s a crazy business.” That was all that needed to be said, I guess. The rumors started flying and people’s imaginations must have gotten away from them. Then, a fake twitter account for Mary Kay Cabot tweeted that Haden had been traded for DeSean Jackson. Yes, there’s a fake twitter account for Mary Kay.

Regardless, rest easy Browns fans. Joe Haden is not being traded.

At least not yet.

[Also see: Pic: Do you want a Cleveland Browns wedding cake?]

(WFNY Photo by Candice Vlcek)

 

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

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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 salary cap could jump to $160 million by 2016

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 9.31.31 AMLast week the NFL set the salary cap for 2014 at $133 million which was higher than many thought it would be. According to league sources in contact with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, it could be a trend that continues.

One source with knowledge of the process…  tells PFT that the cap could spike to $145 million in 2015 and a whopping $160 million in 2016.

While the Browns are still struggling to get out of the basement of the league and shouldn’t probably be working too hard to spend all their money to maintain the status quo on their roster, it’s still good news. The Browns have a ton of money available to them this year, and this just means they’ll have that much more going forward.

Even as the Browns haven’t been successful on the field yet, there are still some players that the Browns will want to take care of and presumably keep using that money. Jordan Cameron, Jabaal Sheard, and Phil Taylor will be free agents after the 2014 NFL season. Add Joe Haden to the list if the Browns don’t get his extension done earlier.

The following year could shape up to be a biggie too if Josh Gordon can keep his nose clean and continues to play at the Pro Bowl level he played in 2013. Oh yeah, and if the Browns win the lottery and Brian Hoyer proves he’s a legitimate NFL starter, his $1.25 million salary for 2014 won’t be good enough to bring him back in 2015.

This rise in the salary cap also means that the free agency pool is likely to get even less efficient as the same players who were fighting for a piece of $126 million now get to chase a piece of $133 million.

The League, NBA Twitter and Trading Alex Mack: While We’re Waiting

WFNYBanner www

Welcome to the new WWW. I’ll be covering Fridays.

How have I never seen The League before? I needed a new show to watch and saw FX’s The League on my Netflix screen, so I tried it. What I found was a perfectly hysterical 22-minute TV show. If you haven’t seen this show, you really should make the effort to watch it. If you have seen it, what were you thinking? You didn’t tell me about this show. You failed as hype men.1

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NBA Twitter is the best Twitter. That won’t change as the Twitter app will now start showing live scores of trending NBA games. Obviously the Twitter app will do this for all sports, but you can’t tell me it won’t be especially awesome on NBA Twitter when some week night West Coast League Pass alert happens and everyone pops on over to a wild NBA game that’s unfolding in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Cleveland Browns’ salary cap isn’t a straight-forward topic. Yes, the team has just over $50 million in salary cap space, but any team needs a longer range plan that encompasses roster dynamics. This includes existing talent and their forthcoming free agencies and extension demands.

With that in mind, I recommend people read Jim Kanicki’s breakdown of the cap where he concludes that the Browns really have about $39 million to spend once you consider the other things that the Browns need to do with their existing roster. I promise that nowhere in the article does Kanick try to convince you or me that Johnny Manziel isn’t fast.

Could the Browns be thinking of trading Alex Mack? Probably not, but Brent Sobleski talked to Mack and some of the quotes are interesting. “It’s an interesting position to be put into to,” Mack said. “The transition tag will still allow me to see other teams, which is what we really wanted. … The goal was really to feel out my options. We wanted to know what the Browns are now about, and what other teams are doing.”

It got me thinking. The Browns tagged Mack with the transition tag and initially I thought that was just because it saved money, but what if the Browns have other thoughts as well? Granted the “sign and trade” thing doesn’t really happen in the NFL, but there’s a first time for everything. Mack going out and meeting with other teams could help the Browns line up a trade partner. Maybe? Again, it’s not normal, but it occurred to me when I read those quotes. I really do think the Browns just want Mack back, but they are in the driver’s seat still with the transition tag.

The Browns re-signed kicker Billy Cundiff. As much as Phil Dawson rules and we miss him, it’s officially time to say the Browns did fine without him. We’re fans, so we are supposed to make big deals about things that impact us emotionally. It’s fairly obvious in this case though that sentimentality didn’t play itself out into us being doomed over the loss of Phil Dawson… YET. We’ll see how that interloper Billy Cundiff does in his second year with the Browns! You’re on notice! (Again.)

MUSIC! - I decided to hit you with a playlist of some of my favorite songs so far in 2014.

Your Deep Rest by The Hotelier is a throwback song for me. This band sounds like the late 90′s and early 2000′s to me. No, not in the Limp Bizkit / Korn kind of way. More like Straylight Run or something. Very good, slightly sloppy rock.

Trophy by Crosses is a really interesting song by a side project of Deftones singer Chino Moreno and some other Cali musicians. This is a mellow song, but I find it very pretty.

Denial by I Break Horses is another electronic song. That’s not usually my style, but something about this puts it in the world of M83, which I like. The soundtrack for the Ryan Gosling / Cary Mulligan movie Drive infected me a couple years ago.

Cardiac Arrest by Bad Suns is the sugary sweet pop song that I was telling you about. These guys are so polished that I’m not sure I even like it as much as it sticks to the roof of my mouth. Try to get it out of your head.

Voix Sereines by Alcest is a perfect song in my book. It’s a builder that takes four minutes to explode into sweeping thematic guitars. Should be played extremely loudly for full effect.

Until next week…

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Footnotes:

  1. What? Did you think I would blame myself? Nope. []

Browns current cap space estimated to be $50.4 million

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The good folks at Dawgs by Nature have been doing the job over there when it comes to the Browns and their available cap space. It’s a difficult task with lots of factors changing constantly, but they’re on top of it. Now that the Browns are deemed to not owe Davone Bess his second year’s salary and now that the Browns have placed the transition tag on Alex Mack, the numbers have been updated yet again. And the Browns have a lot of available cap space. The Browns have about $50.4 million, to be exact.

As we’ve discussed here lately, that doesn’t mean that the Browns should go crazy in the least efficient team-building manner and pay crazy money for big-name guys who are likely past their primes. For example, while Cortland Finnegan is a good player and 30, who knows if any team wants to be in the business of paying him when he’s 34.

I still expect the Browns to start at home by following up with their commitment to Alex Mack with a long-term deal as well as a Joe Haden extension. Remember that Joe Thomas’ big extension wasn’t done until training camp had already begun, so there’s no reason to be impatient with Haden’s deal.

I’m still undecided what the Browns will do with T.J. Ward. I can’t get a read on what they think his value is and what they want to pay for his services. If for whatever reason Ward doesn’t come back with the Browns this season it won’t be because they can’t afford it.

[Related: D’Qwell Jackson follows Chud, T-Rich to Indianapolis Colts]

(Image via Candice Vlcek/WFNY)

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

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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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YELLING TRIBE, BROWNS AND TWITTER WITH @sportsyelling – WFNY Podcast – 2014-02-28

WFNY Podcast LogoI was very happy to welcome in @sportsyelling for the first time on the WFNY Podcast. She (yes, she) is a Tribe first sports fan, so we talked a lot about the Indians. We talked about Ubaldo Jimenez, the rotation, Chief Wahoo, and Ervin Santana. We also touched on the Browns and how the NFL has dominated the sports world to the point there’s really no “off-season.”

Check out this episode!

Cleveland Browns say farewell to their leader, release D’Qwell Jackson

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Once upon a time I thought that D’Qwell Jackson was going to be cut by Joe Banner for financial reasons. Now it appears that the financial reasons were good enough for Ray Farmer as well. Mary Kay Cabot reports that the Browns have said goodbye to the team’s long-tenured linebacker and leader after eight seasons with the team.

“We had positive discussion with D’Qwell and his agent over the last several days, and we came to the mutual agreement to go in different directions,” said Browns general manager Ray Farmer. “D’Qwell is the epitome of class, leadership and professionalism. Every day of his NFL career, D’Qwell has been a solid representative of the Browns and the City of Cleveland, both between the lines on Sundays and off the field in our area community. We want to thank him for his eight years of service and wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.”

Earlier in the off-season, Jackson said he’d be “shocked” if he wasn’t back. Shortly after Mike Pettine was hired, we discussed Jackson’s future and the linebacker position for the Browns in general.

D’Qwell Jackson, the team’s current middle linebacker and captain, is owed a lot of money this year. If they cut him, it will add about $4.2 million in dead money to the books, but if they keep him, it will cost them over $8 million.

So go ahead and add that $4.2 million in dead money to the more than $6.5 million that was accelerated onto the cap with the trade of Trent Richardson. Make no mistake though, beyond  the cap ramifications, this will save the team cash. It saves them enough that they can pay a huge portion of the 2014 NFL draftees.

The lesson? Even on a team with financial flexibility for days as the Browns have with their cap situation, teams don’t like to spend inefficiently between what a guy’s contract pays him versus what his performance is worth on the field. That gap widened too much for the respected D’Qwell Jackson to keep his roster spot with the Cleveland Browns.

“To the people of Cleveland and Browns fans everywhere: Eight years ago I began a journey that blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful organization and community,” said Jackson. “I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for opening your arms and hearts to my family and me, and for making Cleveland an easy place to love and call home. It’s been an honor playing in front of you.

“I also would like to thank the Browns players, coaches and staff for their tireless work and commitment.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all and will always carry you with me.”

While painful, I think it’s a good move for the team. As much as I love D’Qwell Jackson as a human and as a player, he’s never risen to the level of stardom that dominant defenses need from their middle linebackers. Jackson is a solid player and a likable guy, but I’ve long felt having him as the field leader put something of a ceiling on how good the defense could become.

It’s a sad day for Browns fans in many ways, but it seemed inevitable.

[Related: Reign On Spotlight Player of the Week: D’Qwell Jackson]

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.

Browns NFL combine question: “How many things can you do with a paper clip?”

Browns fans at Bengals Game Yesterday

Move over, Wonderlic, the Cleveland Browns are looking to replace you. While countless NFL prospects will soon fill out (if they haven’t already) the multiple choice exam full of brain-bending questions ranging from simple math to shapes and sentence structure, the Browns have decided to get all philosophical. In a piece which discussed the team’s quest for San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh, NFL.com’s Mike Silver drops some science on that of the Browns at this weekend’s NFL Combine.

It is a metal fastener, and a metaphor, and — in the eyes of one proud franchise searching for employees and answers at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine — a highly relevant and potentially revelatory topic of conversation.

I’m talking about the essential office supply known as the paper clip, and I’m doing so because it became a somewhat surprising prop in the 15-minute interview sessions conducted over the weekend at the Crowne Plaza hotel. At least two prospects, and likely a whole lot more, were shown the diminutive double-looped device during their meetings with officials from one team and were then asked, “How many different things can you think of that you can do with a paper clip?”

Presumably, “holding pieces of paper together” was considered a gimme. And I’m fairly certain that none of the potential draftees went with the reply I’d personally prefer … Here’s one: I can straighten it out and stick it right through my eardrums, so that I don’t have to hear another one of these brilliantly constructed, esoteric queries.

We’ve previously revealed some truly ridiculous questions at combines past, including one concerning Gerald McCoy’s preferred undergarments and another about whether Toby Gerhart felt “entitled” as a white running back. And we can now add the Paper Clip Puzzler to the list.

Rather than ponder the possible utility of such an exercise, I’d like to ask a question of my own: Which team’s brain trust do you suppose was responsible for this cunning gem?

Ladies and gentlemen, YOUR Cleveland Browns.

I know: It’s utterly shocking. The organization that took hot mess to a new level on the eve of Black Monday before running a scattered and sloppy coaching search and then deep-sixing the CEO and general manager who ran it is seemingly on an intellectual level that its 31 competitors can’t possibly comprehend.

Tragically, however, the wasting of interviewees’ time was not the Browns’ most memorable embarrassment of the past few days.

Silver pulls no punches, referring to the Browns as being “funnier than a certain trio of slapstick-loving short-film icons,” and made sure to reiterate that a lot of people around the league are laughing at them, not with them.

The creative thinking involved with the Browns and the NFL Combine reportedly didn’t stop with metaphorical and physical uses of paper clips, however, as ESPN.com Browns blogger Pat McManamon reports that Arkansas center Travis Swanson was asked what he could do with a brick. McManamon also points out that there have been studies done on both the brick and the paper clip, and rightfully admits that there are some positives, albeit quirky ones, to come out of asking players questions they are not anticipating.

How this translates to running, blocking, throwing or catching—well, that remains to be seen.

I missed most of the NFL Combine and I don’t care

Johnny Manziel

Without downs and drives, we’re forced to focus on broad jumps and the bench press? No thanks.

Maybe it’s because I spent a whole week out of state without access to NFL Network, and subsequently only followed the combine tangentially through the news and Twitter, but I feel as if we live in a new NFL world. The combine is important to figure out which guys are healthy and as one of many tools to help organize a draft board, but it also feels largely marginalized. As we watch players climb and fall, draft charts organized by analysts who largely get things wrong as real drafts unfold, I’m left less and less compelled by the variance in tenths of seconds by various NFL draft prospects.

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Ray Farmer will lay the foundation for the team in the next three weeks

The NFL combine is wrapping up, and for Cleveland’s new collective brain trust, the next few weeks will be setting a foundation for the 2014 season and beyond.

After the scouting combine closes on Tuesday, the Browns will put together their plan of attack for the off-season. The first order of business will be making decisions on their own free agents and players who they may decide to part ways with. The three high profile decisions to make are of course center Alex Mack, safety T.J. Ward and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.

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Wading through the reports of a Browns trade for Jim Harbaugh

Cleveland Browns headquarters training camp

Berea, Ohio: Where the fun never stops

Late Friday, the never-ending Cleveland Browns coaching search – which really did end on February 6 when the Browns hired Mike Pettine – got an extension in the news cycle. Pro Football Talk got wind of an apparent trade between the Browns and 49ers for their coach Jim Harbaugh and anonymous sources have been doing battle ever since. But what does all this mean for Browns fans as they get set for an immediate future with Mike Pettine?

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Ray Farmer already speaking like a seasoned General Manager

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Ray Farmer has been an NFL general manager for a little less than two weeks, but he already has one part of the job down: He has learned the art of speaking without saying anything.

On Thursday, Farmer met with the media at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. As you would expect, Farmer was asked about Johnny Manziel and the rest of the quarterbacks in this draft class. Like a true front office veteran, Farmer spoke for five minutes without giving away anything at all. [Read more...]

Sports Illustrated ranks Browns last in NFL in offseason outlook

photo2While the majority of folks on the shores of Lake Erie seem encouraged by the Browns’ recent shakeup in the front office, nationally, the franchise is still regarded as a joke.

Sports Illustrated released an offseason outlook ranking for the NFL, with the Cleveland Browns checking in dead last at No. 32. The off-beat rankings were calculated based off grading on a scale of 1-5 across four categories: pending free agents, cap space, amount of draft picks, track record of GM/management. They were not necessarily related to success on the field in 2013.

Although the Browns have lost at least 11 games over the last six years, there is still a sense of optimism locally heading into this offseason because of over $45 million in cap space and 10 picks in the upcoming draft, including three in the top 35. In fact, Jacksonville, the No. 1 ranked team, is similar with their $50 million in cap space and 10 picks, although the bulk of those picks are later in the draft.

While one would think those factors would surely have the Browns checking into these offseason outlook rankings somewhere besides the very bottom, the perception of the team’s front office plummet them to No. 32.

In a set of rankings where categories were graded 1-5, the Browns’ front office situation received a grade of -5, thus shooting the Orange and Brown to the bottom of the list.

Here’s what SI had to say about the team’s offseason odds.

32. Cleveland Browns

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 4 | Draft: 4 | GM: -5 | TOTAL: 5

The Browns have $45.5 million in cap to spend in the new league year, and two first-round picks after fleecing the Colts in the Trent Richardson trade. There’s a lot of talent on defense, and a few real playmakers on the offensive side of things. In other words, everything needed to build a real NFL powerhouse. Unfortunately, a front office that deserves a far lower rating than the one we were able to give it (heck with it; we’re throwing the lowest grade possible at this mess) will almost unquestionably squander these great gifts. Because when your team owner is under federal investigation, and your organization has changed team presidents, general managers and head coaches at a dizzying rate, it’s hard to take anything you do seriously.

The fact that Sports Illustrated writers went off the scale to bring down the Browns may have Clevelanders discouraged, but the positioning of the rival Steelers may provide a silver lining for Browns fans.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

Breakdown: FAs: 2 | Cap: 1.5 | Draft: 2 | GM: 2.5 | TOTAL: 8

It’s a known fact that the Steelers would have liked a better yield in their recent drafts. And general manager Kevin Colbert is a man very much in the firing line now as the Steelers try to re-fuel for a new generation of success with the need to pare down nearly $13 million in cap space just to get to zero. The formerly great defense slipped to the middle in 2013, and though protection improved for Ben Roethlisberger in the second half of the season, this was a team out of balance. And with more than a third of the roster lined up for free agency, it may be a while before this most stable of franchises is on top again. — DF

The only reason Pittsburgh comes in ahead of Cleveland on this list is the perception of the general manager’s office. In fact, if the Browns’ front office would have received the minimum grade outlined by the authors of 1, Cleveland shoots up the list to a tie for No. 16, ahead of five 2013 playoff teams.