April 24, 2014

Alex Mack, Andrew Hawkins, Brandon Weeden and Tribe outfielders: While We’re Waiting Weekend

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It’s early on a Saturday morning, and I’ve been a bit out of the loop lately, so I figured I’d fire up a weekend edition of While We’re Waiting.

I’ve been thinking a lot about NFL free agency. It’s really hard to figure exactly what the Browns have accomplished this off-season because they did kind of let two veterans (Ward and Jackson) go to bring in two more veterans (Whitner and Dansby.) Combine that with Andrew Sharp’s rules about NFL free agency, most specifically the idea that the bigger the name in free agency, the worse it is, and it’s somewhat difficult to make sense of what the Browns have done. Or is it?

The Browns looked to accomplish something with their first two big moves and it seems fairly obvious. The Browns took two productive players and replaced them with two more productive players, who both happen to excel more than their predecessors in pass coverage. So, it isn’t just a straight trade of player for player. It’s a subtle switch in philosophy, I think. We’ll see if it works, but expect a variation to the 3-4 from what we saw out of Ray Horton’s defense.

Speaking of NFL free agency, I’m sick of all the worrying about Alex Mack. The Browns are in the driver’s seat. They continue to have plenty of money, and unless they find someone who will front load Mack $20 million in his first year on their cap, I just don’t see what Mack’s agent can do to remove the hammer from Ray Farmer’s hands. It is somewhat problematic that Mack might be forced to play where he doesn’t want to play, but as I intimated before, maybe the Browns can work out a trade. I know that isn’t common NFL practice to sign and trade, but it seems to me it should be an option on the table with the transition tag.

I don’t know how Andrew Hawkins will turn out for the Browns, but the strategy the Browns have used to try to get him is really interesting. I hadn’t really thought about the order of events until I was reading Ryan Alton’s post at Draft Browns. The Browns deal with Hawkins hit the sourced NFL rumor mill. The Bengals said they’d match. The Browns seemingly adjusted the deal so that it was incredibly front-loaded and then the Bengals reportedly wouldn’t match it with $5.8 million being pushed into the first year of the deal.  I’m excited to have a speedy guy like Hawkins available to Brian Hoyer, but his signing is not without risk. Still, it’s incredible to see how the Browns worked over the Bengals in the poker game to this point.

I really loved TD’s post talking about the best outfield and DH crews of the past 20 years. If I didn’t read it just yesterday to remind me of watching the Tribe as a 16 year-old, I’d have a tough time believing the 1995 Cleveland Indians offense actually ever happened. Go read the whole thing, but look at these four hitters and the numbers they put up. They may not have won it all, but sometimes it’s hard to remember just how lucky we’ve been to see some of the athletes we’ve seen come through Cleveland.

LF Albert Belle .317/.401/1.091/50 HR/126 RBI/121 R/52 Doubles

CF Kenny Lofton .310/.362/.810/7 HR/53 RBI/93 R/54 SB/13 Triples

RF Manny Ramirez .308/.402/.960/31 HR/107 RBI/85 R

DH Eddie Murray .323/.375/.891/21 HR/82 RBI/68 R

Last, but not least, the Cowboys are apparently interested in Brandon Weeden as a backup quarterback. Good for him and good for them. I don’t have much ill will for a guy like Brandon Weeden now that he’s gone. If he ever had any chance to be a legit NFL quarterback, we all know that the Browns’ situation wasn’t exactly conducive to facilitating it between head coaching switches and everything else. That’s not to say I pity Weeden. I’m too busy worrying about myself and other followers of the team to care about a guy who made millions of dollars during his failures. And yes, I think maybe Brandon Weeden spent too much time worrying about his golf game, so he’s not without his own share of the blame, but I don’t begrudge him his next move whether it’s Dallas or somewhere else.

Gotta finish off with some pop culture notes.

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First of all, Soundgarden’s performance of Superunknown during the iTunes music festival taking place at SXSW in Austin Texas was awesome. There might be no better rock singer in my formative music generation than Chris Cornell. To hear the band plow through some of their classics like Limo Wreck to this day is so much fun.

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Secondly, now that the show has finished its first season, I’m in the middle of True Detective on HBO Go. I won’t tell you exactly where I am in the show because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but to consider that television has come to the point where the reigning Oscar winner for best actor is putting on a performance like Matthew McConaughey is putting on alongside Woody Harrelson is incredible. It’s yet another example of how we’re living in the greatest time in history for entertainment. Things like HBO, and Netflix and the shows like True Detective and House of Cards just go to show how great we have it. I don’t want to take this for granted.

That’s it from me in the WWW today. Have a nice weekend everyone.

Jets expressing interest in TJ Ward

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The New York Jets would like to improve their secondary (in addition to three or four other areas of their football team) and a “person of interest” is strong safety TJ Ward.

They’re the third team to be connected to Ward in a formal capacity, joining the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos. Denver has money and is needy at strong safety. Broncos executive Tom Heckert drafted Ward during his time in Cleveland.The National Football Post reported that “about a dozen NFL teams” have expressed interest in or inquired about free agent SS T.J. Ward since the negotiating period began on Saturday.

As of Sunday, the Cleveland Browns had not inquired about free agent free safety Jairus Byrd on the first day of the NFL’s negotiating period. The top-ranked defensvie back is said to be coveting $9 million per year and there continues to be links to former Bills coaches Mike Pettine and Jim O’Neil. It also helps that the Browns have roughly $50 million in cap space heading into Tuesday’s free agency period.

Image: Candice Vlcek/WFNY

Browns assign transition tag to Alex Mack; TJ Ward to hit free agent market

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Apparently, those meetings we heard about did not provide much in the way of success regarding a long-term contract extension with Alex Mack. In a bit of a surprise move, the Cleveland Browns have decided to place the transition tag on the Pro Bowl center.

Rarely used, this tag amounts to a one-year, $10.039 million tender. Aside from the much higher salary, the transition tag essentially functions as the lowest restricted free agent tender, giving the Browns the right of first refusal. The big difference: The Browns will have five days to match if Mack signs an offer sheet elsewhere, but would receive nothing in the way of compensation if he walks where as a franchise tag would have garnered at least something in the way of two first-round draft picks.

The transition tag for centers is roughly $1.5 million cheaper than the franchise tag, but a $10 million is still be a huge total for a center if he does not get an offer that forces the Browns’ hand. The Browns can continue to negotiate with Mack in the meantime, opting to lift the tag at any point if they so choose.

This move, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, will place safety TJ Ward on the free agent market. The Buffalo Bills reportedly remain interested in working out a deal with safety Jarius Byrd, but they did not use any of their tags on the 27-year-old Pro Bowl free safety. The Browns, after this move, have roughly $47 million in cap space.

Image via Scott Sargent/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.

[Read more...]

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.

[Read more...]

Is the franchise tag in store for TJ Ward?

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In his latest “Hey Tony!” column for ESPN Cleveland, Browns beat writer Tony Grossi says that he’s “getting a sense” that the team may be using the franchise tag on strong safety TJ Ward.

Ward and (coincidentally) Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd highlight the potential free-agent safety market. The hard-hitting Browns safety graded out as a top-three safety by Pro Football Focus over 2013 and was the site’s No. 1 safety in terms of stopping the run.

Ward, while keeping a relatively low profile with regard to his contract this season, has the support of his teammates—spefically fellow Pro Bowl defensive back Joe Haden.

“I’m going to do what I’ve got to do,” said Haden before the end of the 2013 regular season. “If there’s anything I can do to keep T.J. here, I’d do anything in my power for sure.” 

Ward joins Alex Mack as potential franchise tag suitors, but the impending free agent center would cost the average in all offensive linemen as a part of the compensation calculation, meaning that top-end left tackles would skew the tag cost upward.

I’m really happy here,” Mack tells Tom Reed of the Cleveland Plain Dealer back in August.  “I’ve had great success with [offensive line coach George Warhop] and being with Joe Thomas and this offensive line is what I want.  I think I’m a good player and that’s really what my goal was to be.”

Regarding Pro Football Focus, Mack graded out as the fourth-best center in the NFL, excelling in run blocking and a lack of penalties being attributed to his No. 55.

[Related: The Strong Safety]

(Image via Candice Vlcek/WFNY)

Animated: Josh Gordon pulls in a touchdown, gets upended by TJ Ward

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon made the most out of his trip to the 2014 Pro Bowl, hauling in six passes, including a touchdown, for 66 yards. The touchdown, a 10-yarder, came from the hand of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and included some fancy footwork by the All-Pro recevier.

In a play that will undoubtedly be on highlight reels galore, Gordon also took an end-around run to the right side of the field where he was upended by Browns teammate TJ Ward.

If you’re looking for a video rather than a gif, we have you covered.

After getting to their feet following the , Ward and Gordon exchanged a high-five. “I don’t think he knew what he was doing, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one,” Gordon told the Associated Press. “I’ll get him back in Cleveland.”

Ward, of course, is a free agent this offseason. Here’s hoping that Gordon is given the chance to “get him back.”

Gordon had a key reception in what would ultimately be the game-winning drive. He joined Joe Thomas and Joe Haden as victors, with each player earning $53,000.

Video: Vote for TJ Ward, 2014 Pro Bowl Commercial

He has the numbers. He has the pedigree. And now he has the commercial.

[Related: The Strong Safety]

The Strong Safety

TJ Ward is a hard-hitting, pick-sixing, edge-maintaining, tough sonovagun. Like many of us, TJ Ward has stigmas, and he has supporters. TJ Ward has a bit of a reputation as a head-hunter, having fallen victim to many a personal foul penalties and, most recently, was on the antagonistic end of a hit that ended a big-market Pro Bowl tight end’s season. Ask others, especially those who haven’t watched a football game since 2011, and they may even tell you that TJ Ward has problems staying healthy. But ask any of his coaches or teammates, and they will tell you that TJ Ward is the consummate teammate; a guy who, despite only being a member of the Browns for a little more than three seasons, is more sick of the perennial losing than anyone. On March 14, barring any sort of interim agreement, TJ Ward will be a free agent.

[Read more...]

Cleveland Browns lose 27-26 thanks to key pass interference call

Brady Edelman Pats BrownsYou really can’t spend a lot of time talking about NFL football and talking about refereeing. It has a tendency to go both ways and good teams overcome all kinds of bad calls all the time. It’s a part of the game, period. Of course I open my recap that way because today is not one of those days.

Today, I have no choice. The Cleveland Browns were called for pass interference in the end zone on one of the softest calls I’ve ever seen while clinging to a 26-21 lead in New England. The Pats, who’d been trailing the whole game received the bail out call to end all bail out calls. Tom Brady threw long to Josh Boyce and Leon McFadden had great coverage as he and Boyce dove for the ball. The ball went past them both and the cowardly official tossed his flag on the field to make sure that the action wasn’t decided by the actual players making good football plays. Can you tell I’m still pretty fired up about it.

Serenity now… [Read more...]

Browns’ play pulls the plug on FirstEnergy Stadium

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There is a palpable irony to having a stadium branded with “FirstEnergy” be barren by the start of the fourth quarter in what is billed as a “rivalry” contest. With wind chill measures in the lowest of double figures and a Cleveland Browns point total stuck at the lowest of offensively-derived possibilities, the death march out of the venue began earlier than any game in recent memory. This wasn’t a stadium-wide attempt at beating traffic. Those who decided to not let their previously purchased tickets become a sunk cost were not in some hurry to get home in time for the four o’clock kickoffs1. This was a fan base who had been punched in the face by apathy, walking out on their team at halftime. A cursory look at the scoreboard would signal that the game was well in reach; an extended look at the field of play dictated otherwise.

[Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. Though given the product they paid to see, seeing actual football being played, for free, doesn’t sound half bad. []

Cleveland Browns Game 6: Winners and Losers

Who caught your eye? Did someone stand out? Who blew it? That’s what were interested in this morning. Winners and losers.

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The Browns snapped a three game winning streak against the Lions on Sunday. Most of the damage seemed to be self-inflicted. Today should be fun.

LOSER: Zebras and penalties. The Browns didn’t lose because of the refs. They were pretty awful however. From the phantom pass interference on Joe Haden to the roughing the passer call on Quentin Groves. There were too many mistakes by Browns that were legitimate penalties as well. Weeden’s intentional grounding. Crippling false starts. Nine penalties for 87 yards. Ugh.  [Read more...]

WFNY Stats and Info: Browns success vs. the pass

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Coming into the season the Brown’s secondary was a huge concern. With Chris Owens being the only real addition to the group since 2012 expectations were very low for the group who besides Joe Haden and TJ Ward was pedestrian at best. However, in 2013 the Browns secondary has played superbly.

Through five games the Browns are first in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed (2) and seventh in passing yards allowed (207.6 per game).

The Browns D also ranks first in the NFL in yards per pass attempt at only 5.8. Much of that has to do with their ability to stop the big play. Only six times this year has an opponent had a pass play of over 20 yards (7th in the league) and not once has an opponent had a passing play gain over 40 yards (T-1st in the league). Surprisingly only the Jacksonville Jaguars can boast that same feat.

A large part of the of Browns’ success against the pass has to do with the strong pass rush they are getting. The Browns rank third in the league with 18 sacks.

With the Lions coming into town the Browns will face their toughest test of the year at quarterback in Matt Stafford and if healthy Calvin Johnson will provide a challenge like the Browns haven’t yet seen this year at wide receiver.

The only other receiver in the league with close to the size and skill set of Johnson is the Bengals’ AJ Green. Green was largely shut down by Joe Haden and the Browns’ defense catching 7 passes for  51 yards on 15 targers in week 4.

The Browns’ defense is allowing the sixth fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.

[Related: The Browns are 3-2; Should we be surprised?]

 

A Cleveland fan’s attempt to not read too much into Shamarko Thomas

shamarko-thomasAs the Pittsburgh Steelers were bumbling and stumbling through their preseason contest against the Washington Redskins, yanking down pass rushers and throwing interceptions to men roughly two feet away1, there was undoubtedly a silver lining in the Black and Yellow’s black and blue. Rookie strong safety Shamarko Thomas was everywhere, harnessing his inner Samoan, leading the team in tackles and making big plays when needed.

On a second-half running play for the ‘Skins, Thomas knifed his way in to the Washington backfield and hit reserve running back Chris Thompson to force a fumble that Steelers cornerback Terry Hawthorne recovered. On the subsequent series, on a third-and-8, Thomas was in man-to-man coverage on Washington wide receiver Nick Williams. When Williams caught a short pass on a crossing route, Thomas made the tackle, holding the offense to a two-yard gain and a forced punt.

If Thomas’ name rings a bell, it is because he was the player who the Steelers selected as the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu. He is also the player who the Steelers selected with the pick acquired in their deal with the Cleveland Browns during the Browns’ third day wheeling and dealing. At the time of the draft, it was reported that the Steelers were very high on Thomas, a Syracuse product who—due his 5-foot-9-inch stature and history as a hybrid linebacker-safety—drew comparisons to former Colts safety Bob Sanders. Bob Sanders was a two-time Pro Bowler who won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007, proving to be an integral part in the Colts’ victory in Super Bowl XLI. He was nicknamed “The Hitman” because of his missile-like hits and highlight reel tackles; he was also called “The Eraser” by his former coach Tony Dungy as Sanders had the knack for “erasing” the mistakes of his teammates…

This is where I find myself attempting to curb the whole “Only in Cleveland” mantra—the one where the insanity and pessimism takes over and one game gets extrapolated into an entire career arc; the praise of John Gruden on a preseason edition of Monday Night Football becomes the opening sound bite for a Canton, Ohio montage in 2037.

[Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. Fat guy touchdown!! []

Browns’ Ward listed among PFF’s top 101 players for 2012

ProFootballFocus has recently released their top 101 players of 2012. While the list is not exactly littered with members of the Cleveland Browns, one of the two to be given a mention is strong safety TJ Ward ((Joe Thomas, “gold standard among pass protecting left tackles,” comes in at 34)). Slotted three spots ahead of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, Ward gets love for being one of the more underrated players in the game.

Playing in Cleveland doesn’t always lend itself to having your performances rewarded with nationwide praise. So while you don’t often hear the name of Ward mentioned among the better safeties in the league, don’t think that’s a reflection on what he did in 2012. A real force in the box, Ward is more than just adequate in coverage, allowing just 12 receptions into his coverage all year.

Best Performance: Week 12 versus Pittsburgh, +3.7

Key Stat: Missed just one tackle for every 17.5 he attempted in 2012. That was the second-best number of all safeties.

Over the last two seasons, perhaps due to injuries coupled with poor team play, Ward has drawn some criticism for his difference-making in the passing game. While the number listed above does not indicate how many times the ball was thrown Ward’s way, it is refreshing to see that he only allowed 12 balls to be caught by his man over the course of the season. The missed tackles number is just a bonus.

[Related: Which Browns veteran is most likely to be replaced?]

(h/t MGBode)

Browns secondary gets even thinner as Usama Young heads to IR

The Cleveland Browns have placed safety Usama Young on injured reserve due to a thumb injury that will reportedly require surgery.

Young played in 13 games, 11 of which were starts. He recorded 52 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three interceptions, defensed seven passes and recovered a fumble. He started in place of the injured TJ Ward this past week, but will join him on the injured reserve which will leave the already depleted secondary — Dimitri Patterson was waived just a week ago — in relative shambles.

Taking Young’s spot on the roster will be quarterback Josh Johnson. A fifth-round draft choice in 2008, Johnson has started five games, four of which were in 2009.

While the team has not given a formal decision, the addition of Johnson, along with Thaddeus Lewis, likely spells the end of the season for rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden who left this past Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury.

[Related: “Road Tested” still entertaining, still giving hope]

NFL News: Browns’ TJ Ward heads to Injured Reserve

Per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal, the Cleveland Browns secondary took yet another hit this week as strong safety TJ Ward appears to be heading towards a season-ending placement on the Injured Reserve.

This news comes in addition to the team’s recent waiving of cornerback Dimitri Patterson. Ulrich expects that an announcement will be made regarding the roster spot, but with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the horizon, anything shy of Champ Bailey and Ronnie Lott being added to the team’s 53-man will leave the Browns at a considerable disadvantage.

[Related: Did Brandon Weeden call the 69-yard TD pass to Travis Benjamin himself?]

NFL News: Browns’ TJ Ward fined $25,000 as “repeat offender”

Cleveland Browns strong safety TJ Ward officially has $25,000 less to his name as the NFL levied a fine against the third-year safety for a hit which occurred in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

When Ward put the finishing touch on an attempted pass to Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, the team was handed a 15-yard penalty for what was deemed a hit to the helmet of a defenseless receiver. Replays showed that while Ward did not in fact hit the receiver in the helmet, that the speed of the game coupled with the subjectivity of the enforcement of said rule resulted in the penalty flag being thrown.

Unfortunately for Ward, this penalty was also viewed in similar light as his hit against then Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley, ultimately resulting in a larger fine being levied against the third-year strong safety. He was docked $15,000 for the first hit.

“T.J. isn’t a dirty guy,” said former head coach Eric Mangini on the subject of the hard-hitting safety. “He’s not a dirty guy.  He’s a young guy.  He’s an aggressive guy and he’s an inexperienced guy, but he’s not a dirty guy.”

Ward has stated that he feels the fine was “not fair,” and was artificially high for being considered a repeat offender. He will appeal the NFL’s ruling.

[Related: Cleveland Browns Film Room: Game 10, Under Pressure]

NFL News: 92.3 The Fan Reporting that TJ Ward Did Not Practice Today

There’s been some confusion on Twitter this early afternoon about the practice status of Browns safety TJ Ward.

Initially, Joe Lull of 92.3 The Fan threw this bombshell out on the Internet in saying Ward had an unexcused absence this morning:

Will Burge of ESPN Cleveland, along with several other writers, then followed up with information from Browns PR saying that Ward was indeed there today:

So Lull has edited his initial tweet, now saying that Ward did not participate, and asserting that 92.3 The Fan is sticking by this report:

I’m sure we’ll have more — hopefully concrete — information later in the day on this report. Even though Ward hasn’t been the most impressive player during his third NFL season, any potential for him missing time would be very detrimental because of how banged-up this defense already is.

[Related: Bengals vs. Browns 2 – Reader Survey]

Shurmur confirms that T.J. Ward had thumb surgery

Daryl Ruiter and a host of other Browns beat reporters all reported from their talks with Pat Shurmur this morning that T.J. Ward had surgery on his right thumb. It was also reportedly the same procedure that Bubba Ventrone had previously. Ward is considered “day-to-day” for whatever that means.

The Browns have the Super Bowl champion New York Giants coming up this weekend. The Giants lost to the Eagles 19-17 when a 54-yard field goal came up short. The 54-yarder should have been a 44-yarder if not for a ten yard offensive pass interference penalty by Ramses Barden.

We’ll just have to see if T.J. Ward will be available this weekend to draw a similar penalty.

[Related: Grossi: Browns should “spread out” on offense]