Monday, December 11, 2017

Browns 2018 Free Agent Fantasies: Reality Check

    Estimates are all over the place for what the Browns will likely do in Free Agency.  Yes, their total cap space is $108 Million dollars, but no they are not going to spend nearly that much.   The carryover (unspent money from previous years) is not likely to be be all blown in one year, plus don't forget to leave some money for all those 2018 draft choices.  Hence here is the Village Elliot's attempt to determine what is realistic. 
     In 2018, the Browns are in very good shape, but not to the tune of $108 million dollars as suggested in some articles.  NFL Salary cap space is compiled in  Let's break it down as follows:   The Browns have $128 Million committed in salaries for 2018 (which includes $5 million "dead money" to players no longer on the team).  That's a very low number.   The estimated salary cap for 2018 is $178 million.  There's another $58 Million in unspent money from previous years ("carryover dollars").  That's where the $108 Million in salary cap comes from, but it's very unlikely the Browns will permit the carryover money to be spent until such time as they have a realistic shot at the playoffs, so let's forget about that.  Also, let's not forget that the 2018 draft class will want to get paid, and based on current draft position, that may run $18 Million for 13 players, or in other words about $12 Million above the league minimum for those roster spots.  This number also comes from   
       My guess is the Browns let will their carryover dollars ride and spend up to the current limit or $178 Million total expenditures (including $6 Million to players not with the team). Also, the Browns have two free agents in Isaiah Crowell and backup Marcus Martin.  So let's allow $5 Million to either re-sign Crowell or come up with a replacement.  So,  compared to last year, the difference in player salaries is $178-$12-$128- $5 = $33 million dollars, give or take above 2017.  Conclusion:  That's a lot of money, enough for three or four significant starters.  So $108 Million is the absolute limit if they sign no draftees, give zero pay raises and blow all their saved-up carryover money in one year (totally unrealistic) whereas $33 million is where I put the over-under for what they will actually add.   That's still a lot of money, enough to add two or three very significant players.  This is not going to be like previous years in which they had tons of cap space to raise fans expectations, but in which they deliberately underspent the cap and also let star players leave without being replaced.  No, in 2018 they really are going to add signficant players.  I promise.    

        In addition there are currently five draft picks in Round 1 and 2 and a total of 13.   These high picks should usually start or at least contribute significantly.   So, when all is said and done, they have one guy who might leave in Free Agency (Crowell) but they can replace him with about 8 very good players.   It sounds crazy, but I believe they will have enough firepower to contend next year if they get their act together.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Guest post from Jeff Mitzel: Should the Browns Keep Hue Jackson?

In our Browns Bloggers and Friends discussion group on Facebook, I asked whether Hue Jackson should be retained, especially in light of recent comments that he felt out of the loop with the Browns front office.  That is even more of an issue now that General Manager John Dorsey has replaced Sashi Brown.  This thoughtful response comes from Mr. Jeff Mitzel....

Jeff Mitzel I'll raise my hand to your question, Elliott.

1. Hue's statements are a sea change. Hue previously stated that he participated in discussions and when asked about moves he toted the company line--- that it's all about winning.

2. Except when it isn't. And when owners bereft of what to do next begin crowdsourcing and interviewing players. Hue would naturally be nervous at this point. And is making it clear--- it's not his plan.

3. Pointedly, personnel moves haven't made for winning. Gone are Gary Barnidge and Terrelle Pryor replaced by Kenny Britt who has been a no show. Sashi has continued to voice support that Britt will turn it around. No, he won't is the correct answer, but we've seen this before--- folks get stubborn about the moves they make.

4. The Browns had no business starting Kizer. Except, a solid plan B was lacking in all directions. And Kizer kept making plays in training camp. Season play is not training camp but, seriously, this may be the most difficult roster decision to make and to project play at QB when facing a defense that can game plan. Eric Mangini ran his QB competition throughout camp trying to figure things out. Kelly Holcomb was a brilliant backup. But an inconsistent starter.

5. The Browns paid $16 million for a second round pick this year, and Osweiler began to figure into things. Until he didn't. Kessler looked good until he didn't--- and appeared to lose confidence as the organization pivoted away from him. Kizer is simply a year away--- from us figuring out if he can process fast enough to avoid interceptions. It's not looking good, but I think Hue is squeezing the most there is out of this kid. Kizer is on pace to set a record for interceptions--- and also makes some brilliant down field throws in tight windows and throws we haven't seen in recent years. How exactly do you sort that out--- unless 'the plan' is to Kizer time?!

6. Toss Hue down the trash chute, and we'll never know on Kizer because the next guy will want his guy. Remember Colt McCoy getting repeatedly berated?! 

7. New coach means new QB, and with the top pick we'll be starting a rookie, again. Except this doesn't seem to work out too well, AND the scouts that favored Wentz were let go immediately before the 2016 draft which is a rare thing. So, who will be engineering the QB selection?! 

Change does not necessarily lead to forward progress. Though, there are plenty of folks who are so frustrated they can't proceed past 'fire Hue' and carry on an adult conversation on the topic?!

My personal opinion is a head coach needs to have two years with the current QB darling, and selecting Kizer is a wasted pick unless the Browns organization gives Kizer continuity in coaching.

I'll also take Osweiler at his word--- that Hue is the best coach he had been around.

And then there's this. Garrapolo wouldn't come to Cleveland because there is no organizational stability. 

And, yes, I agree. Lose Hue and we lose Gregg, and that side of the ball is improved. Do we go back to a 3-4 and play Ogbah out of position as you pointed out?! Is Myles Garrett a 3-4 defensive end?!

Will any QB be successful without a good receiving corps?!

Tough questions look ahead for folks unwilling to hold the adult conversation that lays behind the otherwise sad winning record--- but want Hue gone.

An Open Letter to the Cleveland Browns: HIre Dr. Frank Ryan!

I don't care if he is 81 years old, he is one of the best minds of the country, and he's the one Consultant who could make football sense out of the "analytics" wreckage left by Sashi Brown.  I'm talking about Dr. Frank Ryan, a PhD mathematician from Rice University who also happens to be the last quarterback to win a World Championship for the Cleveland Browns.  

    First welcome to Cleveland, Mr. John Dorsey!  We're very happy to have a personnel expert with the stature of Mr. Dorsey come to our humble town.  He has a had a very impressive career with the Packers, Seahawks and Chiefs, three teams that did very well.  I feel very about having a guy like this make the call on a "franchise quarterback" in the upcoming draft.  
        I recommend that the Cleveland Browns should hire Dr. Frank Ryan as a consultant.  He is the one guy who can assess whether the "analytics" that Sashi Brown brought to the team have any merits, or whether the whole thing should be pitched into the fire.  Frank Ryan, on the one hand is a PhD mathematician and one of the most creative minds on the planet.  On the other hand, he was the quarterback that led the Cleveland Browns to the NFL Championship in 1964.  He is the one guy who can sort through what Sashi was trying to do and figure out what went wrong and what should be salvaged.  In particular, the Browns still have analytics expert Paul DePodesta in the front office.  Should he be kept or sent packing?   I'm undecided, but I would trust Frank Ryan to determine whether analytics has value and how it should be best utilized.  He could put it in terms that football people would be comfortable with.  
      Some of Sashi's ideas were brainless, in my opinion, but in some cases he may have had some good ideas.    He and Paul DePodesta figured out  that to build for the future, you need to get more and higher draft choices than the other teams are getting.  You also need to spend more money on a winning team, so the losing teams need to avoid overpaying for veterans who are not capable of taking the team to a Super Bowl three years in the future.  Save the salary cap for the future when it might make a difference for the Super Bowl. Frank Ryan would be able to advise John Dorsey which of these moves are sensible and which are not. 
     Where Sashi went wrong, in my opinion, is to actually weaken the team to the point of being the worst in the NFL. He got rid of veterans like Josh McCown, Joe Haden, Gary Barnidge, Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger outright.  He didn't try to re-sign guys who were interested in playing here, like Terrelle Pryor, Travis Benjamin, Mitchell Schwartz and Paul Kruger.  These veterans might not have taken us to a Super Bowl, but we would not be the worst in the NFL.  Haden is a case in point, since he actually IS still on the payroll to the tune of 7 million dollars.  From all that we know, the Browns coaching staff did not want to cut him.  That was all Sashi Brown.   
    There is a science associated with personnel moves. Should you trade a draft pick for a veteran?  When is it better to trade up?  Or trade down?  Should you draft skill positions in early rounds?  Or late rounds? How do you set a value on a starting cornerback? Math geeks and experts on valuation theory really can help answer questions like that in general, though you still need scouting and player evaluation skills.   
      Sashi may have been basically right that you should trade down if you are a team building for the future, and trade up if you are a playoff team needing one key player to get you over the hump. But you need a football guy to know when to violate those general rules.  For example, I believe that late first round is usually not a good time to look for a franchise quarterback. But when the Packers were up at 24th overall in the 2005 draft, John Dorsey advocated drafting Aaron Rodgers, and wow, was he right.  Analytics is another tool for the tool kit, but it doesn't replace the entire tool kit.  Frank Ryan could help the Browns re-establish perspective, I do believe.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mid-year Evaluation of the Cleveland Browns 2017 Draft Class

So far, the Cleveland Browns have uncovered one talented rookie from the 2017 draft class in Myles Garrett.  Other than Garrett, the Browns' rookies are among the weakest in the NFL.  

How's our 2017 draft class looking so far?  Pretty good, because Myles Garrett looks like an absolute stud if he can stay healthy....But other than that, things look bleak and depressing.  Jabrill Peppers has the most snaps among rookies.  He's a good special teams player, but so far looks like a backup DB long-term.  We have a nice second-string tight end in Njoku...Matthew Dayes has done well on special teams.  Larry Ogunjobi has gotten in on 21% of the defensive snaps, and Caleb Brantley 18%.  
We also got DeShone Kizer, and kicker Zane Gonzalez has done well on kickoffs but not field goals.   DB Howard Wilson and OT Roderick Johnson are injured.  

To tell the truth, you or I could have picked Myles Garrett, because that is a complete no brainer.   So as of the midway point of their rookie year, our draft haul looks like Garrett, then four decent backups, three good special teams players and the worst starting quarterback in the league.  Will that help us catch the Steelers?  

I'm hopeful there will be improvement as these fellows enter their second or third year, but the early returns are dismal.   One talented starter per year is just not enough, especially after all those trades.  Maybe we don't need to fire the Coach or the Trademeister, but whoever is in charge of the draft probably needs to be reassigned.    


Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Browns Prove You Get What You Pay For

It's Moneyball, baby! 

Why are the Browns so terrible?  It's not rocket science.  The team is shifting its resources to 2018 and 2019, and underfunding 2017.  This is part of the "Moneyball" strategy to build for the future, for better or worse.  

First of all, owner Jimmy Haslam is not cheap.  The Browns total 2017 expenditures on players salaries is within a few million dollars of the NFL average.  However what we need to realize is that the Browns have a huge amount of "dead money."  That is, $39 million dollars of their payroll is going to players who are no longer on the team.  To some extent, dead money is unavoidable because some players always underperform and have to be cut.  In term of money actually being paid to players on the roster, the Browns total is $116 Million, or $33 million under the NFL average of $149 million.  For example, the Browns are spending $16 million for Brock Osweiler, which they agreed to do in exchange for a 2018 draft pick from Houston.  A complete list appears below, broken down in terms of current starters for other teams, reserves, plus those who are out of football. In that regard, I suspect that guys like Gary Barnidge or Paul Kruger can actually still play, but are retired because the Browns are paying them really good money.  
    $33 Million is a LOT of money.  It's enough for a dozen players with Jason McCourty's salary, or two franchise wide receivers, for instance.  Or you could pay for Kirk Cousins and an offensive lineman.  
      The Browns' intention appears to be to underspend now with the intent of overspending when the Browns get good (whenever that may be).  
      However, after the terrible performance for the past two years, you have to question whether free agents will really want to come to Cleveland.  I suspect we will have to offer two to three times the salaries offered by perpetual playoff teams like the Cowboys or Patriots, just to have a chance of getting someone.   I wonder if they plugged that into their computer model?

Starters, as of 11/4/2017 Browns Charges

Brock Osweiler, starting qb for Denver. $16,000,000
Josh McCown, starting qb for NY Jets, $666,000
Joe Haden, staring cb for Pittsburgh $7,300,000
Demario Davis, starting LB for NY Jets $1,000,000

Backups as of 11/4/2017 Browns Charges

Cameron Erving, backup G for Chiefs $1,279,376
John Hughes, backup DE for Saints $1,500,000
Pierre Desir, backup CB for Colts $101,903
Tramon Williams, backup CB for Arizona $500,000
Austin Davis, backup qb for Seahawks $166,668
Xavier Cooper, back DE for NY Jets $148,071

Currently out of football: Browns Charges

Gary Barnidge $2,325,000
Justin Gilbert $1,913,364
Robert Griffin III $1,750,000
Paul Kruger, $1,200,000
Desmond Bryant $1,000,000
Alvin Bailey $666,667
Trey Caldwell $138,288
Matt McCants $260,882
TOTAL $38,837,432




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Why Jimmy Garoppolo was Not an Option for the Cleveland Browns.

There was never a scenario to bring Jimmy Garoppolo to Cleveland.  I
San Francisco has traded a second round pick to the Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo, and Browns fans are irate that he didn't become a Cleveland Brown instead.  But there are reasons why this could not possibly work.

First, face it, Cleveland is not an attractive landing spot for Garoppolo.  If you think he and his agent would have a warm spot for the team after spending eight weeks here, you're crazy.  No, after the terrible season that the Browns are having and a complete meltdown of the front office, there is a 100% chance that Garoppolo would leave after his eight game sentence is up. He would become a Free Agent and go somewhere else, and the Browns would have blown a second round draft pick for no reason.  The only way to be sure of having him would be to Franchise Tag him for 2018, which will cost about 23 million dollars for quarterbacks.  That's a lot of money for an unproven albeit promising kid. 

The same thing might happen to San Francisco, but they probably don't need to Franchise Tag him.  Here's how it plays out:

AGENT: Jimmy wants more money or he will go to Cleveland. 
SHANAHAN: HAHAHA! You liar! Take my offer or leave it!
AGENT: (two second pause).  Okay, I'll take it.

Some Browns fans think that they could have had Garoppolo at the beginning of the season.  That's wrong.  At the beginning of the season he would be worth more because the new team gets 16 guaranteed games instead of 8, plus psychologically a better chance to sign him long term. But the Pats have to gamble that Brady stays healthy, and that is a smaller risk with 11 games to go rather than 19. So the Pats managed the risk factor as best they could, and traded Garoppolo at the last possible minute before his trade value goes to zero at the trade deadline.  The Patriots valued having Garoppolo as an insurance policy, but that policy was about to expire, so they cashed in.  

Other reasons to not trade the pick and a $23 Million Franchise Tag fee, is that we all like Jimmy but its not proven he is an All-Pro.  Just because he can quarterback the Patriots doesn't mean he can do the same job somewhere else.  And he's still not a huge kid, doesn't have the big hands thought to be an advantage for cold weather football, hasn't been injury resistant like Tom Brady, and is still rather inexperienced. 

Conversely, A. J. McCarron would have cost a $4 M tender as a restricted free agent in 2018.  So that route is much less costly, and a much lower risk. You still have to ask whether he is actually an upgrade from Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, but it's at least affordable if not a stroke of genius. 

Adam Schefter of ESPN had the interesting angle that Belichick might have preferred trading him to the NFC, so the Patriots would only play against him once every four years.  If they had traded him to Cleveland, the Browns might trade him to someone in the Patriot's division, and that would not be good.  Plus Belichick really likes Garoppolo, and would rather send him to a stable system led by a guy he respects in Kyle Shanahan.  The Browns, on the other hand, are the team that fired him.   He has a long memory.  

So, Jimmy G was never an option for the Browns. A J McCarron was not a good option, but he would be an option.  And we can still offer him a contract in the 2018 off-season, when he becomes a Restricted Free Agent.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

So what about the 2018 NFL Draft Quarterback Class?

Once again the Browns season is over after Game 8, and us fans look ahead to the NFL draft as the next opportunity for something positive to happen to our pathetic team. 

For some time, I believe that the Browns have looked ahead to the 2018 draft as a likely place to draft a first round quarterback. They didn't buy into Carson Wentz or Mitchell Trubisky as true Franchise Quarterbacks (whatever that means), but the 2018 class has been viewed differently. At the end of 2016, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph in particular looked like brilliant prospects.  Sportswriters were saying this was going to be the best draft since the famous 1983 quarterback class with John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.     

However--as the 2017 season has unfolded, some of the luster has come off as the top quarterbacks have been very good, but not as brilliant as expected.  All of them have turned in a few bad games, and some of their flaws have been exposed. 

Analytics shows that, over time, quarterbacks in the first round are usually (not always, but usually) overvalued.  Teams have done better by taking flyers on guys like Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott in later rounds, because if you blow it, it's not as painful as blowing a first round pick.

But I suspect that 2018 was perceived to be an exception to the rule, as scouts reportedly were drooling over not just one, but maybe as many as five guys that are regarded as exceptional.   I still think that there are going to be several quarterbacks taken in the first round. Here are my current favorites, but without a great deal of conviction.  Things will change as the season plays out and after the Combines.  

1. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State.  If Rudolph had come out in 2017, I thought he might have been just as good as Mitchell Trubisky, but bigger, stronger (and a little slower).  But he stayed in school, has four legit years of college preparation.  HE is close to NFL ready, unlike Manziel or Kiser with only two years of preparation.   I've seen him make some questionable throws this year for whatever reason, whereas last year he threw very few picks.  

Mason Rudolph is big, strong, smart and has four years of major college ball to prepare for the NFL.  Despite playing for Brandon Weeden University, I believe he may be the first overall pick. 

2. Sam Darnold, USC.  Sam was sensational last year, has size and tons of arm.  However, he hasn't really gotten better as a sophomore, and the scouts are complaining that his release is a little slower than they like to see.   Do you want to take a chance on a kid with only two years of college preparation?  I hope he stays in school, but in my eyes he has more raw talent than Mitchell Trubisky from 2017.  Emphasis on "raw."

Nobody throws the football like Sam Darnold.  However, if he enters the draft this year, he will skip two years of valuable training at USC.  The Browns front office seems to believe that makes no difference, as they drafted both Johnny Manziel and DeShone Kizer after their sophomore year.  

3. Josh Rosen, UCLA.  Rosen along with Darnold has a great arm, and he might be the number one overall pick.  Like Darnold, he has not had the team success that his fans would have liked to see.  He will have had three years of prepping at UCLA versus only two for Darnold at USC.  

Josh Rosen has amazing athletic gifts, but has also had some so-so outings this year, and his team is not in contention for a National Championship. Plus he has a knack for generating controversy in the press.  But I think he will still be drafted very early.  

4. Lamar Jackson.  Jackson is a brilliant runner and has all the tools, but people are worried about his accuracy.  My take is that in his offense he is the number one threat on the ground and in the air, so the defense targets him and he is almost always throwing on the run, partly because he has to because he has no pass protection. Like any quarterback, he's not as accurate while running at full speed. If he had a better O-Line, he would be much more accurate.  I have a first round grade on Mr. Jackson hands down, but may not Top 10.   

Lamar Jackson is a premier talent on an otherwise weak team.  I think he should be forgiven for throwing on the run and losing accuracy, because he has no choice.  

5. Josh Allen, Wyoming. Allen has some support from the scouts based on his throwing ability, size and ability, but he doesn't have superior numbers and has thrown more than his share of INTs.  

​6. Ryan Finley, N.C. State.  Like Mitchell Trubisky last year, he is flying under the radar so far, but some of the sportswriters say he has comparable talent to go with it.  If he does well at the combine he could move up the draft board. Why not?  

7. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma.  Baker has a lot of the brilliant on-field traits of Johnny Manziel, but at the end of the day his arm is probably not as good, and he is smaller than desired.  He can make it in the NFL, but he is not a sure thing.   

8. Luke Falk, Washington State.   Falk also has gaudy stats but gets some negative attention for throwing five picks at Cal.  They also knock him for lack of arm strength.  That doesn't sound like a first round pick, but he has his supporters as a first round guy.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Where Moneyball Goes Wrong for the Cleveland Browns

Weakening the team on purpose makes sense to some degree, but the joke has worn thin on Mr. Haslam, not to mention the fan base.  Is it worth destroying the franchise for draft picks? 

Have the Cleveland Browns forgotten that the objective of football is to win?  They act as though the object of football is getting draft choices rather than winning games.

I'm all about moneyball and trying to build a team by outsmarting the system.  Hence I've been a fan of Sashi Brown and John DePodesta as they have been accumulating draft picks. However, I think they have gone too far, to the point where they are deliberately playing at a miserably low level in order to wind up with the number one overall pick in the draft again.  

I think that indeed you can hire Harvard graduates to trade draft picks, and they can be traded with the same skill that they use to trade stocks, bonds and currencies. Brown and Podesta correctly realized that they can not compete for players on a level playing field with Dallas and New England. Players will sign with those teams even if Cleveland offers literally twice as much money. Management has determined that by tanking the team for about three years and accumulating as much draft capital and salary cap room as possible, in year four and five they will create the highest payroll in the NFL with the most first round draft picks in the NFL, and that team should win.  That's the plan. 

Hence, in 2016 the Browns cut  players like Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner and Craig Robertson that do not have a three or four year horizon with the team.  They also cut Taylor Gabriel out of sheer stupidity, but that's not part of the plan. They would up with the lowest active payroll in the NFL, while paying a huge amount of "dead money" to players no longer with the team.    They didn't try that hard to sign players like Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin.  Then the trend continued in 2017 as the Browns cut Joe Haden, Josh McCown, Gary Barnidge, John Greco, Stephen Paea, Desmond Bryant, Tramon Williams and Jordan Poyer. The analytics says that it's better to lose games and get better draft picks than to win with short term players.  Draft position is very important, because analytics say players drafted in the first position are worth more than three times the players drafted from the fifteenth overall position.  This of course assumes that your team is reasonably astute at judging talent, which of course is not the case for the Browns. 

Where we've gone off the rails, however, is in not trying to have  a team that can win, and in fact sabotaging the team by leaving holes.  For example, the Browns saved $4 million by cutting Joe Haden (they are paying him $7 million in guaranteed money as opposed to $11 M in total composition).  Maybe you can get another cornerback that plays even better for $4 million (I doubt it), but we didn't even replace Joe.  We just cut him. 

I don't think a football team can turn their instinct to win on and off so easily.  At some point the team is supposed to rally and try to win games, but now the precedent has been set to hope for losses to get good draft position.  I don't think that the human element can break the losing habit so easily.  

If the GM thinks that it makes sense to cut an overpaid veteran, how about proving it by signing a better player for less money.  Is there a four million dollar guy who actually plays better than Joe Haden?  And is he willing to sign with the Browns?  This is where we go too far, by deliberately weakening the team by cutting a veteran and doing nothing to replace him.  

Analytics should be able to observe that it is very hard to get players from the outside to come to Cleveland.  For example, the Browns had to grossly overpay Jamie Collins, Kevin Zeitler and Kenny Britt to choose Cleveland.  In fact, we had to make Zeitler the highest paid guard in the NFL to come to Cleveland, even though he has never been to a Pro Bowl.   Therefore it makes sense to pay extra to keep more players who are already here like Schwartz, Travis Benjamin, Buster Skrine, etc. 

For example, it is fine to recognize that Terrelle Pryor would have been overpaid at $8 M per year, but did we actually get a better player by investing $17 M guaranteed for Kenny Britt?  We sent Mitchell Schwartz packing rather than offering 6 million, and replaced him with a guard in Kevin Zeitler who we had to make the highest paid guard in the NFL in order to get him to come here.  Is that Moneyball?  

What Free Agent is ever going to come to Cleveland now, if he isn't sure that the Browns are serious about winning?   What Coach will coach here?  These are serious, serious problems that the Browns have gotten into themselves by failing to properly account for the fallout from their drastic overall. The Browns are buying themselves a huge disadvantage compared to other teams the opposite of what Moneyball is supposed to do.

The front office needs to be able to look the Coaches and players in the eye and tell them that the team is going to make a bona fide attempt to win games.  It's okay to stockpile draft picks, not okay to deliberately weaken the team to get better draft position

Friday, October 27, 2017

Top 10 Reasons the Cleveland Browns Are Not Moving to London

The 1945 Cleveland Rams were World Champions, then moved to Los Angeles.  The Browns replaced the Rams in Cleveland. 

The 1995 Browns had a staunchly loyal fan base...and moved to Baltimore because they got a better deal there.  
Cleveland is no stranger to having franchises stolen by greedy ownership.  The NFL has moved franchises on two separate occasions.  The 1945 Cleveland Rams won the World Championship, and then moved to Los Angeles, thus providing an opportunity for the upstart Cleveland Browns to become the flagship of a new league, the All American Conference.

The Browns have been strongly supported by a ravenous group of Dawgs over the years, but they moved away in 1995 because Art Modell got a better deal from the City of Baltimore.  They were replaced in 1999 by the new Cleveland Browns.  I thought it was a great deal.  We got rid of Art Modell, and we only had to pay $400 Million dollars for a new stadium.  But truth to tell I miss the old stadium.   

The Browns are playing in London, England this week.  The League and the team want to pretend that it is a kind of special bowl game for us.  But make no mistake about it, what's going on here is that the NFL is preparing a London-based NFL fan base, with the intention of allowing one or more NFL teams to move to London in the next few years.  Could it be the Cleveland Browns?  Here are 10 reasons why they might not move, ranging from the most idiotic to the most realistic. 

10.  The team has an unbreakable lease!  I don't know how many times I've heard that, but I've never heard that from any attorney.  Just what is an unbreakable lease?  Ownership has access to some of the best legal minds in the country. They have to, as it was very difficult to keep Mr. Haslam out of jail over the Pilot Oil rebate scandal. Surely, the same clever lawyers will find some way to prove the City is in Breach of Contract and defend themselves from a countersuit by the City.  Put it this way, some of my very close friends are sports nuts, and attorneys, and they all say that the team would owe some money to the City, but bottom line, the team can be moved. 

9.  The NFL are done with moving franchises, and will oppose future franchise moves. Moving franchises is good for business because it allows teams to threaten to move unless they get sweetheart deals from their current host cities.  The NFL loves it when franchises move, and love it even more when they can extort money.  So heck no, they are not done. 

8.  The NFL would never permit the Browns to move.  What nonsense.  Because of the Pilot Oil diesel rebate scandal, Jimmy Haslam is radioactive.  The NFL would gladly get rid of Haslam in favor of even richer owners in London.  Jolly right. 

7.  The Browns are too strong of a franchise to move.  Really?  Forbes Magazine ranks the Browns as the 29th best franchise out of 32 (  Forbes on Cleveland Browns ).  .  Based on their dismal, awful terrible performance in 2017, the value of the franchise is decreasing significantly.  

6.  Mr. Haslam is so wealthy, that increasing the value of the Browns by a billion dollars would not tempt him. Hahahahaha!  I can't even respond to that.  

5. Mr. Haslam would be banned from the State of Ohio if he were to move the Browns. So what?  He is not a local owner.  He lives in Tennessee.  When he bought the Browns he promised to move to Cleveland to be a full-time owner.  Somehow, he forgot that promise and continues to live in Tennessee.  Quite a guy.  

4.  Los Angeles may be a disaster. Los Angeles went from zero teams to two, but on the other hand, they have never been strong supporters of the NFL.  The city failed to support the Chargers in the AFL, and also previously chased the Rams out of town to St. Louis, and the Raiders went back to Oakland after a gig in Los Angels.  Will the city ever embrace either the Rams or the Chargers?  Currently they struggle to get 25,000 fans to show up.  If the hostile reception continues after getting a new stadium in 2020, there may need to be a drastic solution.  In that case, I could see one of those teams moving.  

3.  Other teams have more to gain.  The Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills seem to be in worse long-term shape than the Browns, locked into smaller markets. There are other small market teams that are comparable, such as Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennesee and New Orleans. For a long time Jacksonville was considered the odds-on favorite to move, but recently they have become more stable under owner Shahid Khan.  Oakland wants to move, but they have Las Vegas on the radar.  

2. The Browns would probably have to be sold in order to move, and Mr. Haslam doesn't want to sell.   Because he's considered a pariah by the other NFL owners, they would probably try to force him to sell to new ownership in order to approve a move.  That's one good thing about the Pilot Oil scandal--it limits the power of Mr. Haslam to get his way.  

1. Ohio's Congressional Representatives would fight the NFL bitterly and try to take away the Antitrust exemption.  Losing their monopoly power is one thing that the NFL fears. It's worth billions of dollars to legally prevent anyone from competing against them.  Ohio would react angrily to being ripped off yet again by the NFL,  and it's politicians would fight hard and fight dirty. Would they have the same clout as in 1995?  It's hard to say, given the terrible product that now exists.  If they ever try to move the Browns again, Browns fans will go nuclear.  We will be lobbying politicians nationwide to remove the antitrust exemption--i.e., legalized extortion--and we will organizing boycotts against NFL advertisers.  Our rank and file will get the trucking companies to boycott Pilot Flying J, and support their competitors.  Hit them hard where it hurts--right in the pocketbook.

NFL, You Had Best Not Mess with the Dawg Pound!


Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Are The Browns Doing at Quarterback?

Who's at the top of the Depth Chart for the Cleveland Browns?  Since training camp it has been Cody Kessler, then Brock Osweiler, followed by DeShone Kizer.  Then Coach Jackson pulled the plug on Kizer, replacing him with Kevin Hogan.  Hogan earned the staring position, at least for a game, but the results were so bad that he went back to Kizer.   Kizer again struggled, and was replaced this time with Cody Kessler.  But now Kessler is back holding a clipboard, and Kizer is again firmly entrenched as the least for one half.  

That's seven quarterback changes.  Eight if you want to count RG3 being cut in the pre-season, along with backup Josh McCown.

This is nuts.  Putting a kid quarterback in too early (remember, he skipped his junior year at Notre Dame to play for the Browns) is a classic prescription for disaster.  Rule Number One is to not pull the starter when things go bad, in order to let the team.  Is Hue really that clueless?

The Browns plan is to concentrate on the draft.  They have gotten rid of veterans in order to lose a few extra games and obtain better draft position.  I could imagine that Sashi Brown would be eager to start a rookie at quarterback in order to establish his draft priorities in 2018.  He wouldn't mind losing about 14 games and winding up in the top 5 again for the draft.   So, my question is, did Sashi order Hue to start Kizer?  

There is no evidence that the GM is meddling on that level, but otherwise I can't explain why it ever made sense to start a "project" quarterback in Game 1.   Kizer had good, not great seasons at Notre Dame, but left school two years early.  A normal progression would have him start to assert himself in 2020, not 2017.  Kizer did not have a good combine (raw talent, with an emphasis on raw).  He did not have a good preseason, either putting up a very low completion percentage.

You get the idea that would rather have someone else as the starter, but he keeps on coming back to Kizer as the starter even though it's clear that it's not working.  Is someone forcing him to do that?  It's madness.  Is it simply that we have decide to tank the season--again, and are hoping to lose more than the rest of the NFL?  

Otherwise, its bafflling that Hue would stake his reputation on a kid being ready three years earlier than normal. If he really thought that Kizer was the best choice to win to start the season, it's completely crazy.  Clearly, if his reputation is on the line, and I believe it is, he has whiffed badly.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pro Football Focus Backtracking...Joe Haden Not so Bad After All?

Two weeks ago I bashed Pro Football Focus, which is a great website for Pro Football Fanatics (I subscribe to it, by the way) because they were bashing Joe Haden, which I thought was ridculous.  Two weeks ago, Joe was rated as the number 72 cornerback in the NFL, which means he was a mid-level number 3 cb; i.e., good enough to be a backup but not good enough to start in the NFL  I had pointed out in my blog that this made no sense, based on the fact that no one was making any catches against him.  

For example, yesterday he held A. J. Green, who you will have to admit is a productive NFL receiver, to 41 yards on 3 catches out of six attempts. Joe also had an interception.  Of course Joe wasn't on Green all the time, but the point is that no wide receiver is catching the ball against the Steelers this year, so if he is really a F level player, why can't NFL offenses exploit him?  The Steelers are only giving up 147 yards per game through the air, and Joe is involved in 98% of the defensive snaps.  No one has caught very many balls off him the whole season.  61 receiving yards is the season single-game high for an opposing wide receiver versus the Steelers.  It's obvious that the Steelers secondary is doing a great job.  Last year they were atrocious. 

So today,  PFF no longer ranks Joe as an F.  He is now the 36th best corner in the NFL.  Apparently he improved really, really fast?  
     No, the problem is that the guys who work for Pro Football Focus probably don't watch the Browns' games, and truth to tell I don't blame them.  But because they ignore Cleveland, they didn't realize that Joe had two successful surgeries to repair torn groin muscles,  and he is way better now than he was last year.  I don't know that he's an All-Pro again, but he's pretty good.  Good luck to you Joe, you were a great Brown.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

To Tank or Not to Tank?

   Based on what we see on the field, the Cleveland Browns Front Office isn't even trying to win.   They have deliberately tanked the team, deliberately made it worse in order to maximize their draft position unloaded veterans who could contribute in the short run but maybe not in the long haul.  n for 2018.  In 2018, they probably have their eye on a quarterback that they believe is so special that it is worth losing games in order to get, unless something miraculous happens between now and the draft, which I doubt. 

     The temptation to tank for draft picks is not a new idea.  I remember in 1968 the Philadelphia Eagles fans were winless with two weeks left in the season.  That was the year they famously booed Santa Claus.   But the fans were excited because they were going to be able to draft O. J. Simpson, the superstar halfback of the University of Southern California.   You young 'uns might not believe it, but O. J. was a football star before he became a reality TV phenomenon.

    So most of the fans wanted the Eagles to contrive to lose their last two games.  The Eagles players, however, were not interested in losing and Eagles somehow managed to win their last two games in a row to finish 2-12, just ahead of the Buffalo Bills who went 1-12-1 and landed the coveted prospect.  So the Bills got O. J. and the Eagles wound up with a fellow named Leroy Keyes a running back who didn't fare well in the Pros.  

     But even as kid, I respected the Eagles for fighting to the end and trying their hardest to win.  But by now, the Cleveland Browns have apparently figured out that it is better to lose games to get good draft position for a few years, with the idea that they will start trying to win in 2018 and beyond.  
    Are the fans okay with that?  
    It's inescapably obvious that the Browns have a plan to land a major player, comparable to Myles Garrett, but probably a quarterback.  

The fictional antihero of the movie "Draft Day" was a sensational quarterback named Bo Callahan.  They say there are a few  five star quarterbacks in the 2018 draft class. 

    That is the reason why the Browns are so far under the salary cap.  The Browns are spending only about $115 million on active player salaries in 2017, or in other words about $35 million below the rest of the NFL.

      Their biggest investment this year was Brock Osweiler at $16 Million, the highest paid man on the team, who isn't even playing. They made this investment in order to obtain a second round draft pick for 2018.  They could have signed two starters for that amount of money.  
    The Browns cut, traded or made little effort to sign several players who were veterans and still capable of playing NFL caliber football if not at a star level.  In particular, they cut Joe Haden, who they are paying $7 million dollars to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  This was done over the objections of Coaches Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams, per Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  ( 6 Reasons Not to Cut Joe Haden ).  The Browns Coaching staff did not want to lose DeMario Davis, according to Ms Cabot.  We made these moves to make sure we can lose  games and perhaps even beat out the  the San Francisco 49ers,  for the top slot in the draft.  Th 49ers, like the Browns, are jettisoning veteran players and gutting salaries.
    I think they made the decision to start DeShone Kizer to find out if we have a franchise quarterback, and if not, we'll draft one in 2018.  Not sure that one year is enough to make a decision on Kizer but any case I don't think they can turn down a start quarterback in the next draft. 
      This thought process probably looks good in computer simulations. But I question whether a football team is going to win if they realize that the Front Office is okay with a losing performance.  I can't stand it whenever I hear talk that we need to start the rookie NOW to "set our priorities" fore NEXT year.  Ugh.  That's not football.  Football is the toughest game in the world and it's played by guys who value winning above all else.  I don't think you can just suddenly switch gears and start to win on command.  
     So, what do you think, Browns Nation?  Is it ok to play kids to set your draft priorities rather than trying to win every game you can?   Or, what happens if we suck it up, put the veterans back in the lineup and actually win some games?  If we are 10th in the draft, probably all the "franchise' types will be gone.   
      Are we okay with potentially missing out on a top qb in the draft to win meaningless games?  Or do you play to win, no matter what?  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Isaiah Crowell is Not Tanking

     Is Isaiah Crowell taking it easy in order to get a rich free agent contract next season?  That thought has been voiced in our friendly "Browns Bloggers and Friends" group (look me up on Facebook if you want to get added).  Certainly Isaiah's numbers are down after a very impressive 2016 campaign in which he gained almost 1000 yards despite playing behind an underperforming offensive line.

      Currently, he is ranked #47 by Pro Football Focus.  Remembering there are 32 teams in the NFL, that means he is about average for a second string running back.  

      Okay, you see where I'm going with this.  There will not be a big payday waiting for a guy who performs at the second string level.   Maybe a million dollars, or twice the NFL minimum.  But nothing big, nothing unaffordable should the Browns decide to keep him.  They may not need him as they have Duke Johnson (ranked 14th in the NFL, which is rather good) plus a flock of 2018 draft picks.  Rookie running backs are usually pretty good, unlike rookie quarterbacks.   So if Crowell wants a big free agent contract he's lost most of his value as of Game 5 in the 2017 season. 
         Browns management may be tanking, but Isaiah Crowell is not. 
       My take is that the Browns have a dysfunctional offense. With a rotating door at quarterback and no wide receivers of any consequence right now, opposing defenses are free to key on the running game.  The passing game can not harm them.   That's one reason why they are able to limit Crowell.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Updating the Carson Wentz Deal 1 Year Later

   A year later, many Browns fans wish that the team had drafted Carson Wentz.  Wentz has certainly done well for a good Philadelphia team. No question that they got good value by selecting him.
    On the other hand, does that mean he would have been a star for the Browns?  That is a much more difficult question.   It's not clear to me that he would be a star on the Browns with a much lower talent level, and in particular the Browns offensive line caused their quarterbacks to suffer broken bones, concussions and other injuries.  RG3 out once with a shoulder injury, McCown out with a Broken collarbone, Kessler out twice with concussions. Even Clipboard Jesus Charlie Whitehurst was knocked out with a knee injury.   Is that the proper environment to put a very valuable young quarterback in?   Maybe, but I have my doubts. 

      There's usually two or three guys from each class that ultimately have Hall of Fame careers, so if you're going to draft that high, you should get someone that you think is going to be really a top player.  We know Wentz will be a very good starter for years to come, but that is not quite the same as saying he can not be traded at any price.   
     The Browns did get an amazing talent haul for Wentz, and we're not done yet--one more third round pick remains to be identified in 2018.  However, two additional parts of the puzzle were chosen in Jabrill Peppers and DeShone Kizer, in addition to Kessler, Corey Coleman, Shon Coleman, Ricardo Louis and Derrick  Kindred, for a total of six starters plus backup Spencer Drango.  The complete list is posted below.  It's easy to see how this could add up to a guy as good as Wentz, though that is not the case so far. NONE of the 8 players received for Wentz has become an impact player so far, but that could conceivably change in the next few years.    Put it this way, if the Patriots had drafted from the same position,  they would draft a few guys to get sent to the Pro Bowl, but the Browns may not have the ability to accurately evaluate football talent.   
       The final answer is going to take a few years to decide, but at the moment I would give the Browns an A for trading draft picks, but a D for choosing good players.   
     I still think DeShone Kizer has great talent, but his career would have been better served by staying in school.  2017 should have been his JUNIOR year at Notre Dame, and his rookie NFL year would have been 2019.  Normally his career progression would see him start to establish himself in 2020.  The nonsense of accelerating his development from three years to a few months is simply a delusional fantasy by Coach Jackson.   As far as we know, no one wanted that to happen but the Coach. There is no evidence that you can make a kid grow up faster by throwing him on the field without adequate preparation.  In addition, Cody Kessler never did anything wrong, especially by rookie standards.  He completed 65% of his passes with a good TD/INT ratio despite playing on a lousy team with no pass protection, and was mysteriously dropped. 

         So the jury is still out, but for now it would be fair to say that the clear edge goes to the Eagles.  They got their guy, whereas we have not been able to identify a single star player so far.  

Corey Coleman 1 15 WR Baylor
Shon Coleman  3 76 OT Auburn
Cody Kessler 3 93 QB USC
Ricardo Louis 4 114 WR Auburn
Derrick Kindred 3 129 SS TCU
Spencer Drango 4 168 OL Baylor
Jabrill Peppers 1 25 DB Michigan
DeShone Kizer 2 52 QB Notre Dame
2018 NFL Draft Pick (from PHILLY) 3 TBD TBD TBD