Sunday, April 28, 2013

Breaking Down the Browns 2013 Draft

     Before breaking down what the Browns got in the 2013 draft, let's talk about what they didn't do.  They didn't make the classic mistake of drafting a quarterback with the top pick, or signing a glamour free agent.  This offseason they have been picking up quality players, some blue collar types.  I generally agree with that.  I'm glad we didn't package two or four guys to move up a few positions in the draft for no reason as we have done in past years.  

     This year the Browns managed to come away with six players--five actual draftees and one guy (wr Davone Bess) who they acquired in a trade.  They wound up trading two picks in the 2013 draft for higher picks in the 2014 draft, which may not be a bad idea if the new front office believes that scouting will be improved in the next year.  Bess was available because Miami had salary cap problems after creating a megadeal for Mike Wallace, hence they practically gave him away to the Browns, who were wise to take a proven NFL starter.  

     However, in my view the Browns overreached a little in Round 1, taking defensive end Barkevious Mingo, with the intention to try him out at outside linebacker.  Thus he is in the same role as Jabal Sheards, who was a sack specialist for the Browns last year, but perhaps too small for defensive end in the 3-4 alignment. My gut reaction is that the sixth overall pick should actually be able to play the same position in the pros that he played in college. Mingo had 4.5 sacks at LSU last year.  So, is he better than Sheard, who had 7 sacks last year in the NFL?  

So is converting lineman Mingo to linebacker a better idea than converting lineman Sheard to linebacker?  

The Browns are going to start three defensive tackles on the d-line this year, while upgrading the linebacker corps.  Maybe the biggest question mark is whether they have linebackers that can drop back in coverage.  Does a converted defensive lineman in Mingo help?  Honestly, I give a slight edge to Sheard, though both will certainly get playing time.   Depth at linebacker is nothing to sneeze at, but it would be better if the first round pick was actually going to fill a positional need.  Or are they going to try one or the other in the middle? We'll see what happens in training camp.  

Well, Mingo has a linebacker's number.  Now, can he play linebacker?

The Browns traded away their 2013 second round pick last year, so their next pick was cornerback Leon McFadden in Round 3.  The Browns need another cornerback, so McFadden may start the season.

Old friend Brian Sipe coached McFadden  at San Diego State. 

    Wide receiver Bess was a starter for the Fish, and may start for the Browns as well.    This was a coup, created by the Fish sabotaging their salary cap structure by signing Mike Wallace.  Wallace is a very good receiver, but the Fish have to cut a few starters now, and the Browns benefited from this.  The Browns now are at least five deep with Josh Gordon, David Nelson, Travis Benjamin, Jordan Norwood and Greg Little.  Josh Cooper may also challenge for a job.
Davone Bess is a quality staring wide receiver.  Brandon Weeden ought to be licking his chops this year.  

  The Browns also took Jamoris Slaughter, a safety and possible special teams player trying to come back from career threatening Achilles surgery. This is an amazingly stupid pick. Slaughter may not be able to come back from Achilles surgery, and if he does come back he is still not thought of as a prime prospect.  Prior to his injury,  CBS Sports listed him as the 16th best Notre Dame prospect for the 2012 season. Well, he must have shown an awful lot in the 3 games he played in 2012. 

     In the NFL, each team generally has to find 3 or 4 starters every year from the draft.  The sixth round might be a place to take a chance on a guy that is injured, but he should otherwise be the equivalent of an earlier round pick.  It is very weird to take an injured player who was already a marginal NFL prospect.   So I give the Browns a big, fat, juicy, red  F for that pick.  

 In the sixth round they also picked Armonty Bryant, a defensive end who was busted for selling marijuana. As mentioned above, the Browns are planning to start converted tackles at end, so a guy who can really get after the passer might get some playing time. But is he ready to turn his life around?  You can rationalize the pick because in the sixth or seventh round it's probably time to take chances, so this not a horrible pick.  Guard Garrett Gilkey, a guard wtih good numbers from Chadron State rounds out the group.  The main knock on Gilkey is that he comes from a small program, but it is possible that he can really play.  What the heck.  

     It appears likely that the Browns have starters or at least major contributors at cornerback, wide receiver and outside linebacker.  They are taking a chance with their late round picks, but that is the nature of the later rounds.  We'll see how well they did their homework.

    The Browns did not address the fullback position or punter, although those positions are often filled by undrafted free agents, and the Browns are bringing in several candidates at each position.  

    In summary, I am not sure what position Mingo is going to play, which makes me question the value of that pick for the Browns.  They did come away with at least two starters in Bess and McFadden and were able to invest in the future by trading for two number 3's in 2014.  Then they are rolling the dice with their late round picks.  They still need a lot of help, and undrafted free agents could play a role with this team.  


Saturday, April 20, 2013

When will the bleeding stop at Pilot Flying J?

 From  the Cleveland Plain Dealer,
     Like everyone else, I've been thinking about this rebate scam at Pilot Flying J, in which trucking companies were illegally denied rebates on diesel fuel. Let's forget about whether Haslam is going to jail or not, since that is many years away. But what about the damage to Haslam's parent company, Pilot Flying J? I don't know about you, but as a Browns fan (and one that travels a lot) I have bought my gas at Pilot Flying J since Haslam bought the team. This is where his money comes from, not from football. Pilot Flying J depends vitally on small independent trucking companies, and they are very very mad. These companies are first of all going to sue Pilot Flying J down to their undershorts, and they are going to find other sources of fuel. Even the larger companies that were not ripped off are going to question whether they can afford to do business with a company with a tarnished reputation. So where will it stop? This might shake Pilot Flying J to its very core. 
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam explains to the press how the new Cleveland Browns Rebate program will work for season ticket holders. 

Here is a quote from Tommy Hodges, of Titan Transfer Inc, which operates 375 over-the-road trucks according to  USA Today.

  "Until today, I considered Jimmy Haslam a friend," said Hodges, whose company operates 375 over-the-road trucks. "But when someone you count as a friend lets you down, it kind of puts a knot in your stomach. We're still buying fuel from them today, but we're looking at other options."

     Soon, the Browns might have an out-of-state owner who is a Steelers fan and who also has big money problems.  In turn, I can not imagine that players' agents will recommend Cleveland to their clients. Good luck trying to sign more free agents, guys. 

    This is not a good combination, and it might take years to fix it. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Jimmy Haslam's Problems May Become Cleveland's Problems

       Some time back, I wrote a blog which was sharply critical of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam for reneging on his promise to move to Cleveland to be the owner of the Cleveland Browns.  After all, the NFL values local ownership, so for that reason almost all owners actually live in the towns in which the teams play. 

       Except for the Browns.  Haslam told everyone he was retiring from being the CEO of Flying J so that he could move to Cleveland and enjoy being the owner of the Browns.  John Compton was hired to be the new CEO.  However, a few months into his new job, he decided to "unretire" and re-assumed the duties of CEO at Flying J, and that he would continue to live in Knoxville Tennessee. 

     John Compton graciously stepped down and allowed Haslam to re-assume the title of CEO.  The obvious conclusion is that this is what they planned all along.  The move to Bratenahl was just a fiction.  

 So that is how we got an owner who is a  Steelers fan living in Tennessee.

   I further took the next step and note that the Browns will certainly be targeted by the Los Angeles politicians, who have been promised an NFL team in the next few years.  Los Angeles offers some "lucky" owner the chance to make a billion dollars by doubling the franchise value. In the meantime, the Browns have Alec Scheiner as their president.  Scheiner may be the top expert in the world at mega-stadium design, having been Jerry Jones' guy for the magnificent new stadium in Arlington.  Why, exactly, do the Browns need a mega-stadium builder as their President?  Do you think Cleveland's population is going to triple in the next ten years?  Or would Scheiner be the best guy in the world to oversee stadium construction in Los Angeles?

       Many in Browns Nation believe that this is impossible because the City of Cleveland has a very strong lease with the team, which requires the team to not only pay rent but play its games in Cleveland stadium.  This view is completely naive, however.  Lawyers will certainly figure something out if the team defaults on its lease.  My guess is that the NFL will have to promise to relocate ANOTHER team in Cleveland by 2020, and the taxpayers will have to pay for a domed stadium.  

    Browns Nation also tends to believe that the team that moves to LA will be the team with the weakest fan base.  That is ridiculous.  Is that the reason why the old Browns moved to Baltimore?  Did Al Davis move the Raiders to LA and then back to Oakland because of a weak fan base?    
    Make no mistake.  Some team will be moved.  It's not a question of "if" but rather which team will go.   The team that moves will be the one with an owner that wants to make a billion dollars, by moving into the number two media market in the US.    

     In fact, it's happened before.   In 1945, the NFL Champion Cleveland Rams became dissatisfied with their stadium lease (being upstaged by the hotshot coach Paul Brown and the upstart Cleveland Browns  in the new  All America Conference), so the team packed up and moved to Los Angeles, to become the Los Angeles Rams.  Later the LA Rams would move to St Louis showing that history does repeat itself.
   If you want to look at baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers were also world champions when they moved to Los Angeles (accompanied by the New York Giants who moved to San Francisco). 

      Hence, I think there are very few teams that are not being courted by the City of Los Angeles.  Probably teams like the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are so valuable that they would not gain value by moving.  But probably two-thirds of the NFL is susceptible to the sales pitch, which probably goes something like this:  "You have a stadium deal?  We have a better one.  We have more fans, and more rich fans.  We have a better TV market, better radio market, better internet, better everything.  We have more fans who will buy more team jerseys, more souvenirs, more everything.  Mr. Owner, we will increase the value of your investment by a billion dollars!!

     Now, one of the defenses against that is local ownership.  So for that reason, it was comforting to know that the Haslam family had bought a mansion in Bratentahl. His family is rightfully known for tremendous community service, and the community looked forward to embracing themBut now, a few months after the sale of the team was approved,  it is clear that Mr. Haslam will be a non-resident owner.  

Haslam, has promised to keep the team in Cleveland.  But he has no ties to the City of Cleveland, and is in fact a former minority owner of the Steelers, calling himself a 

"1000% Steelers fan."  How secure does that make you feel?

No, this is just a very bad situation.  We have a smiling, gregarious owner now, instead of the quiet Lerner family.  Browns fans seem to love the guy and completely trust him to look after the bests interests of Cleveland fans.   But the fact is that we were deceived into believing that he was going to become a Clevelander, and now there are further challenges to his reputation because of the Flying J scandal involving fraudulent rebates.     






Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Browns 2013 Draft Needs

So far so good.  The Browns have addressed some of their needs on defense, signed some key free agents.  Hopefully there may be one or two signings to come, but now our attention is turning to the NFL draft .   What are the Browns going to do.  

Well, of course, nobody knows what is going to happen, but that doesn't stop us from trying to predict the future anyway. 

The Village Elliot believes that the team is still very thin, and needs help in a number of areas.

Dude, where's my cornerback?   Joe Haden is great on one side, but you need a second starter, plus extras for nickel and dime formations.  The Browns have added depth at cornerback in the form of Kevin Barnes and Chris Owens, both of whom are probably better as nickel backs, along with Buster Skrine.   The Browns lost Sheldon Brown, a very tough player, but perhaps a guy that that Browns felt might have lost a step. Cornerbacks with speed are gone early in the NFL draft.  Dee Milliner is everyone's favorite here, so much so that I doubt he will fall to the Browns with the sixth overall pick.

 If Dee Milliner is still available at number 6, many observers predict the Browns will take him.  The Village Elliot thinks they will trade down if they can't get him.  Image credit:

Dude, where's my free safety?  Well, the Browns decided to clear some salary cap room with no one in sight.  Usama Young was cut, and there is no replacement. Most of the mock drafts that I've seen expect the first free safety to come off the board late in the first round or possibly later. Matt Elam might be the best free safety listed, but you can also think about converting a cornerback to free safety depending on the individual.  

  Matt Elam of Florida is a premier free safety, and is already used to orange helmets.  Image credit

Dude, where's my fullback?  These days some teams don't even use a fullback, preferring to start three wide receivers.  But Coach Chud and OC Norv Turner have always used a fullback, and the Browns have lacked one since they let go of Lawrence Vickers for absolutely no reason that I can fathom.  I'm still fuming about that bonehead move.  Fullbacks are available in the late rounds, though, so maybe they can use a pick to get a good one. One guy that intrigues me is  Kyle Juszczyk (Medina/Cloverleaf High School), a kid with a nasty disposition that went to Harvard.  

Dude, where's my kicker and punter?  Oops, we let them go also.  It's very hard to get really good specialists, but there are good ones out there.  It's not totally crazy to audition a few in the preseason and wind up with someone who can do an acceptable job.  For whatever reason, teams don't always draft specialists, and finding one via undrafted free agents is not unheard of. 

The offensive line also did not perform well as a unit, despite having an All Pro in left tackle Joe Thomas, and quality players in Alex Mack at center and Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle. Overall they gave up a lot of sacks, and the running game was below average with first rounder Trent Richardson, Chris Ogbonnaya and Montario Hardesty.  You do the math, but the Village Elliot figures that the Browns need to add two more offensive linemen. Likely the Browns would be in the market for a guard, but you can't rule out that they might draft a tackle with the intention of moving him to guard. Chance Warmack is regarded as the premier guard in the group, projected to go in the middle of the first round, but very good guards are often available in the late rounds also. 

Drafting a guy who weighs in at 320 with a reputation for pancake blocks is not a bad idea.

What about a quarterback?  Bad teams love to draft quarterbacks all the time, and here's hoping that the Browns can avoid that temptation. The Browns have talent at the position with former number one picks Brandon Weeden and Jason Campell, and a decent third string guy in Thad Lewis.  I think that the Browns may go quarterback if they trade down from the sixth overall pick and feel that there is a stud available in round 2 or 3.  But really there are other positions that need help, much more so than quarterback, so I hope that they don't go that way.

At wide receiver, I've been frustrated for years at the Browns inability to draft decent talent.  This year, depth is a concern, but they have a true number one receiver in Josh Gordon, who came on strong at the end of the year, and unseated the talented but underachieving  Greg Little.  Before getting hurt, Jordan Norwood emerged as a credible receiver in the slot, and Travis Benjamin made some good catches as another deep threat.  There may be enough talent there that taking another wideout is not totally necessary.  

The Browns seem well stocked at defensive line.  They may try to deal defensive end Jabal  Sheard, or if not they may try to convert himi to a pass rushing linebacker.  Either way they could add a 3-4 linebacker with a tracker record as a pass defender.
To a large extent, most teams look at the talent first, and the team's depth chart second.  But you also have to look at how the draft is likely to unfold.  Namely, very few good corners are drafted in the late rounds; very few kickers, punters or fullbacks are taken in the early rounds.  

We don't expect them to try to upgrade Trent Richardson (halfback), Joe Thomas (LT), Alex Mack (center), Mitchell Schwartz (RT), or  Josh Gordon (wr1)

So, taking all that into account my guess is that the Browns will go for a cornerback early on, most likely trading down from the 6th position because Milliner will probably not be available.  A safety, offensive lineman and a  quarterback may be taken early as well.  Later on, the Browns will have to address the fullback position, and one way or another they will have to find a kicker and a punter as well.   The latter might be done with undrafted free agents unless they feel that there is a guy that they can not afford to pass up in the late rounds of the draft. 

Browns trade down and get a number 1 and 2. and a later round pick. 

Maybe something like this: 
1) Chance Warmack G, Alabama (trade down)

2) Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
    (by trade)
3)  Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

4) Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma

5) Josh Boyce, WR, TCU

5) Oday Aboushi, G, Virginia

6) Kyle Juszcyk FB, Harvard

7)  Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida