Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cleveland Browns Free Agent Moves for 2014

    The Cleveland Browns off-season is always interesting, and this year they are truly at a crossroads.  I honestly don't know if they intend to compete with the other NFL teams in 2014, or pack it in like they did in 2013.  What we don't know is whether the Browns deliberately underfunded the 2013 team in order to spend more in 2014, or whether they were simply conserving cash.   

   But make no mistake, in 2013, the Browns deliberately underfunded the team. The Browns were $24 million under the salary cap, tops in the NFL.   They carried out a number of actions to reduce expenses in 2013 and beyond, including:

     a.  Cutting several veterans at the end of training camp and replaced them with minimum wage undrafted rookies. After an initial flurry, they refused to add payroll, refusing to sign anyone above the NFL minimum except for Willis McGahee.

    b.  Trading two 2013 draft picks  in exchange for 2014 draft picks.

   c.  Trading Trent Richardson for a 2014 draft pick.  That's why they felt they could sign McGahee.

   As a result, the Browns have three extra 2014 draft picks.  The Browns and the Oakland Raiders (who were penalized in 2013 for salary cap offenses in the past) are the teams with the most room to sign free agents. 
    Browns fans hope that this year they will elect to operate with as much salary cap money as the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens.   But even if they do, the true stars are going to prefer to sign with other teams.  Hence they would better off trying to sign their own free agents, specifically Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and T. J. Ward.  

 Will the Browns re-sign Alex Mack?  If he is willing to come back to Cleveland, that would be a good move.  Other Pro Bowlers are not coming to Cleveland.  

T. J. Ward will probably come back as the "Franchise Player."  He will be paid as a top-5 player at his position, but he plays like one too. 

     They will also be able to sign a few additional key starting players, but probably not at the level of last year when they got Paul Kruger to sign a huge five year deal, simply because agents are going to steer their major clients to teams with a less chaotic front office situation.  The Browns will go for guys that are towards the end of their career, willing to take a one or two year contract without a large amount of guaranteed money.   They ought to be able to land role players (for example, a fullback, short yardage running back, blocking tight end, slot receiver, situational linebacker, nickel defensive back, etc).   If they add twenty million dollars of net salary that would correspond to about ten second tier free agents along with ten draftees.   It's not as sexy as adding Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson, but there is no reason why a winning football team could not result. 

    The Browns could sign even more if they cut some  bloated contracts.  NFL contracts tend to increase year over year, which increases the pressure to renegotiate or cut.  This is a terrible disservice to fans, as it increases the chances that players will leave the team, but it's reality.  For that reason several veterans will probably be forced to re-negotiate or be cut.  For example, Jason Campbell will be  third string in 2014, and none of his $3.25 million contract is guaranteed.  It is very likely that Campbell will either accept a major pay cut (not likely) or be gone in 2014. If so, the Browns may add not just one but two quarterbacks in 2014.   

There are few BACKUP quarterbacks in the NFL better than Jason Campbell (Browns fans tend to hate him anyway).  The Browns will probably cut him.

The Browns may also cut guard John Greco, who did not have a good year last year.  Ahtyba Rubin was a very good player in 2013, but has a huge salary cap number.  Similarly D'Qwell Jackson played at a very high level last year, but even he could be a salary cap casualty.  If they cut Rubin and Jackson, it would create $12 million dollars in salary cap room.  That's enough to sign a half dozen starting calibre players.
Ahtyba Rubin was a productive lineman, but salary cap rules will cause the Browns to consider cutting him.  I hope he stays, but I'm not sure what will happen.

Because of the bonus rules, cutting Brandon Weeden would save salary cap in 2015 but not 2014.  I dunno, for a third string quarterback in 2014, Weeden is not such a bad idea, especially if Campbell is gone, but I predict the Browns will cut him anyway just because this is part of quarterback fever.  The Browns are hot to draft a quarterback this year, and teams that do that feel compelled to banish the previous guy even if they don't have to. Hence I think the Browns will probably cut both Campbell and Weeden, and will try to draft one quarterback, and to sign another as a free agent.   Both will be allowed to challenge Hoyer for the starting job, but my guess is that Hoyer may prevail, at least to start the season.
Brandon Weeden was not as horrible as many Browns fans imagine. Salary cap rules favor keeping him in 2014 (but cutting him in 2015).  Because of the bonus rules, the Browns would take a salary cap hit in 2014 if they cut him. The Village Elliot thinks they will cut him anyway.

     So, if the Browns decide to play at parity with the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens in 2014, they have plenty of salary cap room to add a few starters. The salary cap rules could cause them to make a few extra moves.  Mack, Campbell, Greco, Rubin and perhaps Jackson may be among the familiar faces that are gone, but the Browns will have the ability to add several staters, and several backups and specialty players as well.  

     Or they may actually pack it in again, perhaps depending on financial conditions at Haslam's Pilot Flying J business, and if so Browns fans may have to wait until 2015 or later to compete at parity with the other teams in the division.  We shall see what the front office does.  


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Real Requirements to Get the Browns' Head Coach Job

Some people are surprised that the Browns were turned down by Adam Gase, but not readers of the Village Elliot's Sports Blog.   The Browns are simply  not looking for a guy that specializes in a pocket passing game.  
Rather, they are looking for a guy that has experience with the type of offense preferred by the Owner, Jimmy Haslam.  Plus there are some other questions that need to be answered.  Here then are the questions that a coaching candidate needs to answer affirmatively before he can get the job:
1.  Are you willing to install a pistol-read-option style college style offense?
2.  Are you willing to work for a team whose Owner might be indicted?
3.  Are you willing to work for a team whose Owner (Haslam) and the Club President (Banner) call the shots on the draft, rather than the GM (Lombardi)?
4.  Are you willing to work for a team that will trade three first round draft picks for this year's rookie sensation quarterback (Johnny Manziel)? 
5.  Are you willing to work for a team that underspent their salary cap by 24 million dollars last year?

6.  Are you willing to work for a GM that last year obtained no true starters from their entire draft?  
8.  Are you willing to work for a team whose Owner lives out of town and has no vested interest in the Cleveland community?
9.  Are you willing to work for a team that led the entire NFL in minimum wage signees (mainly undrafted rookies)?  
10.  Are you willing to work for a team that fired the last guy after only one season?
If the answer to these ten questions is yes, then you're our boy!  Sign right here, son....and here are the keys to the Executive Washroom. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Will the Browns Draft Manziel Number One?


     Yes.  I believe that the Cleveland Browns will probably draft Johnny Manziel number one in the 2014 NFL draft, and the Browns will hire a creative offensive-minded coach who will attempt to install a college style offense.  And no, none of this is a particularly good idea. 
     I've been reading stuff from Peter King ( and Scott Sargent (Waiting for Next Year), which to me has the ring of truth to it.   They think that Haslam and Banner like the pistol-read-option style of offense and want a running qb.   Rob Chudzinski  and Turner were against blowing up the current offense and starting over with a college style offense, which is one reason that Chud was let go, and Turner will certainly follow.
      It looks like Jimmy Haslam will be a hand-on owner and he wants to control the first round draft selection as well as a compatible coach.  Last year the Browns thought about hiring the innovative controversial Chip Kelly out of college to coach the team, but the Eagles made a better offer.  The Eagles went from 4-12 to 10-6 in one year, and Nick Foles emerged as a star quarterback.  This stung Banner, who came from the Eagles organization, as well as Haslam. 


Johnny Manziel is already being photoshopped into a Browns uniform. 
    Lombardi was the one connected with Chudzinski.  Hence Lombardi stock is down with Haslam right now.  That is one reason I don't believe the rumors about Josh McDaniels coming to Cleveland.  Lombardi would like that because it would make him look good if McDaniels could help Brian Hoyer become the starting quarterback (Hoyer and McDaniels worked together at New England).  But that is not what Banner wants, nor Haslam, and Haslam writes the checks. So I tend to disbelieve the rumors about  McDaniels,  Whisenhunt or any of the defensive coordinators.  All those rumors probably come from Lombardi, who is definitely not calling the shots. 

Sometimes you can get the feeling that Lombardi is kind of left out. 

    Haslam and Banner  are dying for someone to tell them that the pistol-read-option will work in the NFL, and that all they need is the right quarterback (Manziel).  They need someone experienced at designing plays for, say, Seattle or San Francisco.  That's why even Adam Gase, the 35 year old Offensive Coordinator for the high flying Denver Broncos, is not a clear fit to what Haslam and Banner want.  Gase has done a great job working with Peyton Manning who of course is a pocket passer and not an option guy. 

GM Joe Banner and Owner Jimmy Haslam discussing the future of Brandon Weeden. 

     The uncertainty in the Head Coach would be greatly reduced if the Browns could be certain that Johhny Manziel would be quarterbacking the team next year, rather than Hoyer or Campbell.  Hoyer and Campbell have the support of Lombardi, but not Banner and Haslam.  That's why I tend to believe the reports that the Stooges will explore the possibility of trading up for Manziel, since the other quarterback studs in the draft (Bortles, Carr, Bridgewater) are pocket passers and not great runners.  The Houston Texans will seek a deal like the Redskins gave for the opportunity to draft Robert Griffin III (namely three number one picks, including the second overall pick this year).  The Browns could do it, since they have two number one picks this year.
    Manziel will certainly be able to perform in the NFL, though I have my doubts whether he is really a top 5 guy.  He has the record, and the speed but he is only 205 pounds and is considered a good but not great passer at this point.  Similarly, the other guys have talent, but maybe not elite talent.  Any of them could make it, but I look at them as late-first-round, early-second-round guys and not necessarily the next John Elway.  And I think there are guys like Zack Mettenburg, A. J. McCarron, or Jimmy Garoppolo that might be worth a flyer later on in the draft.     
   For the record, I don't expect the new quarterback to exceed 2013's passing totals, with over 4000 yards passing and 20 INTs.  2014 will be much worse if there is a rookie quarterback trying to sling the ball all over the ballyard.  I don't view any of the prospects as truly worthy of being picked in the top 10 of the first round.  Normally, such guys have size, speed, arm strength and a college record to back it up.
   This is especially true if the Browns continue to trim the overall payroll.  My guess is that until the rebate scandal at Pilot Flying J is fully resolved (like, is Haslam going to get indicted or not?), the Browns will continue to underspend the salary cap.   At the same time, free agents will avoid the Browns and their losing reputation.  

    Of course, if the Browns fail to improve their pass blocking and running game, whoever they install at quarterback will likely be crushed like a grape.  Browns quarterbacks were knocked out of the game four times last year.  
      But bad teams are always willing to believe that a new quarterback and a new coach will solve all their problems. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blowing Up Brian Hoyer

Browns fans are madder than hell and they ain't taking it no more!  Brian Hoyer, the fans want you gone.  Not sure who they want in, but it isn't you.

Why do Cleveland fans seem to hate Brian Hoyer?  Many want Johnny Manziel or some other hotshot, rather than helping team improve in other areas.

Judging from Facebook forums and other public media, the number one priority of the Cleveland Browns ought to be upgrading the quarterback position, and replacing Brian Hoyer.   To me, this is a clear case of Quarterback Fever, which afflicts fans and General Managers alike, and makes them fascinated by the quarterback position to the exclusion of all else.
Keep in mind that the Browns finished 11th in the NFL in passing yards this season.  Not last.  Never mind that the halfback had the worst yards per carry average in the NFL.  Never mind that the porous offensive line led the NFL in hits allowed on the quarterback, and finished third in the league in sacks allowed with inconsistent play at both guard spots.   Never mind that the Browns had only two solid receivers (Pro Bowlers Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron).   Browns fans want to replace Brian Hoyer. 

How bad was Brian Hoyer?  Well, the Browns as a team won four games, with Hoyer quarterbacking the team in to of those of those games and starting a third winning game before hurting is knee.  In the other games started by Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell, the Browns went 1- 11.  Hoyer played in only three games before going out with a torn ACL.  Nevertheless, 3-0 is not good enough for this team, apparently. 

Hoyer's had a few years backing up Tom Brady of the Patriots as well as Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and also played a little in Arizona.  He has passed for over 1000 yards in his brief career, which is not a lot but enough that he is no longer a raw rookie. 

Certainly if there is some phenomenal  talent out there, like a John Elway, an NFL team would draft that player whether they need a quarterback or not.  But it seems that Browns fans want a rookie quarterback regardless of whether he is really any good or not.

My guess is that Farmer sees a plethora of good-but-not-great qbs in this draft, while guys like Khalil Mack, Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews grade out as potential All-Pros.
My guess is that the Browns will draft a quarterback or maybe two, but not necessarily the top guys.    Hoyer will start training camp at the top of the depth chart, despite the fans wanting to do away with him.  It will be up to the other contenders to convince Coach Pettine to move them up.  I don't expect a rookie to be handed a job on a silver platter.
This is not Coach Pettine, and this is not how a new QB will be handed a starting job. 

Derek Carr is a good quarterback who could go early, maybe even to the Browns.  Some people worry his career might follow the same path as his brother David's.  But don't worry, former Browns guru Chris Palmer is not coaching this kid, like he did David Carr and Couch!

Blake Bortles is another potential  top 10 pick.  But can the Browns have a quarterback who sticks out his tongue while making a pass?  

To listen to the news media, Teddy Bridgewater might have been the best quarterback in the draft in February, but now that it's April, he may not be selected until the second round.  Really?

I think Jimmy Garoppolo may sneak into the first round.  He did not play Division I-A ball, but he has a big league arm to go with 53 TD passes last year.  

The Lynch Mob is highest on Johnny Manziel, who they are convinced is ready for instant stardom. The Village Elliot, however, thinks that Manziel grades out more like a late first round pick rather than an early pick. Here he demonstrates the universal Klingon salute.