Sunday, February 16, 2014

NFL Backup Quarterbacks in 2014; Who WIll the Browns Sign?

.      Even if the Browns draft a quarterback in the first round, they will probably also bring in a veteran free agent quarterback. Brian Hoyer is probably the incumbent starter, but the rookie will get a shot, and there might be an outside shot for a veteran to seize the job like Campbell did in 2013.    But Campbell will likely be cut because he is getting close to first string money ($3.25 Million), and currently he projects to the number three qb.  Weeden will probably be cut out of spite, even though the Browns will incur a salary cap penalty due to the rules about bonus money (it costs the Browns $2 Million to cut Weeden--it does not save money to cut him, it costs money to cut him).  But I think they would rather cut him and have some other quarterback with less baggage with Cleveland fans.  At the end of this blog, I've listed the primary backups for each NFL team, followed by a list of free agent quarterbacks. 

     Note also that for the Browns, the second string guy has been called upon to start games every year since 2001.  More often than not, the third string guy has also  had to start games including both 2012 and 2013.  So it really does matter who the backup is, as well as the third string guy. 
    So who are the best  backup quarterbacks in the NFL, and how good are they?  And how about the available free agents?  I've listed the principal backups below, and under that is a list of the likely free agents available in 2014.  If you just look at the names, listed below, there are only a few guys that look like potential future stars.   Ryan Mallett, a "developmental" prospect with a big arm,  has been the understudy for Tom Brady for centuries, and some people figure he might be worth a number one draft pick by now.  Similarly, Brock Osweiler is the backup for Peyton Manning at 6'7" 242 lbs  and a rocket arm.  He might be ready now if the opportunity should arise.  
After sitting for two years watching Peyton Manning, Brock Osweiler might be the backup quarterback with the most potential in the NFL 
    Otherwise, NFL backup qbs  are not exactly superstars, though some recycled veterans have had some success in the past, including Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Schaub and Kyle Orton.  I think the top 10 or so backups  are good enough to win with a good team behind them, but would probably not change the fortunes of a team like the Browns.  I would put both Campbell and Weeden in that category by the way. Unless the talent level of the team changes (say if they actually add some good players), I think that the Browns would be about  a five win team with either Campbell or Weeden.     As for the free agents, I think that we are probably talking about guys at the same talent level. Strictly backup material. 
34-year old vet Josh McCown was great subbing for Jay Cutler, but because of his age is regarded strictly as a backup. 
     Note also that there are already four recent Cleveland Browns serving as backup qbs, and probably there will soon be two more if they cut  Weeden and  Campbell:  Thad Lewis, Josh Johnson,  Colt McCoy, and  Bruce Gradkowski.  They are all pretty competent players, imho, though they are not going to be All Pro.  In any case, I'm not sure how smart it is to continually sign and cut backup quarterbacks.  It would be great if they could keep a guy around for a few years to become really familiar with the personnel and the plays. Put it this way, I would be happy to trade back Weeden and Campbell for Thad Lewis and Colt McCoy.  I don't think it would make much difference overall in quarterback play, and if anything that Browns might have been slightly better off sticking with the guys we had in 2012, rather than expending a first round pick and a big free agent contract.     
Did anyone notice that former Browns backup Thad Lewis outplayed E. J. Manuel for the Bills last year?  He was 2-3 in five starts with a qb rating about the same as Hoyer's. 
    No matter, that isn't the way things are done in Cleveland, so if Campbell and Weeden are both gone, I think I might take my chances with Chad Henne (former starter with Jacksonville and Miami) or maybe Tavaris Jackson.   A lot depends on the thinking of the free agent though.  Sometimes they figure it is better to remain unsigned until some team's starter goes down, at which point they might be willing to offer a starting job immediately.  I kind of think Mike Vick might try that this year, and thus may not sign immediately with a new team. 

     One other scary possibility is Mark Sanchez, he of the infamous Butt Fumble.  But Coach Pettine knows him from his time as the Jets Defensive Coordinator, and based on that relationship it is not crazy to think that Sanchez might be evaluated for the post.  Doubtless Sanchez got blamed for a lot of things that were really Rex Ryan's fault, and in any case he did lead two teams to the AFC Finals. 
      They would probably begin the season as the number three quarterback behind Hoyer and the rookie if we go ahead and draft one.   
Could someone like Chad Henne be signed as a number three quarterback by the Browns? 
Current NFL Backups

Ryan Mallett, NE
Brock Osweiler, Denver
Matt Barkley, Philadelphia
Josh McCown, Chicago
Kyle Orton, Dallas
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tennessee
*Thad Lewis, Buffalo
**Jason Campbell, Cleveland
*Colt McCoy, San Francisco
Matt Schaub, Houston
Matt Hasselbeck, Indianapolis
Matt Moore, Miami
Matt Simms, NYJ or Mark Sanchez
Matt Cassel, MinnesotaTyrod Taylor, Baltimore
*Josh Johnson, Cincinnati
*Bruce Gradkowski, Pittsburgh
Ricky Stanzi, Jacksonville
Chase Daniel, KC
Matt McGloin, Oakland
Brad Sorensen, San Diego
Ryan Nassib, NYG
Kirk Cousins, Washington
Kellen Moore, Detroit
Scott Tolzien, Green Bay
Dominique Davis, Atlanta
Matt Blanchard Carolina
Ryan Griffin, New Orleans
Mike Kafka, Tampa
Drew Stanton, Arizona
Austin Davis St Louis
BJ Daniels Seattle

2014 Likely NFL QB Free agents

Mike Vick
Chad Henne
Matt Flynn
Josh Freeman
Shaun Hill
David Garrard
Charlie Whitehurst
Kellen Clemens
Luke McCown
Jimmy Clausen
Brady Quinn
Tavaris Jackson


Monday, February 10, 2014

Browns Banner, Lombardi Out, Farmer In. But Will it Help?


   The Browns shook up their horrific front office today, firing Mike Lombardi as well as Joe Banner.  This was not a completely bad thing.  As the Village Elliot has pointed out, Lombardi was incredibly bad in his first draft for the new Browns, such that the Browns had zero starters on the 2013 from the draft.  Barkevious Mingo or Leon McFadden might have an outside chance of emerging later on, but it was a  horrible draft.  Free agents were somewhat better, with starters Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant being  signed, albeit at a very high price.  Then there is the case of Brian Hoyer, who Lombardi liked but nobody else did. 

     Banner seems to have been a destructive force in the organization, as he sought to expand his turf to encompass Lombardi's personnel decisions.  He apparently turned off a number of candidates for the coaching vacancy, with good reason.  Does the coach report to the GM (Lombardi)?  Or to Banner?  Or to the owner.  This fundamental issue could not be answered by the Browns, and this is one major reason why their management is known as the Three Stooges. 

    Normally, I would be jumping up and down with joy at the news that Lombardi and Banner are leaving town.  However, I want to first know whether new GM Ray Farmer is actually going to be in charge of this draft.  Or will it be the one person worse than Lombardi, namely owner Jimmy Haslam?  Will we satisfy the owner's whim to draft Johnny Manziel, sacrificing two or three first round picks in the process?   In the latter case, all those resources (say two number ones and a number two?)  tied up in one guy could prove to be problematic down the road.  If you use two or three top draft choices, that means you are not drafting Sammy Watkins, and you are not getting top-drawer help for the offensive line or at running back.  Is Manziel so good that he can compensate for all that? 

         All the evidence we have is that Haslam is determined to get Johnny Football for the Browns, and anyone who disagrees with him gets fired.  It looks like a number of coaching candidates tried to reason with him, and as a consequence they were no longer candidates.   

    Also, will Haslam allow Farmer to spend money at parity with the rest of the league?  Or will the Browns once again lead the league by paying the lowest salaries in the league versus the salary cap? 

     If  they choose to, the Cleveland Browns could spend up to $45.46 million in additional salaries in 2014, according to Chris Pokorny in Dawgs By Nature(  cleveland-browns-set-to-have-about-45-million-in-cap-space ).   Chris does a good job of explaining the basics, and if you want more numbers you can check out  ).  
   The $45.46 million includes a  "rollover" of  $24.5 million that they did not spend in 2013. This is kind of like money in the bank.  Once it is spent it is gone.  Even so,  if the Browns to save the carryover money to 2015 or later, they still have at least $20 million that they can spend in 2014 to improve the team.   The total amount that can be spent on salaries is $126 Million, or $150 Million if you want to spend the rollover.    

     But will Haslam be comfortable in allowing the Browns to spend moneyh while the Pilot Flying J rebate scandal is still not resolved, and the threat of a Federal indictment is still possible? 
     My guess is--and it is just a guess--that the Browns will once again undercut the salary cap and be among the lead leaders in dollars under the salary cap.   The hope will be that the Pilot Flying J situation will stabilize and allow the Browns to compete salarywise with the rest of the NFL in 2015 and beyond.  Good luck with that, Mr. Haslam.   


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Grading Mike Lombardi's 2013 NFL Draft

    So how did Mike Lombardi actually do in his first NFL draft?  They say you need to wait a few years to evaluate, which is usually true, but in this case all the players might be out of the NFL by that time.  And in fact, Mike Lombardi might be out of the NFL by that time.  
      The fact is that there has been very little talent extracted from the draft over the past few years.  
1.  Barkevious Mingo, OLB.   Mingo proved to be a promising backup, ranked 38th out of 42 outside backers by Pro Football Focus.  That is not real good for the sixth overall pick.  It was understood that Mingo was too small to play defensive line, but even at linebacker he appeared to struggle against the run, especially later in the year.  New Coach Mike Pettine says he wants Mingo to come in a little heavier, and perhaps that will help him contend for a starting role this year.  

  Was Mingo worth the Number 6 overall pick in the first round?  Well, no....

2. No pick.  That pick was traded for Josh Gordon by the previous administration, the best move ever made by Tom Heckert.  This pick does not count for Lombardi, and in fact the Browns were trying to trade him away at the NFL trading deadline last year. 

3.  Leon McFadden, DB. The Browns were afraid to play Leon in 2013, who was the fourth defensive back.  He was usually torched when he did play.  Defensive backs often improve a lot between their first and second year (for example, Buster Skrine was much better last year than his rookie year), but McFadden seems to have a long way to go before he can be a starter or even the nickel back.  

4.  Traded for a 2014 3rd Round pick from Pittsburgh.

5.  Traded to Miami for Davone Bess.  Bess dropped a number of passes last year, and did not gain very many yards, despite a very large contract with guaranteed money.  Davone seemed to be in a drug-induced stupor over the off-season, and no one is sure what will happen to him.  

Bess showed flashes of brilliance, but mainly was known for dropping the ball in crucial situations.  

5.  Traded to Indianapolis for a 2014 4th round pick.  

6.  Jamoris Slaughter, S.   Slaughter was drafted despite a career threatening Achilles Tendon tear.  At 6'0", 200 pounds and a 4.6 sec 40 yard dash time before the injury, he was not considered a prospect.  Notre Dame used him at both safety and linebacker, but there is no such animal as a 200 pound linebacker in the NFL.  Similarly, a safety who runs a 4.6 is considered slow by NFL standards.  So it is not clear what Lombardi was thinking.   A guy with linebacker speed and safety size?  

7.  Armonty Bryant, DE.  Bryant slid into the seventh round because of off-the-field issues, but  earned some playing time on the defensive line. 

7.  Garrett Gilkey, OT  Gilkey has the size and physicality to be a good lineman, but is very raw. He started one game in 2013 and played in a few others.  

Amazing, the Browns had not one regular starter emerge from the 2013 draft despite occupying the number six position in the draft.  Normally, the guys drafted in Rounds 1-3 are expected to either start or at least be solid contributors.   The best moves appear to be the ones in which the Browns traded 2013 draft picks for 2014 picks, because these picks still exist and might someday contribute to the team.  It looks like Mingo is certainly behind Jabaal Shears in the linebacker corps.  McFadden seemed overmatched as the fourth cornerback, and will have to improve to make the team again.  Bryant and Gilkey made minor contributions as backups, and may be back in 2014 but probably not as starters.  

     Can the Browns really be this bad at selecting players?   Lombardi & Co. did a bit better at signing free agents, signing two starters on defense (linebacker Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant at defensive end).  Chris Owens was a decent nickel back.  The  Browns also picked up two credible starters at quarterback in Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell.   Hoyer will be back in 2014, but because of his high salary cap number, it is likely that Jason Campbell will be cut.   

Keeping in mind that Haslam and Banner both seem determined to draft a quarterback in Round 1 this year, it is doubtful whether Lombardi's acquisitions of Hoyer and Campbell will be much appreciated by his bosses.  They are regarded as potential backups only.  

The Browns also signed a backup tight end in Gary Barnidge, and some backup running backs in Edwin Baker and Fozzy Whitaker.   The Browns also signed Bobby Rainey, but Coach Chudzinski would not play him, so he was eventually cut and signed by Tampa Bay, where he became a solid starter. The other big trade was sending Trent Richardson to Indianapolis in exchange for another 2014 pick. TRich continued to struggle in Indianapolis, another team with issues on the offensive line,  but we at least have to admit that he has not set the world on fire so far.  

Overall, the Browns' personnel was weaker in 2013 than in 2012.   Obviously, it is hard to criticize too much based on a single season, but let us at least admit it was a very rough start for the Lombardi era.   Probably the Browns draft would have to rank at the absolute bottom of the league. The best you can say is that they deferred some picks till 2014 so there is still some hope of landing some players.  As for the free agent signings and trades, they at least wound up with players, and avoided major catastrophe.  I think that the draft is a "D" and the free agent signings are more in the "C" range.  The main problem is that the Browns did not sign as many free agents as they could have, preferring to defer salary cap space to 2014, which is legal under the new rules.  

     Speculation is that they may get some help in making draft picks in 2014.  Ray Farmer might be given more responsibility.  That would probably be a good thing.