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Monthly Archives: March 2012

13 Picks! Trade Up Time!!

Cleveland Browns’ motto for 2012 Draft – Trade Up (In the Later Rounds)

Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns entered with nine selections – which is more than the number of rounds (seven).  Couple that with their four compensatory picks, and the franchise will have an opportunity to choose thirteen players in April (should that be their plan).  This is their most picks since their rebirth in 1999 and more than any other team.  Fortunately, this team has more talent than those Browns (who went 2-14); therefore even if the franchise stands pat not all draft picks may make the team.  Thus, it should be in the best interest in the team to continue to trade up a few times.

Seven to nine draft picks is a reasonable number of selections for a team to have.  Thirteen is far too many, especially when a fair amount come later in the draft and are spent on men fighting for roster spots.  Also, the team will sign a few undrafted players who will compete over the summer to make the team.  The Browns will need to find a trade partner, but should they package a few selections to move up a round earlier (or so) I feel the team will have an opportunity to improve overall at a quicker pace.

Compensatory draft selections cannot be traded, therefore the additional sixth and seventh round choices will be members of the Cleveland Browns.  However, with two first, fourth, and fifth round picks (in addition to one pick in every round but the sixth) the team will be flexible on whom to take and when to select the players.  Looking at both the previous two drafts, one must feel pretty confident that Tom Heckert will give up later draft picks in exchange for fewer, earlier selections.

In 2011, after trading down from pick number six to twenty-seven, the Browns’ general manager was willing to part with a third round selection in order to move up six spots to choose Phil Taylor.  Additionally, in 2010 the Browns traded up into the second round for Montario Hardesty, giving up a pair of fifth round selections and a third round choice for an earlier pick.

Looking at the ammunition they have this year, I could see Heckert moving some of the later selections (in the third to sixth round picks) to another franchise to pick up fewer but more valuable players in the draft.  Thus, the team will get better players who will not have to be cut due to the ample amount of rookies that would have been drafted.

Additionally, should the team trade down (i.e. from the fourth pick to a couple picks lower) I hope the team acquires more draft selections for 2013.  Currently, the team does not have as many picks next year as in this April so a few more would not hurt.  Include the compensatory picks (which could be a decent one should Peyton Hillis run wild in Kansas City) and the team could be in terrific shape once again.

Regardless of who they draft and where the players are taken, the important thing is the front office must select players who will stick around and contribute in the NFL for years to come.  Some will argue that more selections in a draft gives the team more attempts at finding the “right guy” at several positions.  However, there is so much roster turnover on an annual basis with injuries and free agency/trades that not all spots are guaranteed; this includes practice squad members (as other teams may need a certain position to fill their roster).  Also, having extra picks is no guarantee of success regardless of who is making the choices.  Finally, when attempting to keep the team under the salary cap, having to pay fewer draft picks only helps the franchise.  Depending on the draftees’ salaries, the team could be on the hook for additional millions of dollars which could cause problems obtaining players down the road.

Therefore, the recent developments should add another level of intrigue for Cleveland Browns fans in the April 2012 NFL Draft.  Not only has there been speculation whether the team will trade down from its first draft pick, there is a possibility of several trades in the later rounds to acquire earlier selections, assuming the deals can get done.  I am in the camp for the first happening (but only at the right price), but the second part could potentially help the franchise for next season and beyond.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in NFL Draft

 

Changing My Tune for April

Week 1 of Free Agency Changes My Tune for April

Although the Browns have not been too active in free agency (which was to be expected), I believe what the team has done will slightly alter their focus in the draft – at least in the earlier rounds.  With Washington’s trade, they are not going to draft Robert Griffin III, and my feeling of drafting offense vs. defense has altered in the past few days.

Last week, the franchise picked up Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker – both of whom are defensive ends.  Rucker has been known to be more of a run-stuffing player, while Parker has had an ability to rush during passing situations and create chaos for the opposing quarterback.

Together they will man the right defense end position opposite Jabbal Sheard – one that was in need of a serious upgrade.  Being the fifth-ranked team in the NFL in terms of points allowed, one would figure that only a few tweaks should be necessary for the defensive unit.  I feel the moves they made have created an above average defensive line and should they improve their run stopping ability (which was pretty bad last season – ranked 30th in the league), this could be an excellent area of the team.

Previously, I had hoped the Browns would use their #22 or #37 pick on a rush end (like a Nick Perry or Whitney Mercilius).   Fortunately, the franchise will now have more flexibility when deciding how to use these important selections on other areas in need, especially more dire areas.  I believe the team will now avoid defense altogether until the middle rounds with the lone exception being Morris Claiborne at number four.

That leads me to my next point:  not only has the team only added depth on the defensive side of the ball, they have actually removed (or lost) players from the offensive.   Some would see this as a negative as the team no longer has some of their talented players.  However, being ranked 30th in the league in scoring and 29th in yards gained leads to believe that the unit was not effective and jettisoning a player or two from the troubled area isn’t a terrible idea.

A few of the main losses are lineman – Eric Steinbach, Tony Pashos, and Artis Hicks.  Steinbach was a solid player for many years, but was released due to his age and expensive salary in 2012 (while the team is unsure of his health after being injured for all of the 2011 season).  An early draft pick by the Browns for a lineman would be an excellent substitute for the long future.  The remaining two tackles are easily replaceable, and I have faith the team will do just that in the next few months.

The Peyton Hillis loss could prove to be huge, should he have a tremendous 2012 season for the Chiefs.  However, the team’s win-loss record differential between 2010 and 2011 deemphasizes his importance of the outcome of a game.  A fantastic year in 2010 and a horrible 2011 campaign by Hills resulted in one less victory.  Although, this is not to say the team does not need a quality back on the roster.  It says that the locker room headaches and his contract issues with the front office were too much and the team is looking to go in a new direction.

The Browns may not have to use a very high pick when searching for his replacement, as this position is very deep in talent when looking at available running backs in the draft.  Should they feel Trent Richardson would be a pro-bowl caliber player for the next decade, this theory is then negated.

Reviewing what occurred for the Browns last week, I have learned that the team must focus primarily on offense in the draft – at least in the beginning.  The first three selections (assuming they are not trading and are confident with their current quarterbacks) should center around wide receiver and offensive lineman – while the third selection is a crapshoot of where they can go (running back, cornerback, or linebacker).

Of course, if the front office does not feel the team is settled at the quarterback position, this would likely be the third area of focus in late April.  What makes this fun is this situation is fluid and can change next week, should the team make a move or two at a position of need.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in NFL Draft

 

Free Agents and Affecting the Draft – TEs, DEs, LBs, and DBs

Continuing with the rundown of free agents who will affect a few teams (possibly the Browns) here is a list of a few guys on defense (along with tight ends) that could affect several franchises either in March (and April)

Tight Ends – John Carlson, Martellus Bennett, and Visanthe Shianco

My take:  This position group could be influx as the Browns have Evan Moore, Cameron Jordan, and Ben Watson currently on the roster.  None have been released yet; this leads me to believe that the team will retain all three players (or two along with Alex Smith).  Should the team see one available as a significant upgrade, expect the Browns to sign one of the options.

Browns’ move:  While none currently on the roster is a dominant player, I would be shocked to see the team investing any more in this position.  I feel the team does not value tight ends as much as other teams and therefore would not spend top dollar for a free agent.

How it relates to the draft:  The only way I could see a tight end draft pick is if they trade or release Ben Watson who is the oldest and most expensive player in the current unit.

Defensive Line – Mario Williams (end), John Abraham (end), and Derrick Harvey (end)

My take:  The prize of a defensive lineman in the 4-3 scheme is Mario Williams, the former number one overall pick in 2006.  Abraham has been a perennial reliable defender but is older and his value could be seen as declining.  Harvey was a top selection a few years ago but has seen as a disappointment from the perspective of where he was drafted.

Browns’ move:  The Browns will more than likely not be signing Williams this season, which is against Tom Heckert’s philosophy of building through the draft and not free agency.  I believe the front office sees Abraham as too old to sign and Harvey as too inconsistent to be given a shot.  They could pick up a low risk, cheap asset however.

How it relates to the draft:  I want to see the team use either their #22 or #37 selection for a defensive end (provided there are no trades) instead of signing a big name free agent defensive end.  Nick Perry or Whitney Mercilus are two of the front-runners in my eyes.  I like the tandem of Athyba Rubin and Phil Taylor up the middle, so they do not have to focus as much here.  However, should a Devon Still or Jared Crick drop to the late rounds, I would be all for it.

Linebackers – Dan Connor and Curtis Lofton

My take:  I have a hard time seeing some younger, dependable veterans whom the Browns would covet over free agency.  Lofton will likely be more expensive of the two, but will not command as large of contract as some of the other free agents. One has to believe the Browns will take a look at this position group in the offseason in both March and April.

Browns’ move:  I would be fine with the Browns going for either of these two players (or one in the similar mold).  D’Qwell Jackson proved he could play well, while Chris Gocong has been serviceable for playing some of the time.  I am unsure of what will happen with Scott Fujita as he is 32 (and is going through the bounty scandal in New Orleans).  Kaluka Maiva has shown some ability, but is too inconsistent at this point to be deemed as an NFL caliber starter.

How it relates to the draft:  The Browns should definitely select a linebacker (or two) during the draft – at worst for depth or special teams purposes.  Jackson is the only playmaker currently, and there is no one that offenses fear each play.  If a Zach Brown or Sean Spence slips or a Tank Carder becomes available later look for the Browns to use a pick on them.

Secondary – Carlos Rogers (safety), Cortland Finnegan (cornerback), Brandon Carr (cornerback)

My take:  I like the possibility of the Browns signing any of the three available free agents.  For the right price the front office could offer incentives like playing on a young defense, across one of the better cornerbacks in Joe Haden, or with a physical safety like T.J. Ward.  One of these three would immediately improve the secondary.

Browns’ move:  Assuming they would not have to overpay in free agency, I am looking forward to the Browns signing a free agent secondary player.  What they do with Sheldon Brown (moving him to safety, keeping him at corner, or releasing him outright) will help determine which position they will target in March, if any.  Like any other position, if the price tag gets too high, the Browns will move on from these players.

How it relates to the draft:  Whether they sign a free agent or not, a secondary member should be drafted in April.  Besides special teams, the defense needs speed to compete on a weekly basis.  If the team avoids the secondary in free agency, Morris Claiborne might be selected at pick number four for the Browns.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Free Agency, NFL Draft

 

Free Agents and Affecting the Draft – QBs, RBs, WRs, and OL

In a few days a new chapter begins in the NFL offseason – free agency.  Although the Browns make not make too many acquisitions in the market for available players, what occurs next Tuesday and beyond could make a large impact on the NFL draft.

Breaking it down by positions, here is a list of a few guys on offense (tight ends removed) that could affect several franchises either in March (and April).

Quarterbacks – Peyton Manning, Alex Smith, and Matt Flynn

My take:  There’s a zero percent chance of Peyton Manning playing in Cleveland next season.  However, should someone like Miami or Arizona sign the veteran, the draft will instantly become more exciting.  Peyton’s release all but guarantees the Colts will draft Luck, while a suitor for Robert Griffin III is removed for the Manning signing.  The same can be said about Flynn and to a lesser extent Smith, although Flynn is deemed to have a larger upside and will likely be more coveted.

Browns’ move:  I feel the team should stand pat while others snatch up (and possibly) overpay for the higher priced free agent quarterbacks.  If they release Seneca Wallace, I could see the team taking an inexpensive younger play-caller in free agency.

How it relates to the draft:  Of course the largest question will loom about who will get Robert Griffin III and they will be willing to give up for him.  As of now, I am not sure of how the team feels about him – which is a good thing leading up to the draft.

Running Backs – Peyton Hillis, Michael Bush, and Ryan Grant

My take:  For the Browns, it all starts with Peyton Hillis in the running back class.  If they can lock him up for a few years, the team will avoid searching for another player to tote the rock in either free agency or the draft.  If Hillis leaves, the Browns could look at the other two listed backs who are both young and productive.  The question then becomes can the Browns lure these players from the other 31 teams.  Likewise, should the team not sign any free agents here, there are many available in April.

Browns’ move:  I hope the team can find a way to re-sign Hills to a modest three-year (or so) contract that is results’ driven.  This way the team is not investing too much in the player while he can still make a pretty good salary over the next few seasons.

How it relates to the draft:  No matter what they do in free agency, I would like the team to add a back in the mid rounds (i.e. Isaiah Pead, Doug Martin, etc.) at the very least.  Just look at last season to see that injuries (to Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jackson) caused the team to be in a terrible situation; depth and speed is necessary to get this offseason.

Wide Receivers – Vincent Jackson, Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, and Reggie Wayne

My take:  Vinent Jackson and Marques Colston will likely be the crown jewels of this year’s free agent class.  Both are fairly young and will likely go to the highest bidder among several franchises.  Garcon and Wayne are question marks now due to the Peyton Manning situation; Garcon is much younger but less polished as a receiver.  Additionally, Laurent Robinson and Robert Meachem could be looked at as viable options to help a team.

Browns’ move:  The Browns are not going to overpay in free agency, thus eliminating Jackson, Wayne, and Colston.  I would like the team make a run at whom they value the most among Manningham, Robinson, and Meachem (or even an Amendola-type).  However, it’s very unclear if any would come to Cleveland.  This position is in dire need of upgrading, so I would like them to get a younger, cheap free agent.

How it relates to the draft:  I’m also advocating drafting one early in April (be it Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, Mohamed Sanu, etc. to name a few).

Offensive Line – Carl Nicks (guard), Ben Grubbs (guard), and Jared Gaither (tackle)

My take:  Nicks is the headliner here and will garner a large, lengthy contract in the near future.  Grubbs and Gaither have been solid the last few seasons but are not as highly touted.  Additionally, there is a laundry list of offensive guards, tackles, and centers available here; some are older or have battled injuries (i.e. Max Starks, Jeff Saturday, Matt Birk, etc).

Browns’ move:  Carl Nicks is too expensive for the franchise, especially for a guard.  I cannot see Grubbs leaving Baltimore for Cleveland (although it would not be the first time).  The only free agent that really intrigues me is Jared Gaither, who the Browns may or may not pursue.  One thing to keep in mind is that the Browns may seek a trade for a younger veteran whether it’s for a special teamer/fringe player or a late round draft pick.

How it relates to the draft:  Regardless of what happens in free agency, I want the team to draft a tackle in the mid rounds as I am terrified by the right side of the line.  They do not need to use an early pick as there is pretty good depth in this year’s draft for lineman (i.e. Andrew Datko, Brandon Mosley, and Nate Potter, etc).

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Free Agency, NFL Draft

 

D’Qwell Jackson – Player Profile

This past week, Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson received a five-year contract extension from the team.  Recently the franchise has not extended contracts from draft picks (especially earlier ones) from a few years earlier, Joe Thomas being the main exception. The D’Qwell situation is interesting based on what the man has gone through and the franchise’s confidence in the player in both the present and future.

Coming out of the state of Florida and the university of Maryland, D’Qwell Jackson was not a household name to many people from the Cleveland area.  However, after then general manager Phil Savage traded up for the athlete in the second round of the 2006 draft, fans were intrigued at what the linebacker was able to do in the National Football League.

His rookie season was met with moderate results – 93 tackles and no interceptions or sacks.  The team went 4-12 and instead of keeping the momentum going following the 2005 season, (a 2 win increase) the franchise regressed.  However the 2007 seasons brought hope for the team and fans alike.  The ten win season marked the Browns’ best record since 1994, while D’Qwell compiled 101 tackles with a sack and interception.  Although some people said coming out of college he was not suited for the 3-4 defense (which the Browns ran at the time) Jackson was making strides.

Unfortunately for the team, they did not qualify for the playoffs that year; injuries and inconsistent quarterbacking play led to another dismal season for the franchise in 2008.  Individually, D’Qwell had 154 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 interceptions though – by far his best year.  After playing two seasons for Romeo Crennel and being drafted by Phil Savage, Jackson would have a few new bosses in town and was unsure of what was to come.

Eric Mangini’s first year with the team was tumultuous for both the team and D’Qwell Jackson.  Against Pittsburgh in the sixth game, he tore his pectoral muscle and went on injured reserve – prematurely ending his 2009 season.  The defense never was consistent the remainder of the season, however the team managed to win a few games at the end.

That offseason (August of 2010), Jackson took a trip to Africa.   He noted it as life changing and helped deliver goods and supplies to some of the more poverty-stricken areas near Sierra Leone.  The residents were extremely gracious, but what resonated with the NFL player was how they were able to live their lives on so little.  After returning, D’Qwell said he came away “a better man”.  This enhanced one of his many examples of internal drive to make the most of what was given to him and always give everything he has.

Coming off an injury-shortened season in 2009, Jackson was determined to get back on track and improve his on the field performance following his trip.  However, another unfortunate injury occurred in training camp for the linebacker.   Before the regular season got underway, D’Qwell tore his other pectoral muscle.  After much speculation and debate whether he could return during the year, the team decided to once again place the athlete on injured reserve once again ending the season.

What makes is so heartbreaking was the excitement in Jackson’s voice as he vowed to return to form during the 2010 season.  When the injury occurred, D’Qwell had a look on his face where he knew what had just happened.  The player was deeply saddened and depressed by what information was to come by a doctor.  Nonetheless, Jackson once again continued to rehab during the offseason in hopes to get another chance to play in 2011.

For the Cleveland Browns, there were once again a few personnel changes following the 2010 season.  Eric Mangini was released which led to the hiring of Pat Shurmur, while then general manager George Kokinis was fired in 2009 and was replaced by Tom Heckert.   D’Qwell Jackson was five years into his career but was already on his third coach and general manager.

However, at this point, the rookie contract of Jackson was set to expire in March of 2011; with new personnel entering the franchise it was difficult to speculate who was going to be kept and who was not.  Fortunately for D’Qwell, he was given a one-year contract with the team that drafted him a few years earlier.  It was most likely a difficult decision as some people likely felt that Jackson would never be a productive NFL player after two severe injuries.

The end result was not a good season win-loss wise, but D’Qwell made the most of his opportunity to impress the new personnel in the front office.   He had 158 tackles (second most in the entire NFL) along with three and a half sacks and an interception; his new best season as a pro.  Despite one of the better performances in the league, Jackson knew he was going to be a free agent this March if a new contract was not signed prior.

Last week, D’Qwell was given his five-year $42.5 million dollar extension from the Cleveland Browns.  The following emotional press conference with Jackson and Mike Holmgren was a powerful one; D’Qwell thanked the team several times for sticking with him and never giving up.  A few tears were shed and Jackson lost his composure after mentioning he would retire as a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Over the past season, D’Qwell has become a fan favorite of many of the Browns fans.  They want to see him continue to succeed; he has shown to be a quality individual on and off the field.  For the several athletes who routinely make judgment errors, Jackson has been the opposite.  It was quite refreshing to see the franchise go all in with D’Qwell; he said he wants to be a part of the Browns when they finally win a Super Bowl.  And as a Browns fan, I hope that comes true – and sooner rather than later.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Players

 

Learning from the 2012 Combine – What I Took Away

A few things I learned from the 2012 Scouting Combine:

– The price of obtaining Robert Griffin III rose dramatically

After several outlets speculated that Griffin would perform well in the combine, he came out and exceeded what everyone envisioned.  He measured in taller than what was projected, while interviewed exceptionally.  He seems genuinely interested in being a terrific professional athlete while attempting to prove any “experts” wrong along the way.  He had received praise from several former teammates, which only helps his case as well.  Having his blazing 40 time of 4.41 did not hurt his chances either; there have been reports of teams willing to trade up several top draft picks for Griffin.

– The Browns are exhausting all possible options on offense

Thankfully, it has come to light that Cleveland interviewed as many combine athletes as possible.  This includes several offensive lineman (i.e. Mike Adams and Cordy Glenn) and wide receivers (i.e. Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd) earlier in the week – two of the areas in dire need of upgrading.  Interviewing Griffin III is a given, as not only does the team have interest, but they must not tip their hand should they choose another route for their quarterback of the future.

Outside of the defensive ends’ performances, not much was reported to fans

The defensive lines (ends) were and should be given a deep look by the Browns front office.  The team is one final piece from being pretty good in the trenches on that side of the ball.  Being one of the slower franchises in the league, the team must improve their overall speed.  Fortunately several defensive linemen (i.e. Melvin Ingram, Whitney Mercilus, and Nick Perry) ran extremely fast at the combine.  Coupling this with game film should give the Browns some pretty good options for a defensive end opposite of Jabbal Sheard.

– Tom Heckert’s absence was completely overblown

The illness (which was later confirmed to be heart surgery after much prodding by the media) that struck the Browns’ general manager was written and spoken about (it seems like) nonstop last week by many different outlets.  It was extremely unfortunate Heckert was not able to be there, however some people are implying this will lead to a disastrous offseason for the team which is a huge overreaction.  I have all the faith in the world that Holmgren, Shurmur, and other Browns personnel (and coaching staff) took the necessary notes and observations during the week.

In his post-season interview in January, Heckert stated his draft board was pretty much set for the April draft and only a few tweaks would occur in the coming months.  Therefore, the combine would not shake up his thought process to a point where his philosophy would alter and different draft selections would occur.  Also, it has been noted that Skype was used during interviews so the general manager would still have a chance to meet the prospects during the week.

– The combine is meant for lower round picks

This point should come to no surprise to rabid NFL fans; it has come very apparent when looking at the top players (according to the experts).  Athletes like Justin Blackmon, Trent Richardson, Robert Griffin III, and Andrew Luck did not fully participate in the combine and will be on display at their pro days next month.  Therefore, scouts should take as much from these displays (like size and personality) but they must also spend a majority of their time with athletes who project from late first round to possible undrafted picks.

This will come in handy in April for two reasons – breaking ties between multiple options and finding the correct value of players.  General managers will remember the impression one young man made (in February) over the other when making the tough selections during the draft.  Front offices typically peg players for a section of the draft they should be selected (i.e. fourth round).  Using the combine, a team can come away with a different value then a majority of the teams, which can be a positive or negative.  Perhaps other teams see this fourth rounder as a fifth or sixth, where the original team is able to select him – and is hopefully rewarded.  Likewise, a team could see something disturbing that would cause a player’s value to be lower in their eyes than most.  This would help avoid wasting selections on athletes who may not be the best man for the job.  As fans, we can only hope the front office and coaching staff spend time with the “right” guys who will improve the team over a long period.

– Bernie Kosar’s role with the team is a good thing

I’m very excited with the notion that the former quarterback in the 1980s and 1990s will be a scout for the NFL franchise he spent most of his professional career.  The cerebral play caller is extremely knowledgeable about football and knows what it takes to compete in the league.  Also, he should have a good grasp of what to look for in a quarterback, as Bernie was a very good player who had the mental capacity, physical abilities, and love of the game to sustain a long, productive career.  Also, another brain in the organization is definitely something this franchise could use.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in NFL Combine