Another Lull in the NFL Calendar
Last week was another slower time of year for the NFL; owners met in Arizona to discuss and (possibly) approve new rules changes. Most notably, the “tuck rule” was overturned (which would have overjoyed Oakland Raider fans if this occurred thirteen years ago). Should a quarterback pull the football inward towards his body and take it back out to throw, he will no longer be protected by this rule to disallow a fumble; should a defender jar the ball free. Also, almost all franchise owners agreed to outlaw runners using their helmet as a weapon in the open field. Rushers must now keep their heads up, when exiting the “tackle box” and venturing to the sidelines to meet defenders – or else a penalty and fine could occur. Browns’ fans enjoy that hit Trent Richardson put on Kurt Coleman in last season’s opener; it will be his last legal one of his career.
Free Agency Review:
The owner meetings came at a time that followed a period where several free agents switched teams, in addition to a veteran or two being traded. The NFL Draft does not occur for another month, but NFL front offices have pretty much solidified their rosters and are deciding where to focus their attention in April. For the Browns (as it stands), it appears they wanted to immediately improve upon their solid front of their defense. Their linemen and linebackers last season did adequate jobs, but a few available members were out there to improve the units. Gary Barnidge is a wildcard – he was signed to a meager contract and is unknown by many. However, if he can help out the team (as coach Chud is hoping), the tight end could be a steal.
Frankly, I support what the team did in free agency; they avoided “overspending” on one player, acquired relatively young (twenty-nine years and under) athletes who can excel over the next few seasons, and focused on areas of perceived weakness. Conversely, only signing a few players who are not expected to be “game changers” puts a fair amount of pressure on the front office to find the right guys during (and following) the NFL Draft.
NFL Draft Preview:
It’s still premature to speculate about whom the Browns will target with their first selection (and that will come in the following weeks), but it’s safe to say the team is weighing all of its options. Among the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and several Pro Days, the Browns have displayed due diligence regarding several players. They could go one of many ways at number six, they just make sure they get the right athlete. Not having their second-round selection (due to the Josh Gordon supplemental pick last season), and the front office must find a few gems in the later rounds as well as getting talented athletes early (assuming they do not trade back for more selections).
Finishing consistently last in the AFC North and drafting early, year after year, and the team must find a way to make a huge jump in the offseason. Veteran leadership helps with this (bringing in NFL-ready players), but more importantly, the younger players and coaching staff must think and act like winners. A new, positive mentality off the field has to be transferred to Sundays in the fall. 2013 is a great opportunity for the Browns; especially with new leadership at multiple levels. Also, the door is as wide-open as it has been for years – both the Ravens and Steelers’s rosters appear to be weakened during the offseason.
Cleveland Browns – Locker Room State of Mind:
During the Arizona meetings, owner Jimmy Haslam stated the Browns will “not go 13-3” in 2013, which will likely be the case – however, hopefully everyone in the organization feels they can win any, and every, game (regardless of opponent or situation). Changing things up starts up top; Haslam and Alec Scheiner have commenced many aesthetic changes with the team (involving the stadium, offices, and potential uniform upgrades).
Beginning in April when the team gets back together, the positive atmosphere surrounding the team falls upon the coaching staff. Listening to Chud speak about the roster, he appears to be more open and upbeat (and also, less combative) than his predecessor was. It also seems that the coach is ready and eager to get started with his players; I look forward to hearing about upcoming camps and meetings. A solid program and way of thinking (while knowing how to deal with negatives appropriately) will be laid soon – before several rookies enter the facilities later in the month.