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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Righting the Wrongs – Then and Now

Righting the Wrongs – Then and Now

Learning about Coach Pettine from “Collision Low Crossers”

After finishing up the book by Nicholas Dawidoff, there were a few takeaways that can be applied going forward.  After Rex Ryan, defensive coordinator (at that time) Mike Pettine was mentioned more regularly than any other Jets’ personnel by the author.  Obviously, there are differences between that 2011 franchise and the 2014 Cleveland Browns, but two constants were the aforementioned coach and now current defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil.  Despite back-to-back AFC Championship game appearances, the Jets took a step back in the time that Dawidoff was working inside the franchise.  Let’s review a few issues that can hopefully be eliminated from Cleveland.

The Defense’s attitude about the offense divided the locker room 

The author mentioned time and again that the 2011 New York Jets felt like two separate teams – an offense and a defense.  With good reason, the defense (who enjoyed great success over multiple seasons) felt they were dominant enough to win contests alone, and all the offense had to do was not lose the game.  However, this feeling led to negative words and actions directed towards the offense.  A divided team like that will not likely be able to function properly; this was the case for the Jets.  Pettine (in the book) debated bringing that problem up with Ryan, but opted not to go over his boss’s head.  In 2014, the defensive-minded leader should now be able to get a sense of how the team interacts and extinguish any possible issues.  If losses occur due to one side of the ball failing, there will no doubt be hard feelings.  But the Browns’ locker room should be nothing like the one Pettine was a part of three years ago.

Several personalities did not foster any sort of cohesion

There were two main culprits for this; one of the offense and the other on defense.  Santonio Holmes was concerned more with his individual statistics than his unit or team’s overall success.  Clearly, this was unproductive and further harmed the struggling offense.  Likewise, Antonio Cromartie’s failure to accept criticism in team meetings was a thorn in his defensive coordinator’s side.  Despite the fact that these are the largest rosters in professional sports, each member (players and coaches) must be on the same page and work towards the common goal.  As it stands, I do not see any “selfish” athletes on the roster – but that is subject to change, unfortunately.  The players seem to want to improve and understand what it takes to be a solid professional.  Should any rookie or veteran get out of line, I anticipate Pettine to use his experience in New York to guide his roster.

Dysfunction lingers within an NFL team

This is an expansive area that could rear its head in Cleveland; with any luck Pettine can minimize it.  In 2011, it was rather evident that few felt hopeful when Mark Sanchez was under center.  He was specifically instructed to take sacks and not force passes among several defenders.  The lack of confidence at the most important position in sports did not go unnoticed.  Will the Browns give the reins to a rookie signal caller this season?  There’s a reasonable chance that will be the case – the coaching staff must excel at providing positive support behind this quarterback.  Additionally, the general manager (at the time) Mike Tannenbaum pulled rank and selected Scotty McKnight in the seventh round of the draft.  This was to the chagrin of the team’s scouts and head coach, who all felt the wide receiver (who was a childhood friend of Sanchez) was not worthy of being drafted.  As a result, there was animosity and the author mentioned contempt within the franchise (even months later).  The 2014 Draft is critical for the Browns and all members, from Ray Farmer to entry-level scouts, cannot have friction during or after the first weekend in May.

Conclusion:  Coach Mike Pettine is a knowledgeable, experienced leader who has seen a fair share of athletes since joining the NFL in 2001.  I expect him to flush out some of the problems he has seen while being the defensive coordinator in New York.  That’s not to say this year’s Browns will be dominant or Super Bowl-caliber, but hopefully they can have an edge on teams who are dealing with these kinds of issues.

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Posted by on March 23, 2014 in Front Office/Coaching, Players

 

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Free Agency – The Faulty Beliefs

Free Agency – The Faulty Beliefs

The common misconceptions of free agency

Each spring, many NFL fans tend to succumb to amnesia and get overtly excited for free agency.  This is especially true for less than spectacular franchises (record-wise) like the Browns, who are coming off yet another 4 – 12 season.  While this portion of the NFL season is very important, this is not the time for front offices to try to transform their roster from continual losers to perennial Super Bowl contenders.  However, some get caught up in the media frenzy – let’s dispel a couple myths that surround free agency.

Underachieving teams should place no limits on getting better during free agency

Clearly, the goal of any organization is to improve on a daily basis.  One way to accomplish this in professional football is to acquire talented athletes to fill out the roster.  However, teams must be careful when selecting guys to join their squad.  This is true no matter if that team is the New England Patriots or Jacksonville Jaguars.  Acquiring a talented prospect like Jairus Byrd would have strengthened the Cleveland Browns’ secondary immensely, but would that move have changed the franchise’s fortunes?  The odds are against it, and therefore salaries should be allocated elsewhere (which will be the case), especially in parts of the team that impact the game more regularly – i.e. quarterback, pass rusher, left tackle, etc.

Getting game changers is a way to win before the season starts

This refers to wide receivers, running backs (to a lesser extent as of late), quarterbacks, or secondary personnel on a football team.  Again, there’s no doubt these athletes will bolster a roster, but the price tag might be extremely hefty with these guys who are unlikely the best at their position – otherwise they would not be free agents.  Teams like the Browns can still upgrade their rosters with skilled players at these spots but they should sign reserves or part-time starters to modest salaries.  Franchises must go for the “home runs” in the draft – where they can work with young guys and mold them into playmakers, who then earn huge contracts after re-signing with the franchise that drafted them.

Veteran athletes are wise investments

Unless a team is like the Denver Broncos, and they sign Wes Welker, it’s extremely hard to justify why an NFL franchise ought to wrap up a top-dollar free agent.  Can a single guy join a dominant team and propel them to win the Super Bowl?  It has happened before (i.e. Reggie White, Shannon Sharpe, and Drew Brees to name a few), but the Browns should not roll the dice.  A veteran like Jay Cutler, who was re-signed by the Bears (at $18 million per year over seven seasons), does not seem like the best quarterback for a team who has missed the playoffs (under his watch) each of the past three seasons.  Therefore, while some bargain options can be worthwhile most veterans are “buyer beware”.

Conclusion:  I view free agency as the walls and siding of a house; they are extremely important in the building of a house but there are other important aspects that are necessary.  This May, the Browns need to find their bricks/foundation (franchise quarterback), a masterpiece artwork (an offensive game changer), and a solid room or two (linemen and linebackers) in the upcoming draft.  The athletes the Browns choose are not guaranteed to excel, but the odds are better that they will produce better than some free agents available now.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Free Agency, Players

 

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Latest Roster Moves: Cleveland Browns

Latest Roster Moves: Cleveland Browns

Recent Cleveland Browns transactions (and non-transaction) 

In the window of time before free agency begins, a couple of decisions were made regarding players on the Browns’ roster.  Each spring, an NFL franchise could apply a tag – either a franchise or transition – on a pending free agent.  The difference is the former comes with a higher (one-year) salary, an ability to recoup draft selections should another team sign away the athlete, and an obstacle for other franchises to set the player’s market price.  The opposite is true for the transition tag, a tool utilized for the first time ever by the Cleveland Browns.

Placing the transition tag on center Alex Mack:

This definitely came out of left field, as many outside of the organization believed Mack would either get re-signed or signed by another team.  The positives for doing this are saving roughly $1.6 million (as opposed to the franchise tag tender) as well as the Browns can now match any competing offer; which will likely not be an egregious amount.  However, there is a concern as  this move is likely for 2014 only.  It’s beginning to feel like Mack will not be here long-term, whether he becomes too expensive or simply wants to play elsewhere.  I anticipate the Browns will take a center in the upcoming draft (like a Travis Swanson or Weston Richburg) and possibly plug him in at guard and transition him to the middle in 2015.  I’m a little leery of the transition tag, but I hope the front office can solidify the center spot for years to come (regardless of the athlete).

Not placing a franchise tag on T.J. Ward:

Another somewhat intriguing decision by general manager Ray Farmer was to not place a tag on Ward.  Safety is a position that comes with one of the lowest franchise tag tenders, so it’s expected that teams would likely use it with athletes at that spot – provided a multi-year deal is not agreed upon.  Currently, that’s the case between the Browns and the former Oregon star.  I feel Ward’s fourth season really increased his value (and would argue that he is somewhat over-valued), so there’s a good possibility he played his last home game at First Energy Stadium.  The team wants an athlete stout against the pass; i.e. Jairus Byrd.  Will the Browns sign the free agent safety of the Buffalo Bills, to replace Ward?  His salary could be rather hefty and the team will be in competition with other franchises, so that might not occur.  Assuming it does not, look for a Jimmie Ward, Deone Bucannon, or a Lamarcus Joyner to be drafted in May to compete with Tashaun Gipson.  Should Ward leave, I would not be upset as the team has solid options to replace the veteran.

Releasing Davone Bess:

Disappointing does not even begin to describe the type of season the wide receiver had after being traded from the Miami Dolphins.  Bess had multiple drops (fourteen in total), a critical muff of a punt in Kansas City, and did not finish the 2013 campaign due to troubling mental issues.  Granted, the team may still owe his 2014 guaranteed salary of just over three million dollars (although they will seek to recoup that amount).  However, this is still an extremely smart move as the Browns have ample money under the salary cap and can wipe their hands clean from this failed experiment.  Another wide receiver will be chosen to complement Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron; I like a replacement (realistically, an upgrade) taken with the twenty-sixth or thirty-fifth spot in the draft.  This was a no-brainer decision and I hope Bess gets the help he needs going forward.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Free Agency, Players

 

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