The GZL's Cleveland Browns appeared to be on a nice upward trajectory after Paul Willis arrived to his hometown team. While they did have a rocky finish as Willis transitioned midseason in 2018, 2019's team was one of the surprises of the league. Going 11-5, claiming their first ever AFC North championship and nearly defeating the Titans in the divisional playoffs had the front office thinking aggressively. They mortgaged the future in order to grab playmakers in HB Le'Veon Bell and WR Ulysses Moore from Miami in an unprecedented deal that saw the Browns give up basically every early pick they owned in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. On top of that, Willis doled out big money to veteran WR Demariyus Thomas and QB Howard Christensen in hopes of making a run through the playoffs en route to that elusive Super Bowl victory. Unfortunately things did not turn out as planned and the team got off to another terrible start. Unlike 2020, the furious finish to the season was not enough to send the Browns to the playoffs and Paul Willis finished his season as the "first team out" for the FOURTH time in his frustrating GZL career.
Howard Christensen surprised many by beating out Boston Mallett as the opening day starter despite a poor showing in the preseason. In week one against the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, Christensen seemed to justify that decision by throwing for a GZL record 601 yards. Four receivers topped 100 yards for the Browns on the game, but in what would become a trend on the season, they were not able to seal the deal and lost 36-35 on a last second field goal. Christensen went cold over the next 3 games and the Browns went from a hot Super Bowl pick to 0-4 just like that. Boston Mallett would regain his starting gig in week 5 and lead the Browns to a 2-1 record before getting pulled again in favor of Christensen due to an inability to take care of the football. Aside from an awful performance against the lowly Colts, Christensen was able to perform the game manager role up to the team's expectations on his second go round as starter and the team finished the season 7-2.
The inexplicable loss versus the Colts was frustrating, but the game that ultimately took the Browns out of the playoffs was a 38-34 defeat in Pittsburgh that saw the not so special teams unit give up two kickoff returns for touchdowns to Kenjon Barner. If either of these had been stopped, Cleveland likely would have taken the game and improved their final record to 10-6, which would have been good enough for the 6th seed and a second straight playoff appearance with the team playing as well as anyone in the league at the time. As it was, the team ended the season by winning 4 straight and 6 of their last 7.
Offensively, the quarterbacks were the problem yet again in Cleveland. Christensen finished the season with respectable numbers (52% completion, 7.93 YPA, 24 touchdowns) but his 17 interceptions typically came at the worst possible time, specifically early in the season. His counterpart Boston Mallett only started 3 games and won 2 of them. However, those who watched the games could easily tell you that Cleveland won in spite of Mallett, who finished the season with a 48% completion percentage and a paltry 5.48 yards per attempt. As of the time of this writing, Christensen has become a cap casualty despite the Browns' preference for him. Boston Mallett's contract is a handcuff the team has been eager to break since Willis arrived, but the team has at least one more season to invest in the giant with the big arm.
The Browns thought they had a new set of triplets when they acquired HB Le'Veon Bell and WR's Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore. Bell struggled early while the team decided to let Howard Christensen try to throw for 600 yards every week unsuccessfully but eventually broke in to a rhythm and finished the season with 1649 yards at a 4.58 yard per carry clip. This was good enough to finish 6th in the league in yards but just 16th per attempt. While the offensive line is substandard, Cleveland was hoping that Bell would be able to elevate the play in the backfield despite not having the best 5 in the league in front of him like Trent Richardson had for Willis in Houston. Thomas and Moore both finished with over 1000 yards on the season and had 76 catches a piece. Unfortunately, they did not provide the explosiveness the team was hoping for and combined for 23 drops(15% of catchable targets were dropped). Thomas has lost a step but is still a viable starter in the league and the team expects a step up from Moore in 2021.
As many opportunities as the offense left on the field, they did still finish the season 3rd in total yardage and 7th in points scored. The defense was the unit that took a big step backwards in 2020. The D finished 14th in total defense and 18th in points allowed but perhaps the biggest disappointment was the inability to get to the quarterback and create turnovers. The surprise 2019 Browns made the playoffs in large part to a defense that led the league in sacks and turnovers. In 2020 the Browns finished 20th in sacks and 9th in turnovers. The unit did solidify in the back half of the season which was a huge reason for the 7-2 finish, at one point the Browns were last in the league in both sacks and turnovers. So what happened? The most obvious point was the drop off in production by defensive tackles Eddie Goldman and Malcom Brown, who combined for 18 sacks a season before but finished with just 7 in 2021. Cameron Jordan was an effective run stuffer at right end but fell short of his typical 7-8 sack performance and the linebacking corps completely vanished from the stat sheet with just 4 sacks as a unit (Ross Homan collected all four while subbing for the injured Zaviar Gooden). The good news is that Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 CB Emerson Dupree proved that he's not just a one year wonder by pulling down 5 interceptions. While it's not the 7 he had as a rookie and he gave up way too many catches, he still appears to be on track to be a mainstay for years and justify his draft position. Veteran safety Steve Griffin spent much of the season on the injured list and was only mediocre when he was in and will be allowed to walk in free agency.
Restricted Free Agency: No Point
Restriced free agency has always been a favorite of GM Paul Willis but this season was a definite exception. Previous Browns GM's left Willis with absolutely no one he felt was deserving of a tender on the current roster. The rest of the league had some intriguing players, but there were none with cheap tenders worth going after like in previous seasons.
Free Agency: I'm Broke
After going crazy a few seasons ago in free agency, Willis put himself in a position where free agency essentially had to be a hands off approach. With only 15 million or so earmarked after draft signings and the crazy amount of money getting thrown around, there was no way Cleveland could afford to take part in this exercise. The good news is the Browns felt pretty good about most of the team. They certainly would have liked to upgrade the offensive line, but ready made starters at those positions in particular were the ones receiving the most egregious deals this year. The Browns signed not a single player prior to the college entry draft.
Pre-Draft Trades: Pulled the Trigger
Well, it's almost like Cleveland took the offseason off, huh? Well after blowing their wad of cash in 2019 and blowing their wad of picks in 2020 there really wasn't much action to be had here. Aside from a very short conversation with Dallas revolving around a quarterback the Browns couldn't afford, the phones were extremely quiet all offseason long. Big contracts are keeping the team in check for the moment. Two of those, inherited from previous regimes, are particularly frustrating for Cleveland. QB Boston Mallett is as good of a quarterback prospect as you could ever ask for but for some reason he and Willis just cannot make the thing work. As much as Willis and Mallett would love to move on from each other, the once promising gunslinger would cost the team over 12 million in future cap penalties to move. Similarly, DE Cameron Jordan has been a mainstay in Cleveland for nearly the entire GZL era. He also has a giant contract and is over 10 YP so no one in the league is willing to pay anywhere near the value the club would need in order to eat his cap penalty. The final huge chunk of cash is self inflicted in the form of WR Demariyus Thomas, who regressed this offseason but still provides the team with a wily vet with the potential to put up Pro Bowl numbers. As it stands now, those 3 contracts make any significant moves very difficult.
The Draft: Searching for Gems
2.20 -- WR Josh Doctson - TCU -- After once again finishing the season in position to have the 20th pick in each round and having traded away their first to Miami a year before, the Browns felt lucky to find TCU's Josh Doctson available so late in the day. While he certainly isn't a ready made prospect, Doctson has good size and hands and with the right amount of attention he should be able to take over for Demariyus Thomas alongside Ulysses Moore next season if the Browns don't find a better option in the meantime. The team should have plenty of opportunities to devote training to him as the roster is nearly empty of any young talents that would normally take their attention away from an unfinished prospect like the former Horned Frog.
3.20 -- SS Sam Barbartsky - Rice -- There is nothing that stands out about Sam Barbartsky. He's got good speed, good hands, good agility, good acceleration and good awareness for a rookie safety. The Browns needed someone to take over for Steve Griffin and after passing on a safety in the second round in favor of Josh Doctson, were pleasantly surprised with Barbartsky as an option one round later. He will almost certainly start immediately for the safety needy Browns and, like Doctson, will benefit from the team's lack of progressable young players as competition. Eventually he could not only become a starter for the short term but a player who continues on in Cleveland for a decade.
4.20 -- QB Jacoby Brissett - North Carolina State -- Word is that the Browns were hopeful that Dak Prescott would be available at this selection. Unfortunately, despite the amount of talented signal callers in the GZL, there is still a market for a quarterback with potential in the draft and Prescott went much earlier than anticipated at 2.24. This didn't stop the Browns from taking one though. Brissett is a classic pocket passer which the Browns love, and while he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, he does have excellent starting accuracy and enough awareness to potentially start one day. It will take a Terence Bennett level investment, but the Browns may decide to begin grooming Brissett as the QB of the future now as they count down the clock on the Boston Mallett era.
5.20 -- LE Adam Kelly - Iowa -- The Browns needed a defensive end for depth and there's no cheaper way to do that than by drafting a guy late. Kelly has a good SPD/STR combo and if that was all that mattered he might see playing time one day. Unfortunately his acceleration is the poops and if he ever sets foot on the field Cleveland will be in trouble.
6.20 -- SS Marion Fournier - BYU -- Fournier is actually a pretty intriguing prospect this deep in the draft. Just an inch shorter than Barbartsky and certainly faster. The reason Fournier will not start is because his first step is so slow and he is a year or two behind with his hands and football IQ.
7.20 -- FS Russell Charboneau - Oregon -- Cleveland was still hoping to hit a homerun with a late round pick but Charboneau will only provide depth. Like Fournier he has a fancy sounding name and decent measurables, but also like Fournier, he has an extremely slow first step to the football and will not see the field very often barring injury.
7.27 -- DT Cepheus King - Miami -- The Browns had need of a defensive tackle to fill their roster. Defensive tackles are expensive to sign in free agency. Cepheus King's contract is not expensive. Now you know the reason Cepheus King is on the Browns roster.
Post Draft UFA: Bargain Bin
There really was only one goal in free agency this year: get a team on the field that would meet GZL's roster requirements. Out of this necessity Cleveland signed six players who they have no intention of ever seeing in uniform on an offensive or defensive snap. However, after all the mandatory signings were done the team was still left with a handful of cash to spend on someone who might prove useful. No starters were still around to be hired and none were really thought of as needed although the team did toy with the idea of making room to sign QB Howard Christensen for another season although that idea was quickly abandoned after looking back over his 2020 season stats.
TE Jordan Cameron is a player Willis has long admired from afar during his time with the Miami Dolphins. While the Browns are set with Lance Hendricks as their stud receiving tight end, they had absolutely nothing behind him worth mentioning. Cameron, although heavily regressed from his prime, is still a savvy vet with more athleticism than most who can also be a viable blocker in two tight end sets. Kendricks is no stranger to injury so this move could pay dividends not only in substitutions but if a more disastrous situation develops.
CB Leonard Johnson was a first round pick once upon a time by the Atlanta Falcons. While time has not been kind to that selection (most would call it a bust in production terms), that can't really be blamed on Johnson. He was as dumb as a box of rocks coming out of Iowa State and while he is still not ever going to be considered a field general, he has developed enough of a feel for the game to be a high quality backup. The Browns only had 4 cornerbacks on the roster prior to this pickup, so while not technically a requirement, it was considered a necessity by the front office.
Training Camp: Observations
Offensive linemen Burl Ragsdale and Octavius Warren have been challenging each other in the weight room. Both are converted college tight ends with tremendous athleticism but underwhelming power and technique. If one or both can develop a full game to go along with their outstanding quickness it would go a long way towards improving an already effective, if inconsistent offense.
Rookie CB Emerson DuPree is on a mission to become a better player than Buford McKay. While that is a tall order for the Oregon alum, he does seem a step quicker than he was in college, which was already very fast. He has taken his new partner in the secondary, Sam Barbartsky under his wing in an effort to get the third rounder ready to start alongside him on opening day.
WR Josh Doctson has a chip on his shoulder after being passed on until the second round of the draft. The 6'3" Doctson spent the summer at the home of fellow wideout Oliver Coleman and attended a speed camp with Ryan Swope.
Le'Veon Bell made it through the season but reports are that he was banged up nearly the entire campaign and pushed his way through it. He began an extensive routine with former injury prone halfback Fred Taylor during the offseason in an effort to mimic Taylor's transformation from an oft-injured talent in to one of the best backs in the late 90's/early 2000's.
Training Camp Battles: Fight For Your Right
Quarterback -- Jacoby Brissett vs. Cameron Green vs. Tony Bohannon
While Boston Mallett is still the defacto starting quarterback, the battle for the backup spot is up for grabs. Tony Bohannon was looked as a guy with some potential at the time of his drafting but has developed in to a wasted pick as he was released just prior to this posting. Jacoby Brissett is not game ready as of now, but could beat out Green based on his potential as the team sees him as a future starter if he gets opportunities. Knowing the Browns offensive line and Mallett's refusal to throw the god damn ball, it is likely whoever wins this battle will see plenty of time on the field in 2021.
Wide Receiver -- Ryan Swope vs. Oliver Coleman vs. Josh Doctson
Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore have the top two starting slots locked up. WR3, which is traditionally a deep threat in Willis offenses, is up for grabs between two veteran speedsters and the young talent Doctson. Coleman is younger than Swope, but Swope is taller. Coleman is faster, Swope is stronger. Swope has better football instincts, but Coleman has better hands. Throw all that out the window because Doctson is taller and is the one who needs the reps the most? It's a very close race right now and most likely won't be settled until after the preseason. Look for each to get opportunities with the starting squad during the preseason.
2019 Cleveland Browns: New Era Truly Begins
There have been some questions this offseason about how much dedication Paul Willis has left to his "dream job". There were even rumblings earlier this season that he might head back to Houston when that opportunity arose. It just seems that for whatever reason, the passion to build a winner has gone out of the organization. That said, the team has 2 winning seasons in Willis' first 2 full campaigns in orange and brown so there should be reason for optimism despite Boston Mallett backing in to the starting quarterback role again. The positive outlook is that without Christensen looming the Browns will tailor an offense to suit Mallet's skills. He only had 3 games to figure out a rhythm with Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore, and the offensive line should do a better job protecting him and opening holes for Le'Veon Bell.
Bell will be counted on again to be the focus for the offense whether or not Mallett gets his act together. If he can keep the momentum of a strong second half of the season rolling and produce a 5+ yard per carry total as the team envisions, it will be hard to fail. Even if he can come close, the team will feed him the ball enough to contend for a rushing title.
On the outside, one or both of Demariyus Thomas and Ulysses Moore must produce more. While both were solid a season ago, they didn't provide the fireworks that were expected and too often dropped big passes in crucial moments. With Josh Doctson joining to add more size in the depth and Oliver Coleman and Ryan Swope returning to reprise their roles as speedy deep threats and special teams aces, this group should be in good shape.
The offensive line is the biggest question mark outside of Mallett. Can the undersized but athletically gifted group create enough holes to propel Lev Bell to an MVP candidate while also keeping Boston Mallett protected long enough to have a halfway decent season? It may be a lot to ask as they are still very raw but it is certainly a possibility.
The defensive line returns in tact and should bounce back after the disappointment that was 2020. Free agent Cornelius Washington picked up his game late and finished with 11 sacks but he needs to be a more consistent force if he can be the Mario Williams mark II that he was imagined to be coming out of college. Aging vet Cameron Jordan is still a perfect fit at right end in this defensive system but he needs to produce more pressure on the quarterback. He was solid last season with double digit tackles for loss but his 4 sacks left something to be desired. The biggest piece of the puzzle is in the middle, where Eddie Goldman and Malcom Brown must prove that 2020 was a sophomore slump and not a sign of things to come. With the immense talent that both possess it is hard to imagine they finish 2021 as poorly as they did 2020.
The linebacking corps must stay healthy as there is basically no depth. Last season Zaviar Gooden's injury was softened by the presence of Ross Homan on the team. This year there is no one at that level who is ready to step in and take meaningful snaps. Shea McClellin had a career year a season ago and must prove capable of repeating that performance. His confidence should be at an all time high. On the outsides, Zaviar Gooden and Byron Pharr simply must produce more pressure from a 46 look. They combined for zero sacks in 2020, which hindered the defense's ability to get off the field too often, specifically late in games.
The secondary progressed well over the 2020 campaign but still needs to step to the next level to become elite. Emerson Dupree was a disappointment on draft day but he has been a sensation on the field. Another step up for him, along with a return to form for Pete Nickerson would go a long way towards a return to glory for this unit. Anthony Harris mans the free safety spot and is a cagey young veteran at this point in his career. He will be joined by rookie Sam Barbartsky, who will make mistakes early on but has the athleticism and hands to surprise with big plays.
The Browns are out of the conversation of playoff teams (once again left off the "Who's Next" list on the front page at GZL-Football.com) but the team knows they won the AFC North just two seasons ago and were merely a game away from returning to the playoffs a season ago. As always, the Browns will need to take care of business in the division first. If they can do that, the rest of the goal becomes much easier to define and tackle. It will all hinge on Boston Mallett returning to form so the Browns could finish anywhere from 3-13 to 13-3 in my opinion. Odds are, 8-8 and another disappointment.
The 2019 Cleveland Browns can easily be described as a pleasant surprise. After finishing the previous season at 4-12 while ushering in yet another new regime (this time led by lifelong fan and former Houston Texans boss Paul Willis), not much was expected from a Browns unit that lacked playmakers on offense or a dominant leader on defense. On top of that, Willis pulled a no show for the first four weeks of the season while working out a "personal situation". Despite being ruddlerless for the first quarter of the season, the Browns managed a 2-2 start that included a road victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. The team later dropped two in a row against division rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati after winning 5 of 6 and found themselves sitting at 6-5 with any potential tiebreaker against them. Despite all odds, the Browns ripped off five straight victories and got the self destructive assistance from the Bengals and Ravens that they needed in order to clinch the first AFC North title in franchise history.
Despite finishing 2-4 in the division the Browns managed to earn a home playoff game against the San Diego Chargers in the wild card round. The Browns secondary found themselves in unfamiliar territory when Blaine Gabbert started his day by shredding the defense through the air. Despite this, the defense managed to hold San Diego to field goals as opposed to touchdowns, and Gabbert was knocked out of the game for over 2 quarters by a violent sack from defensive rookie of the year candidate Eddie Goldman. In Gabbert's absense, 5th round rookie Kyle Washington proved less than up to the task. The Browns managed to amass a modest 13-6 lead by the time Gabbert returned late in the game. Picking up where he left off, Gabbert went on to lead a game tying drive late in regulation. Up to this point in the game, quarterback Boston Mallett was outperformed by even Kyle Washington. Fortunately for the home fans he chose the right time to get it straight and was able to lead the Browns down the field for a last minute game winning field goal that earned the team a trip to visit Tennessee in the divisional round.
Willis moved on in the playoffs to the matchup he both dreaded and embraced. Tim Nissen and the Titans were the arch rivals to Willis' Houston Texans for years and the two are not strangers to postseason battles. The first Nissen/Willis playoff encounter ended in a 3 point Titans victory and the rematch ended with the same result. Tennessee's defense completely smothered the Browns offense and although they kept the game close, the Cleveland defense just couldn't quite match the feat versus the Titan offense. Vince Rogers was held to just 24 yards on 14 carries but Christopher Henderson kept the offense on the field long enough to amass a 16-3 lead late in the 3rd quarter. Henderson's one big mistake was an ill advised throw over the middle that FS Anthony Harris snagged for a pick six and the only touchdown of the day for the visitors. The turnover made the score 16-13 but should have tied the game. On the prior drive the Browns managed to get as close as the Tennessee 1 yard line. On fourth and goal, rather than kicking a field goal to close to within 7 points, the team opted to run a toss that was easily stopped short of the end zone. The defense would give the offense one last chance at glory, but Boston Mallett finished out a horrendous day with a horrendous comeback attempt and the Browns went home deserving losers.
Despite the unceremonious exit from the playoffs the season can be considered nothing less than a rousing success on the whole, particularly for the defense. Cleveland finished 9th in yards allowed for the year but 1st in points allowed thanks to their league leading 54 sacks and 36 takeaways. Leading the charge up the middle was rookie 2nd round defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, who finished the season with 11 sacks in 11 starts. We can only wonder what kind of numbers Goldman would have finished with had the front office seen fit to put him in the starting lineup from the beginning of the year. As it is, Goldman is a legitimate defensive rookie of the year candidate, but will likely lose out to teammate Emerson Dupree. Rumors from Berea were that Cleveland was very disappointed they traded down from 1.5 and missed on the opportunity to take CB Buford McKay. Instead, Cleveland ended up with CB Emerson Dupree, the previously mentioned Goldman and OG Octavius Warren from the deal. In retrospect the Browns have to be delighted with the return they got for dropping five spots. Dupree broke the GZL rookie interception record with 7 and added 18 deflections to 34 catches allowed. While certainly not perfect, he showed the kind of promise that not even the most optimistic fan could have hoped for. Rounding out the defensive heroes was new MLB Shea McClellin, who was imported from Denver for former 3rd round pick FS Sully Santos. McClellin never managed more than 46 tackles as a Bronco and could be said to have been something of a bust. In his 7th season he energized his career by stepping in to a starting role and delivering with a 121 tackle, 18 deflection, 2 interception, 3 forced fumble season. The 6'3" 270 pounder has surprising speed for a man his size and appears to be a perfect fit for the defense. The best part of the deal is that he still has two years left on his contract.
Offensively, the Browns focused on playing it safe and chewing up the clock. Boston Mallett, who had the worst statistical season of his career the year before, bounced back with a respectable campaign. Despite the improvement, his 83.0 QB rating is as mediocre as it gets and Cleveland rarely put up big numbers through the air. The hero of the receiving corps was tight end Lance Kendricks, who had his best season since 2014, finishing 5th in the league among tight ends despite dropping 10 passes. Newcomers Ryan Swope and Oliver Coleman both had opportunities to start opposite veteran Carlton Mitchell but neither could provide the consistent deep threat the Browns were looking for.
Montee Ball was a priority free agent and was expected to contend for the rushing title by those within the building. Ball was underwhelming as the lead back over the first 6 weeks and was benched in favor of relative unknown T.J. Salaam in week 7. The 6' 242 pound Salaam is a former 3rd round pick of the Chargers and was signed as something of an afterthought after Ball was acquired but once given an opportunity he proved to be the better fit. Salaam finished the season with 1225 yards in 11 starts and was the only consistent offensive performer in the playoffs with 225 more yards.
Restricted Free Agency: Center of Attention
Restricted free agency is always a favorite of GM Paul Willis and this offseason was no different. The only target in 2020 was Buffalo center Demetrius Conway, who had the lowest tender applied and would cost nothing to sign but money. Conway lost his starting job 2 seasons ago and has struggled in limited opportunities since but is the kind of athlete that Willis covets and performed well enough as a rookie to give the Browns the confidence to allow Alex Mack to walk out of town.
Match-Eligible Free Agency: Lame
Paul Willis traditionally skips the match eligible free agency period but Cleveland had so much cap to burn this season that he went in on three players with what he thought were respectable offers. Unfortunately, the Rams matched on OT Ernie Bowman, the Packers matched on DE Bjoern Werner and the Bengals matched on CB Brent Parrish. The Browns did not exercise the match option on any of their own and this period ended with zero fanfare.
Pre-Draft Trades: Skip the Draft
The real story of Cleveland's offseason was a trade with the Miami Dolphins. Prior to that deal happening, the Browns were believed to be close to acquiring HB Gerard Campbell from Carolina but were eventually outbid by Denver and hesitated to make a better offer than 1.26 and Montee Ball. The team quietly shipped off OLB Sean Spence and a 6th round pick to New Orleans for their 3rd rounder and WR Norm Grace but the gamechanging deal happened just before draft day.
Willis was eager to acquire Miami WR Ulysses Moore after hearing Ben Harbinger was looking to move him but had committed their first round pick to Carolina as part of the Gerard Campbell deal that fell through. When it became apparent that Carolina was going with another offer Cleveland made its pitch but Miami was rethinking letting the athletic 6'4" wideout go. After scouting the draft class and coming away unimpressed, Willis countered with an offer that would send 1.26, 2.1, a future 1st and HB Montee Ball to Miami in return for Moore and HB Le'Veon Bell. After stewing on the offer for a few days, Harbinger and the Dolphins accepted. Bell, entering his sixth season, is an aging halfback on an expiring contract. This didn't stop the Browns, as he is still easily one of the most gifted backs in the league and the team had no players on the roster on the last year of their deal, so Bell will be back past this season. Cleveland is expecting very big things after the performance that T.J. Salaam, who some might call a poor man's Bell, was able to manage in 2019. Ulysses Moore is raw as they come but has the kind of athleticism that should allow him to flourish despite his lack of polish. After his offseason workouts with the team, scouts insist that there are only 6 players who match his combination of size, speed and acceleration. When you throw in his tremendous leaping ability, there's no one who compares to him.
Following the draft, the Browns were able to secure a bookend and mentor for the raw youngster in the form of Demaryius Thomas. The long time Bronco turned Seahawk was a cap casualty after just one season in Kansas City and is already showing signs of regression. That said, even at this stage in his career he is still an elite physical specimen and reminds the staff of Andre Johnson, who was around in the glory days when Willis' Texans were the top offense in the league. Cleveland is hoping the addition of 3 playmakers of the caliber of Thomas/Moore/Bell will help transform a bottom 12 offense in to a top 5 in an offseason's time.
The Draft: Skipped
2.26 -- CB Gabe Khristiansen -- The Browns debated between Khristiansen and QB Patrick Towles here. The corner was the pick largely because he can play a role early on in his career, whereas Towles might never start despite his great potential. Khristiansen compares favorably to 1.17 Kendall Fuller and will have the benefit of mentor Pete Nickerson. Likely a dimeback to start but could see nickel reps in the right matchups.
3.9 -- QB Tony Bohannon -- The Browns were disappointed but not completely surprised to find that Patrick Towles was taken at 2.30. The backup plan was Bohannon, who will serve as Boston Mallett's backup. Odds are Bohannon will not play any significant downs anytime soon barring injury or complete disaster and may never actually develop in to a viable starter in the league.
3.26 -- OLB Cody Dupont -- Dupont was drafted in large part due to his versatility, as he is large enough to switch to DE if the team so desires. After the signing of LE Cornelius Washington, it is much more likely that Dupont will be the primary backup across the linebacking corps.
It feels like a long time ago that Brad Mallett's Browns hosted the AFC Championship game. That's probably because it has been. Since falling just short of that most elusive goal in 2014, the Browns have had just one winning season in 4 tries and that year ended in an embarrassing wild card defeat in Kansas City. Mallett and his star quarterback Boston Mallett were supposed to provide the long suffering town with the consistency they've never had since returning to pro football's ranks. Sadly, Mallett the general manager stepped away from the sport following the 2015 season. Jim Rose stayed for the whole of 2016 but won just 7 games before leaving the city in his dust. Former San Francisco GM Russell Warner took the club back to the playoffs in 2017 but abandoned the Browns early on in the 2018 season.
Houston general manager Paul Willis had long coveted the Browns job while Mallett held it, but turned down an offer from Cleveland following Mallett's departure in 2015 because he wanted to see the Texans through to a championship. After back to back 9-7 seasons and no playoff appearances the next two seasons, Willis' seat in Houston was growing hot. Despite a 3-2 start, unrest within the front office in Houston and an unexpected opening in Browns town was the perfect storm for a homecoming. The Browns managed to win just 3 games during the 11 games of the Willis era and claimed a top 5 draft pick. Despite the disappointing results on the field, the acquisition of Willis gives the franchise a proven commodity and all but guarantees the continuity this team has so desperately needed for the past 20 years.
In Houston, Willis struggled to develop former first overall pick Kendall Irving in to a superstar after his first season ended with the Rookie of the Year award. In Boston Mallett, Willis gets Irving on steroids. The 6'8", 261 pound Mallett has one of the strongest arms in the league but has had just one Pro Bowl caliber season in his past 4 years. 2018 was no different, as the former Golden Domer experienced a career low 6.74 yards per attempt and a 52.25% completion percentage, his lowest since his rookie season. Mallett will have to improve if the Browns are to step back in to the role of contenders.
The Browns running game used to be one name, Peyton Hillis. The years have not been as kind since Hillis' departure, and while Johnathan Franklin and Ace Kirkland make a nice team, they combined for just a pedestrian season and rarely took over games. Former first round pick Brad Edwards was supposed to become the Donnie Avery of the North in Cleveland. Instead, he became more of a bit player after just 1 season topping a thousand yards. He came close in 2018 but stalled at 850 yards as the leading receiver for an anemic pass offense.
Defensively, the Browns had trouble figuring out who they want to be. The team bounced between 4-3 and 3-4 sets throughout the season, never really finding one combination of scheme or depth chart that truly dominated. The defensive line, lead by Cameron Jordan, was pushed around often. Once the team transitioned to a 3-4 defense the hope was that Jordan could maintain a solid pass rush but he managed only 6 sacks from the left end position and made less impact plays overall than at any other time in his career. The switch to the 3-4 was a more positive experience for newcomer Byron Pharr and veteran Sean Spence, who both managed 5 sacks in limited opportunities. Jon Bostic has become a D'Qwell Jackson redux, simply gobbling up tackles without seeming to be a particularly outstanding player.
In the secondary the Browns were once again led by Pete Nickerson, who also had the worst season of his pro career in 2018. Nickerson's devolution, inexperienced safeties being forced in to action and a general dearth of talent at the cornerback position were just too much for the Browns to overcome and the pass defense was porous all season long. The unit may have set a new record in futility as the entire secondary managed just 5 interceptions over the course of the season. Middle linebacker Jon Bostic managed 4 on his own. Revamping this unit would become a major offseason priority.
Restricted Free Agency: Get Some Depth
Paul Willis always loves to look for bargains during the restricted free agency period. His first offseason in Cleveland was no exception as the Browns pursued and obtained two quality depth players who could compete for starting time in 2019. Seattle WR Oliver Coleman has speed for days but is very raw. A fourth round pick of the Seahawks in 2016, Coleman didn't catch a pass until 2017 when he hauled in just 4 but earned a larger role last season while grabbing 29 passes for just over 400 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 6 drops are a concern, but the Browns felt like the upside was more than worth giving up 4.5 for.
CB Quentin Hamilton was tagged with the lowest tender and thus cost the Browns nothing to obtain other than a contract. A former third round pick in San Diego, Hamilton didn't see the field at all as a rookie and was traded to the Eagles prior to the 2017 season. The 6'2" Hamilton has great size, hands and football IQ but is only an average athlete. Despite this and quite a few struggles during the time he's seen on the field, he will have an opportunity to start when the right matchup presents itself in Cleveland.
Free Agency: Filling Gaps
Willis allowed some big name players to leave in free agency, including starting HB Johnathan Franklin, WR Brad Edwards, MLB Jon Bostic and future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas. Cheaper alternatives to 3 of those players were obtained during this period of the offseason but that was all that was accomplished during pre-draft free agency.
To replace Franklin the Browns brought in former Colt Montee Ball and former Charger T.J. Salaam. Ball is a former first round pick with good, though not great, size and strong measurables. Despite all the things to like, he's managed just 1 season of 4 or more yards per carry. Willis showed confidence that Ball can succeed in the right system by offering a 3 year $14.31M deal. Ball's new mate in the backfield is former Charger T.J. Salaam. Salaam, a 3rd round pick in 2016, is a large man at 6', 242 pounds who has decent athleticism to go along with his massive size. He did will with limited opportunities as a rookie but was allowed to carry the ball only 9 times during his sophomore campaign before not earning a single carry in San Diego a year ago. The Browns hope the Chargers' trash can be their treasure.
WR Ryan Swope was a major target despite picking up Oliver Coleman in RFA. A busted 2nd round pick in Atlanta, Swope is another raw speedster and another player who just didn't earn an opportunity with his former employer. He will be expected to compete for a starting WR job and is an early favorite to handle kickoff returns.
Pre-Draft Trades: Pulled the Trigger
Willis started early, trading Russell Warner's first round pick DeVante Parker to the Chargers in return for a 2nd round pick and OLB Byron Pharr. Pharr showed flashes after finally getting a starting job and San Diego's 2 turned in to 2.14.
Another linebacker was acquired during the offseason, this time the Browns sent talented FS prospect Sully Santos to Denver to acquire veteran MLB Shea McClellin. McClellin is another talented athlete who has never gained the opportunity to start. 6'3", 270 pounds with speed intrigued Willis enough to deal Santos, who the team did like. McClellin will start in place of the athletically challenged but statistically golden Jon Bostic.
The biggest trade of the offseason turned out to be Willis' greatest regret (but we'll get to that later), as the Browns agreed to trade 1.5 to the Bears in return for 1.10, 2.10 and 2.29. The idea was that none of the Browns top targets would be around at 1.5, and there'd still be a solid option at 1.10 with a couple extra starters thrown in.
The Draft: Shouldn't Have Pulled the Trigger
1.10 -- CB Emerson DuPree -- Cleveland never dreamed that Buford McKay or Angel Rosario would be available at 1.5, this lack of faith led to the trade down with the Bears and the Browns grudgingly took DuPree here when they could've had the much superior McKay. Other than not being Buford McKay, DuPree actually is a solid prospect. With development, the 6 footer will be one of the most well rounded athletes at the position in the league and has very good football IQ and hands for a rookie. While he will always be compared to McKay in Cleveland, DuPree fills an important role as a legitimate starter opposite Pete Nickerson.
2.5 -- DT Malcom Brown -- Cleveland expected Brown to go in the mid to late first so were happy to take a flier here on the 6'2", 320 pounder. With speed to rush the passer and power to hold up against the run, there's nothing not to like about Brown. With the Browns expected to switch back to a 4-3, a player like this was exactly what the doctor ordered to go along with incumbent NT/DT Louis Nix...at least until...
2.10 -- DT Eddie Goldman -- Goldman is nearly a carbon copy of Brown, arguably better depending on what exactly you value the most. The Browns never thought both players would be around at this point and just couldn't resist the potentially elite middle that Goldman and Brown can provide together. With two versatile, dominant linemen lining up next to Cameron Jordan, Cleveland could now have one of the best defensive lines in the league.
2.14 -- OT Burl Ragsdale -- Ragsdale fits the Willis bill of extremely quick, though not necessarily the strongest, offensive linemen. Ragsdale has great football IQ but his technique needs a lot of work. Will be given every opportunity to beat out veteran plodder Jeff Otah at left tackle.
2.29 -- OG Octavius Warren -- Another very quick lineman with major technique issues. Cleveland will probably look to invest in a mentor or two in order to get the most out of Warren and Ragsdale, but don't be surprised to see both youngsters starting very early on in their careers.
3.5 -- OG John Filipovic -- Another lineman with athleticism, Filipovic has better technique than the two men drafted earlier but his football IQ is not considered very high. Will need development to see the field but could start at LG one day.
Post Draft UFA: TBD
Dating back to his Houston days, Paul Willis has long admired OLB Zaviar Gooden from his time in Philadelphia and San Diego. Gooden was a surprise cut, and Willis jumped on the opportunity to grab a studly linebacker to add to what is becoming the type of group that is required to run the 4-3 that can excel against the run and pass. The rest of the signings here were for depth purposes/mentorship purposes only.
Training Camp: Observations
Malcom Brown and Eddie Goldman became friends during the draft process and couldn't be happier to team up as professionals. Both men are extremely dedicated to their craft and have essentially lived in the training facility since rookie minicamp began.
Rookie CB Emerson DuPree is on a mission to become a better player than Buford McKay. While that is a tall order for the Oregon alum, he does seem a step quicker than he was in college, which was already very fast.
Rookie OG Octavius Warren has dedicated himself to improving his lower body strength at the behest of the training staff. Warren is very good at pulling but often has trouble on traditional power run blocking plays.
Pete Nickerson expects 2019 to be his breakout season and he's worked with team doctors and trainers all offseason to make sure he does everything in his power to avoid a potential injury that would derail his rise.
Training Camp Battles: WR Battle Heating Up
Outside Linebacker -- Zaviar Gooden vs. Sean Spence vs. Byron Pharr vs. Ross Homan
Essentially the Browns just have too much talent. With the switch back to the 4-3, there are 4 very talented players here and only 2 spots. Gooden and Pharr, both former Chargers, are the quickest of the bunch and Gooden particularly seems a lock for the starting ROLB spot. The left side is a little more up for grabs, but Pharr is the incumbent and proved his worth after coming over in the DeVante Parker trade last season. Spence and Homan could be put on the trade block, but will likely be kept around as very good depth.
Wide Receiver -- Ryan Swope vs. Oliver Coleman
Aging Carlton Mitchell still has gas left in the tank and is a lock to win the starting WR1 spot. WR2, which is traditionally a deep threat in Willis offenses, is up for grabs between two new acquisitions. Coleman is younger than Swope, but Swope is taller. Coleman is faster, Swope is stronger. Swope has better football instincts, but Coleman has better hands. It's a very close race right now and most likely won't be settled until after the preseason. Look for each to get 2 opportunities with the starting squad during the preseason and whichever looks better to get the gig, the loser will inherit the slot receiver role.
2019 Cleveland Browns: New Era Truly Begins
Paul Willis struggled after taking over the Houston Texans in the middle of the season in 2010. By 2011, he had a handle on his team and managed to win 9 games. The front office is hoping 2019 is similar for the Cleveland Browns. A lot of turnover has already happened as Willis has begun remodeling the franchise he grew up loving. The 2019 Browns will boast at least 13 new starters, but the most important one is still there.
Boston Mallett, much like Kendall Irving in Houston, must step up in order for this franchise to return to postseason play. The talent is proven, Mallett threw 38 touchdown passes during his sophomore season and bettered a 94 quarterback rating just 2 seasons ago. Mallett's best play came with Peyton Hillis on the roster, and while Montee Ball and T.J. Salaam may not equal a Hillis, the combo should be the best the Browns have had since his departure. The receiving corps is a major question mark with the exception of Carlton Mitchell and Lance Kendricks. If one or both of Oliver Coleman and Ryan Swope can break through and become a star, the Browns offense might really have a chance to do something in 2019.
The defense will have a totally new look with the upgrade in the middle of the line. Malcom Brown, Eddie Goldman and Cameron Jordan should thrive with the change back to the 4-3. All 3 men have the potential for double digit sacks, and while that will almost certainly not happen, if the pass rush improves drastically then the secondary that struggled so much in 2018 will benefit. A revamped linebacking corps with Shea McClellin at MLB and Zaviar Gooden at OLB will fly around the ball faster and stronger than the Browns have ever done in the front seven. Rookie Emerson DuPree will be challenged often and must avoid major rookie struggles as Pete Nickerson will be expected to step up and become the Pro Bowl caliber player Cleveland thought they drafted with the sixth overall pick in the draft 3 seasons ago.
If all goes well, the Browns are a playoff team. Willis' bad luck with rocket armed quarterbacks appears to be very difficult to break though and the offense is too new and too raw to be consistent this season. With a good defense and a good running game some of the time, the forecast for Cleveland is somewhere between 6-9 games, although 8-8 feels like right about where this Browns team stands right now. That kind of a confidence building year followed up with another positive offseason should have Cleveland back in to contention by 2020.
It is with a heavy heart that I must announce my retirement from the Cleveland Browns and from the Green Zone League. My years here have created mere modest success, but they have certainly been enjoyed. This has been a tremendously well-run and great league to be a part of and I'll probably keep an eye on things even when I'm gone. Should I ever find time to rejoin the GMing community I assure you I will be knocking on GZL's door before any others'.
Good luck to whomever the Browns' future GM may be, and good luck to everyone else here. May your offenses be airy and your defenses tight (oh good lord I couldn't stop myself from typing that).
Browns Beat: An Offseason Follows a Season of Success
By Cleveland Brown | GZL-Football.com Beat Writer
An Unlikely Play-Off Run
After two 7-9 seasons, 2nd year QB Boston Mallett jumped to elite status (finishing 1 vote shy of MVP), made Carlton Mitchell look like a superstar, and turned the Browns into a 10-6 play-off team. The rest of the team gelled together and made to the Super Bowl's doorstep before losing to the Jaguars in the AFC Championship. The team ranked average or better in every significant team statistic and sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl including 4 members of their offensive line. After 4 tough seasons under GM Mallett, the Browns arrived in year 5.
So What Now? An Offseason Recap
The biggest problem facing the Browns after falling to the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game was the looming offseason which featured ballooning salaries on key players and an almost entire lack of draft picks due to aggressive trading by GM Mallett to allow the play-off run to happen in the first place. The Browns had 3 main goals coming in:
1) Acquire draft picks while breaking out of the cycle of trading future picks to do so
2) Manage the salary cap to avoid breaking up core members of the team.
3) Move on from the Peyton Hillis era - the emergence of Mallett's aerial attack makes Hillis a bad fit - not to mention his inability to stay on the field.
Other Departures OLB Rick Jones - A Match Eligible FA, the Dolphins were able to pay Jones more than the Browns could. Jones was a rotational OLB and made starts during the play-off run, so this could be a bigger loss than it seems on the surface.
HB Peyton Hillis - I cannot imagine that 2.29 was the price the team hoped they could get for Hillis, but I believe moving on from Hillis is a good idea for this young talented team that looks nothing like GM Mallett intended it to.
Staying Put WR Carlton Mitchell - A fan favourite since his 9 TD rookie season, Mitchell landed 5 year $14.7m contract after collecting 1686 yards on 90 catches last year. This keeps him cap friendly for the next 4 years.
CB Brandon Harris - The coaching staff believe Harris and Haden can be one of the elite corner tandems in the league and Harris' 5 year contract locks him down for his prime.
OLB Ross Homan - The 3 year starter now appears locked in as a middle-of-the-road OLB for years. His contract is cheap enough that he could conceivably be bumped by a future transaction.
TE Lance Kendricks - Kendricks is a star at TE and the 7 year $21m contract keeps him reasonably priced for the rest of his career. Browns fans should be thrilled with this bit work by GM Mallett.
Drafted Rookies 2.13 HB Johnathan Franklin - The 6th HB selected, the Browns brass swear he was #1 on their board. Right now, Franklin looks a lot like incumbent Stafon Johnson but his ceiling is far higher.
2.29 MLB Jon Bostic - D'Qwell Jackson is in the last year of his contract and at 31 he won't be back next year. Jackson will teach Bostic this year and Bostic should be a roaming the middle for 10 years.
3.17 FB Lonnie Pryor - In the same vein as Bostic and Jackson, Pryor can learn the ropes this year and take over for veteran Lawrence Vickers who won't be back next year.
4.21 DT Pete Jones - A tweener, Jones is not likely to end up a starter for the Browns, but could provide a spark in relief.
Players Working to Improve Joe Haden and Boston Mallett have been focusing on improving their stamina so far this offseason and the coaching staff tells us there has been a measurable improvement.
Rookies Franklin and Pryor have both been in the weight room adding bulk to their college frames and Franklin has improved his 40 time and shuttle time since his combine numbers.
Training Camp Overview / Battles
The biggest battles will be between Bostic and Jackson and Vickers and Pryor. The rookies aren't expected to start, but I think that there is playing time to be stolen if the rookies continue to impress.
I think that with a few big plays in the preseason, Pete Jones could conceivably upgrade himself from backup to a rotational player. I think he'll have to prove himself in the weight room to have a real chance.
Rookie WR Brad Edwards hauled in 3 touchdown passes in the best game of his young career, and Stafon Johnson and Joseph Addairesoundingly declared their lack of need for Peyton Hillis by gashing the Steelers' vaunted run defense for 208 yards. The team trampled the Steelers for 523 total yards and 41 points en route to their 10th win in 15 games.
And we are going to the play-offs! Say it with me, Dawg Pound!
It genuinely has been a remarkable season, with various injuries inspiring several in-season roster moves, leaving the team with virtually no draft picks in this year's draft, but who the *beeep* cares, right? The Browns have finally found a way to make it to the games that really matter. The final group in the AFC is far from final, but the Browns will get at least the 6th seed with 10 wins.
They finish the season next week against a Ravens team who will more than likely have Adrian Peterson back and definitely has a lot of pride its wanting to exact, so an 11-5 record is absolutely not a definite.
Hillis has played just 2 complete seasons of the last 5. Addai has a working elbow.
GM Brad Mallett steps to the podium
Our team came up big this past weekend, beating the Ravens 26-17 to earn its 8th win of the season. Our play-off dreams remain intact. Unfortunately on his first carry of the game, Peyton Hillis dislocated his elbow and will miss the next 7 weeks. We have placed Peyton on IR to free up cap room to sign veteran running back Joseph Addai to help us meet our goal of making the play-offs and help us perhaps win a play-off game or 4. *chuckles with a hint of bitterness*
Addai is a cagey veteran of GZL who isn't as fast as he once was, but is still quick and agile and should help Stafon Johnson keep our running game alive while we face the Jaguars, Steelers, and Ravens in our quest to make the play-offs.
Browns Add Veteran Playmaker and Look Ahead To Seahawks
GM Brad Mallett steps to the podium
I'm very excited to announce that we have come to terms on a one year deal for veteran DT Kevin Williams. Williams had obviously had a distinguished GZL career and we're very lucky that he was available and eager join our team. At 34 years old, Kevin is in the twilight of his career, of course, but we think he's still a playmaker. Kevin's contract is a very reasonable $1m for the year. Kevin's happy he's back on a roster and we're happy he was willing to fit into our salary cap restrictions. We plan to bring Kevin into rotation along the defensive line in various ways, to help generate more pressure from our front 7. We think this will help out our pass defense which has been struggling this season.
To make room for Kevin we did unfortunately have to part ways with 3rd year WR Marshall Williams. Marshall has been a hard worker for us since we drafted him in the 7th round out of Wake Forest. He scored his first GZL touchdown just a few weeks ago and we hope he'll get picked up by another squad needing solid depth at WR.
We play host to the 3-2 Seattle Seahawks this week and we're hoping for another big win to keep us above .500. Our goal is the play-offs and we think we can achieve it. It will be an exciting game as we find ways to stop 3rd year phenom Cam Newton, who's statistical struggles don't match how dangerous he is on the football field.
When we used the 42nd pick in the draft to select Memphis kicker Patrick Gostkowski we knew he wouldn't be a super star from day one, but we did expect Patrick to be able to do something as basic as kick extra points. With a "success" rate of 33% (or, you might say, abject failure rate of 67%) after two games, it was clear we had not found an immediate solution to our Neil Rackers hangover. As Gostowski shanked XP after XP, Browns fans got to continue using last year's hit social media term, "Rackersed". As in "We got Rackersed" or "We are really suffering the Rackersing of a lifetime this afternoon", etc.
We still believe that Patrick will be our kicker for the next 15 years, but it's clear we needed an accurate veteran to get us through this season. Someone who can kick an extra point, if you will. So I'm annoyed to announce that we've reached terms on a 2 year contract with 38 year old Jay Feely. Mr Feely is known to kick extra points and then go sit on the bench and never be mentioned by fans ever. Welcome to the Browns, Jay.
Franchise OT Joe Thomas Signs 5 year $40m Contract Extension
GM Brad Mallett steps to the podium
I'd like to talk to you about Joe Thomas. Joe has been a pillar of excellence since arriving in Cleveland via the 1st round of the 2007 GZL Draft. He has always gone about his business in a professional manner while playing tremendous football at both left and right tackle. Indeed, Joe is certainly one of the best players on this team.
With Joe in the final year of his contract, and us living in this era of strenuous cap restrictions, we did explore Joe's value on the trade market. Everyone agrees that he is an elite player, but teams were ultimately in the same position as us - up against that tight cap.
So, with that being said, I am very excited and proud to announce that your Cleveland Browns and Joe Thomas have signed off on a 5 year $40m contract that will keep him a Brown through the 2018 GZL season.
A nice side effect of this is that it clears up a couple million dollars on this season's cap. We are using some of that to acquire 3rd year WR Tandon Doss from the St. Louis Rams. Doss provides us another playmaker at the WR position. This was immediately needed due to the injury to WR/KR Johnnie Lee Higgins and Doss will be a much welcomed addition to the offense even after Higgins' return.
Another year another QB. Famously betting the farm to move up and make Boston Mallett the 3rd QB of the Future under GM Mallett's rein, the fact the team stuck at 7-9 was perhaps not terrible. Mallett, for his part, looked pretty good, all things considered. He set rookie record yards (3546), attempts (522), completions (270), and came up two TDs shy of tying the record of 24. That the offense relied so heavily on him and he didn't fall apart is impressive. After managing two consecutive 16 game season, Peyton Hill went down in week 6 and never returned. His 2nd major injury in 4 years. Sensing a trend, the team didn't just hand the reins to their backups, but rather traded their 4th and 5th round picks for Packers HB Stafon Johnson who by the end of the season eclipsed 1000 yards for the 1st time in his career. 999 of them came in the 10 games he started with the Browns. Not bad at all. CB Joe Haden had another tremendous season, snagging 8 interceptions and earning Pro Bowl honours.
Perhaps the biggest story of the season was the ineptitude of Neil Rackers. The shanks he made were almost unfathomable, but they really happened. It's not difficult to fantasize that the team could have been 9-7 (or better!) had he not been so damaging to the teams' efforts to score points. The team actually scored more (333 pts) than they had in the previous year's 7-9 campaign (327) but the rush defense proved so ineffective that the team ranked 30th with 145 yards per game allowed.
Ultimately the team flirted with finishing with a winning record (they were at 5-5!) but not only lost hard fought contests to better teams, but also lost games they should have won (they were one of 3 teams to lose to the Colts, and lost to a 3-7 Chiefs team, although they finished 8-8). That they managed not to slide backward with a(nother!) new QB is reason for a smidgeon of hope, but it wasn't a season to write home about.
Off Their Game
Last season's trade to move up the draft so they could select Mallett included this year's first, cementing the 2014 offseason as one of unease for Browns fans. The Browns managed to hold onto their 7-9 record and showed some actual promise at times (us in Cleveland just really won't shut up about how good that 7-9 record would be if Neil Rackers hadn't had one of the worst kicking seasons ever). But instead of low key shrewd moves by the front office to do its best to give this year's team some improvements, the roster hemorrhaged over in an awful combination of salary cap ramifications and disastrous handling of them. Through no reason other than distraction, WR Robert Meachem was franchise tagged for $11m (sending the front office into a state best described as paniced hysteria) followed by a desperate attempt to trade Meachem and his salary away, followed by a humiliating release of Meachem and culminating in the Titans outbidding the team for Meachem's FA contract. Oy.
Gone also is RG Davin Joseph for a pick and RT Cornell Harrell they inteded to move to RG but who has refused to do so, stating "I will only play RT or move back to my original position - LT!" So that stunt cost the team another $3m as they gritted their teeth and signed former Brown LG Eric Steinbach. What a mess.
Gone is virtually every depth player on the roster - replaced instead with the player willing to sign for the least amount of money so that the team could squeak under the cap. Boston Mallett is now forced to attempt to improve in his sophmore season while having been stripped of his #2 WR. I can't imagine things getting better for him.
Despite all this, the team has 20 starters returning. Just 4 starters are gone. That two of the starters (Meachem and Joseph) were among the best players on the team is the issue. There is a significant loss of quality depth, as well. FS TJ Ward is gone. TE Ben Watson is gone. CB Tye Hill is gone, and some lesser backups that have been replaced with even lesser still backups.
Did I mention that the team actually traded away next year's 1st rounder? That's a thing that actually happened. With Meachem gone, the team desperately got back into the 1st round to snag a WR. Word is they had their eye on WR Josh Pietarila but the Redskins snagged him 6 picks before the Browns'. Instead of a WR who fits their system, the Browns take undersized burner Brad Edwards with pick 1.28, prompting one NFC executive to say, "I think you [GM Brad Mallett] just like drafting guys with the same name as you."
In the 2nd the team puts an end to Rackers Era and draft K Patrick Gostowski which was probably a reach, but he wasn't the 1st kicker taken.
With 3.6 they snag LT Matt Summers-Gavin with an eye toward moving him to OG, but word is they're keeping him at tackle for now.
The only other interesting choice was DE Gutierrez Rivera in the 4th round. Rivera will actually start at RE, ending the 4 season long reign of Phillip Merling at the position who was, you guessed it, cut for salary cap reasons.
The players are now left trying to make this a better squad after the distractions and losses the front office forced upon them. This has always been a team with strong work ethic and it's no different this year. I spoke with TE Lance Kendricks and he talked at length about how he's working hard to have a strong season with his mentor, Ben Watson, gone from the team completely. Kendricks snagged 37 catches and 5 TDs last year as the full-time starter with Watson in the backup role. Things will be a touch harder for Kendricks this year with the loss of Meachem and Watson. To his credit, I happened to be around during some 40 yard dashes and Kendricks has definitely gained a step from last year. WR Carlton Mitchell joked that he doesn't "get winded and go crying into his Gatorade nearly as quickly, either". Could a breakout year be ahead?
Talented 3rd year SS Steve Griffen has been running up and down the field with a bag of potatoes on his back every time he isn't scheduled to be doing something else. Said fellow safety Antonio Allen, "I think he realizes he has a shot to be one of the best in the league and he's going to do everything he can will himself to do so that happens. I can't run away from him as easily as I could last year. He's going to be fast this year. And he's relentless. He doesn't seem to ever tire out any more."
Rookie DE Gutierrez Rivera is not taking the opportunity to start in year one lightly. He's been a workout warrior who has improved his strength, quickness, and size (adding 10lbs up to a beastly 280lbs) since I arrived at camp. A strong showing by Rivera would certainly help the front office save face after being forced to cut fan favourite Phillip Merling. Luckily for Rivera, Merling was more popular than he was talented.
And then we have the case of 1st round WR Brad Edwards. His selection left a lot of people shaking their heads at GM Mallett. Trading their future first to snag a WR that is undersized and very raw overall seemed like another desperate reach by the GM. Edwards has a hell of an energy about him and he has been working like a man possessed - set on playing well in the system immediately. Speaking with him, it's clear that he wants to do well not just for himself, but for the team. He feels a great deal of pressure as the de facto heir apparently to Meachem. He's definitely quicker and making better cuts than he was at the beginning of camp. The young burner just might bring something to the offense.
Training Camp Improvements SS Steve Griffen +1 SPD (90)
TE Lance Kendricks +1 SPD (86)
LE Gutierrez Rivera + 1 ACC (80) +1 STR (78)
Offseason Training and Conditioning Training:
WR Brad Edwards +1 ACC (91) +1 AGI (89)
SS Steve Griffin +5 STA (78)
TE Lance Kendricks +5 STA (79)
LE Gutierrez Rivera + 10 lbs (280)
LT Matt Summers-Gavin + 10 lbs (305)
The Best is Yet to Come?
The Browns are not without interesting story lines for the upcoming season. How will Mallett fair in his second season at QB? How good will Peyton Hillis look now that he's back from a season ending injury? How well will the two-headed rushing attack of Hillis and Stafon Johnson work out? Will it be the spark this offense needs? Will Hillis manage to even stay on the field? Can DE Cam Jordan shake off whatever's bogging him down and return to his rookie form? The defense has a lot of young talent on it and it could end up being a strong unit or continue to allow teams to run all over it at will. That the front 7 has one new player doesn't give me any expectations, though. That secondary continues to be intriguing with Joe Haden an elite player, solid corners and very promising young safeties.
To sit firmly on the fence, I'll simply say that I think the Browns could finish anywhere between 5-11 and 9-7 this year. I do not see some exciting 10-6 arrival for this team and I think it's very possible a few things could go wrong and they slide down to 5 or 6 wins. My gut tells me they'll just be hanging around winning some games and losing some games like they've been doing for a few years, now. The individuals will be what to watch in hopes that players will stop up and declare "I'm going to be an important piece of the future Browns team that maybe makes the play-offs someday".
This has been a very up and down season for our Browns. It began with a bang when Boston Mallett had a massive debut - although in a loss. They beat the heavily favoured Saints in week 2 to draw to a meaningless 1-1. Defeating the Saints that early can get people excited, though. By losing their next three the 1-4 Browns were sending a clear message: We still suck!
The bastards won 4 of their next 5 with the only loss being a hard-fought and respectable loss to the Buccaneers. At 5-5 the Dawg Pound was, for all intents and purposes, drooling with excitement. 5-5? Are you kidding me? Could we make the play-offs?!
Of course not.
It's desperately clear to me that the team look right past the 3-7 Chiefs and onto their week 13 match up with the Steelers. Surely the resurgent Browns could knock off a 3-7 Chiefs squad quarterbacked by the big bust himself, Andrew Luck! Alas, they could not and your Browns are 5-6. One game better than the 4-7 Chiefs.
5-6 might now sound that bad to you - especially as a Browns fan. But look closer. The last 5 opponents are 33-22 and are power ranked 7th, 3rd, 17th, and 15th. The Browns are ranked 24th for comparison.
I think that 5-11 is a very possible outcome to this season and that 6-10 is the most probably final record. Sure, Any Given Sunday, bla bla bla, but we're Browns fans. We know what's up. This team is looking at 7-9 at best if you ask me.
The good news is that Boston Mallett has looked good - very very good at times, and Joe Haden has proven himself elite. The (albeit unplanned) addition of Stafon Johnson is a very positive thing and I think that a dual-headed attack might be the thing the Browns need to get their offense going. Our two young safeties (Steve Griffen and Antonio Allen look like the real deal and we really are starting to look better and better - we just need to turn that into wins, of course! When Mallett remains the starter next season that will be as stable as we've been at QB in years. Surely we can pull off 8-8 soon, right? One thing that hasn't got the attention it perhaps deserves is the absurdly bad production we've got out of Neil Rackers who has missed 42% of his FGs and an astounding 20% of his XPs. Getting a better K in this offseason alone could make a difference.
That's right, for the first time of what will hopefully be many match ups, 2nd year QB Ryan Mallett of the Patriots is up against rookie sensation Boston Mallett in a pitting of two 3-5 AFC teams hoping to make something delicious out of the turd sandwhich that was the first half of their respective seasons.
Ryan ended up under center when Tom Brady dislocated his elbow early in the season. Ryan's best game came against the lowly Jets where he completed 65% of his passes for 391 yeards and TD for a QB rating of 105.3.
Boston started in week 1 as the new franchise QB of the Browns. His best performance was his first, where he had the greatest rookie QB debut of all time. He completed 55% of his passes for 346 yards, 4 TDs, and a 107.7 QB rating. He completed passes to 9 difference receivers and generally looked like Superman (and at 6'8" and 260lbs, let's face it, he'd beat the shit out of Clark Kent). His season has been quite a bit more typical since, but he's on track for 22 TDs, and 3000 yards passing, so no one's complaining.
So, who will win the battle as these two Malletts fight for supremacy atop the family tree?
With preseason in the books, we are just days away from kicking off the 2012 season and everyone around here is very excited about what our team will be able to do this year. We have some exciting new faces, led by franchise QB [url=]Boston Mallett[/url] and we hope to get the Dawg Pound excited about the team and proud to be a Browns fan. To help spur on that excitement, we have decided to get involved in social media! If you like the Browns, you can follow us on Twitter @GZLBrowns!
Off Season Something felt a bit off about the Browns during the past month or so. The ripple effects from trading Colt McCoy continue to be felt in Cleveland, and GM Brad Mallett made some arguably desperate moves this offseason to attempt to remove the McCoy trade from fans' memories. He's made things even worse for himself, perhaps, because he's gone after other members of the Worldwide Society of Malletts in consecutive drafts. Last year's McCoy McDisaster being tied directly to missing out on QB Ryan Mallett and ending up with erradic rookie passer Andy Dalton (who the team spent 2.1 on, many GMs declaring 'reeeach') occassionally under center. This year he pays a king's ransom to move up from the 1.14 slot the team's record earned to 1.5 to select area phenom Boston Mallett. The trade included 1.14, WR/KR Josh Cribbs and next year's first. Cribbs is old and was almost invisible last season, so I have no emotion over that, but when next year rolls around and there's no first rounder to bring in another exciting prospect, that's going to be tough. I think it's safe to say that the GM is on the hot seat this year.
The 2.14 selection had already been traded for OT Jeff Otah in a move I have no problem with, honestly. Despite the talent in this year's draft, none of the 2nd rounders will be Jeff Otah this year.
After last year's strong draft (if you ignore the McCoy disaster, the team drafted very very well otherwise), much of this year's was a hope and a prayer for the team, really. Not a single player to get excited about, other than Boston Mallett:
1.5 : QB Boston Mallett - Not a homerun at 1.5 by any stretch of the imagination, but he's certainly intriguing. Outstanding athelete with a cannon arm and solid accuracy out of the gate, but has a lot to learn. I have to expect he'll only be a part-time starter this season. Can he be the Browns' saviour?
3.14 : FS Antonio Allen - A fine athelete, but a project. The clearest message with this selectoin is that the team continues to question FS TJ Ward's future with the team.
4.14 : LOLB Sean Spence - An undersized OLB (which is very odd for this team) who perhaps has some upside if he's a fast learner. The team likes to rotate their OLBs, so the pick has some sense to it there.
5.14 : CB Deion Draper - Provides big-bodied depth in the backfield with some vague kick returning skills.
5.24 : K Jaxon Stanco - A bit of an enigma with his TE-esque athletecism and a reasonable leg. A solid pick at 5.24.
6.14 : LOLB Jack Murphy - Winner of some award for name most sounding like a reporter out of a 1950s comic, Murphy is merely a body to fill a roster spot in my opinion. He'll need to play faster than his 40 time if he never wants to be more than a bench warmer.
7.14 : LG Chance Warmack - Chance Warmack is a guy.
The team is rumoured to have sent out a single offer during the pre-draft UFA phase. The offer was to FS Brandon Meriweather; are you paying attention, TJ Ward?
During the post-draft UFA phase, the team is rumoured to have sent out a small number of offers to role-players where holes exist in the roster. I have no further information at this time.
Workin' Hard or Hardly Workin'? With mere incremental win-loss improvements in recent years, this team is itching to have a break-out year and that has coaches cracking the whip and players busting their butts to improve. The battle for outside linebacker this offseason is wide open. The team has just two returning backers (Ross Homan and Rick Jones) and they are competing with newly drafted Sean Spence and Jack Murphy. In attempts to get an edge, Homan has hit the weightroom hard and has put on 10lbs of muscle. Rookie Sean Spence has been a very pleasant surprise, displaying even more speed and explosiveness than he had at the combine, even after adding his own 10lbs of muscle. Sophmore SS Steve Griffin (how's that for aliteration?) has spent his time off doing sprints with a bag of cement on his back and is rumoured to be demonstrated a noticeable increase in speed. Rookie QB Boston Mallett and last year's addition OT Jeff Otah have been working long hours with the conditiong staff to improvement their stamina and the results seem impressive to me.
Training Camp Battles
When your team is 7-9 and hasn't had a winning record since 2007, there is going to be a lot of competition during Training Camp.
Officially, no one has a starting job at OLB. All 4 men are tasked with kicking ass and taking names this offseason. In my opinion, Jack Murphy is almost certainly not going to be starting for this team, but will likely see the field as a relief OLB. There is, however, an honest to goodness 3-way battle between Homan, Jones, and Spence. Spence, as has been mentioned, is looking even better than expected when the team spent pick 4.14 on him. My money's on Homan nailing down the LOLB a starting job and Spence and Jones sharing time at ROLB.
It's no secret that Kendricks was drafted to casually groom into Watson's replacement. Last year Watson got most of the starts, but Kendricks nabbed 3 of his own and saw the field a bunch in two TE sets. And he was impressive. Watson, in my opinion, has lost a step and while I don't expect to see Kendricks start 16 games this season, I think he'll be starting a lot more than 3.
Mallett is a gifted athlete who does not have the experience and field IQ to walk in take the starting job from day one. The Browns have also proven they dislike doing that with rookie QBs (having forced both McCoy and Dalton to share time with veteran QBs during their rookie campaigns). So there's no way Mallett straight up wins this job, in my opinion. That said, you are going to see him on the field this season. The question then becomes, who is going to be starting the other games? Vince Young is the most logical answer, but I think Dalton sees the field a little this season as well. My theory being the team hopes he might have a flashy game or two which will improve his trade stock. Make no mistake: Boston Mallett is the future of this team and the team needs him on the field to erase the image of Colt McCoy from fans' minds.
Firstly, big ups to our AFC North buddy the Steelers for managing to beat everyone except us this season. You're making it hard for us to imagine the Browns in the play-offs! Bastards.
So another year, another muddled mess of somewhat-good somewhat-bad for our Browns. The 7-9 is a tiny improvement over last year's 6-9-1 record, but with Colt McCoy under center for the Vikings, things were as ugly this year as any year under Mallett's regime.
After Andy Dalton's meh rookie season, there is a lot of reason to think the Browns may trade up and go QB in this year's draft. The McCoy trade turned into some interesting players, but it's hard to argue there isn't some amount of egg the Mallett's face.
One move Mallett made that I really like was his trade for OT Jeff Otah. That he couldn't move Bryant McKinnie certainly hurts the move a little, but Otah has similar talent level and is much younger. McKinnie does not like fit inside a Browns Super Bowl window. By the team this team is thinking title, McKinnie will likely be retired or significantly regressed. Otah has a long and bright future for the team.
Cameron Jordan had a significant drop off in product after a spectacular rookie season. In fact, his fellow DE Philip Merling had a stronger season. Look for to him to be highly motivated to put up big numbers in his third season.
No one had bigger season for the Browns than Joe Haden who snagged 9 interceptions and ran two back for TDs. Haden is turning out to be the real deal for the Browns and his season helped the defense rank 8th in points allowed.
Peyton Hillis' numbers were down a little after his massive 2011 season, despite an improved offensive line. I think a lot of that can be attributed to the lack of a clear passing game. Colt McCoy's 30 TDs in 2011 did a lot to keep opposing defenses from stacking up against Hillis. This is a contract year for Hillis and the team actually attempted to extend his contract during the play-offs, but couldn't reach a deal. I would not expect him to reach week 1 on the same contract he's on now.
One of the most exciting parts of the season was the play of rookie TE Lance Kendricks. Kendricks was taken in the 3rd round and was not a need pick. He was taken to be groomed to take over from Ben Watson who's role has been so critical to success that the team wanted to have an answer when he tires. Kendricks is a physical force and while he had limited field time (14 GP, 3 starts) he was tremendous while on the field. In particular he has a knack for busting coverage and hauling in deep passes.
Other than possibly going after a QB, the Browns' offense is in pretty good shape, so I'd expect the team to focus heavily on bring in big time talent on the defensive side of the ball. With any luck, next season won't merely be a slight improvement to 8-8.
I wrote the vast majority of this before us getting our asses handed to us by the Packers. I don't feel like taking that game into account, given it would take re-writing most of what I'd written. :p
When we last spoke, the Browns were 1-2 and I talked a lot about all the different ways you could evaluate those games and how all over the place our squad is. Three weeks later, that confusion hasn't really lifted, but something's definitely different. We've won every game since that article and now sit at 4-2 which feels so uncomfortable that I feel like I'm wearing someone else's underwear. Those outside the Dawg Pound are either intrigued or skeptical of the record. Inside, we're all going mad with fear, confusion, excitement, anger, confusion, and arguments over what next.
Here's what we know. Three wins in a row. All with Vince Young at QB. His numbers over those games: 30/78 (38.5%) for 447 yards, 3 TDs, and 3 ints. His completion rate in the last two games is 27.3% with just 15 passes complete. Many of us are asking "Does Vince want us to lose?". The glass-is-half-full delusionals in our camp are asking "How fucking good would this team be with a real QB?" Answers to that question tend to fall under two distinct sections. Those with something to say about the team and those who froth with insane rage over the exit of QB Colt McCoy.
The defense remains an enigma. Over the win streak it's allowed 11 points per game and has 7 straight quarters with no TDs allowed under its belt. We beat the shit out of the Steelers and completely obliterated the Bengals' offense last week for a 10-9 victory over a previously undefeated squad. This defense is starting to play and dominate the way GM Mallett wanted them to when he came on board. The question is how 'real' these performances are and how many more implosions like the one against the Bears we can expect.
The offense has never hit any kind of stride this year. Peyton Hillis' dominating 2011 season has not been happening this year, despite improvements to the offensive line. This is largely due to the lack of a passing game for opposing defenses to worry about. We tend to overrate a running back's own contribution to their monster seasons, ignoring the affect a strong passing game can have on a team that's run-first.
The surprising season McCoy had last year has been shown to be the main reason the team had a pretty strong passing game. With him gone and Vince Young under center, things have practically vanished. The significant price paid for Robert Meachem so far feels a waste as he's tallied just 13 catches for a mere 211 yards. Ouch. 33rd overall selection Andy Dalton has a very nice debut in week 1, but has been 'learning from the bench' since. Some fans are calling for him to step in, and with the last two starts from Young, he just might be thrown back into action soon.
Our Browns are 1-2 and there are a lot of different ways to look at and evaluate the situation. You could take notice that rookie QB Andy Dalton won the season opener and QB Vince Young has lost both of his starts. You could silver line things and point out that the two losses are by a combined 11 points. You could dark cloud it and point out that the rest of the team is playing so well that Vince Young could only manage to lose two games by 11. That view, of course, would let one rage some more over the departure of QB Colt McCoy.
But there are 22 starters on either side of the ball, plus two kickers and a bunch of special teams players. Sure, QB is important, but I've never been a fan of scapegoating them or giving them all the credit. So let's get real. The defense is a mess. They played nicely against the Raiders, then got obliterated through the air by Jay Cutler (358 yards, 4 TDs), and then humiliated on the ground by Cedric Benson (203 yards, 2 TDs) - while holding Carson Palmer to 76 yards passing!. Benson's long runs should never be happening. Cutler's torching of what should be a very good secondary should never be happening. A new defensive coordinator and this defense still can't seem to gel.
You can most likely throw out the angst over Dalton winning his start and Young losing his starts. We've seen the Browns play this game before - start the rookie QB against teams he has a chance to play well against and play the veteran against the strong defenses that would probably chew the rookie up and spit him out. That means you'll almost certainly not see him playing against the Steelers and most likely won't see an all-out benching of Vince Young.
The schedule doesn't ever really get easy this year, so... hurray for a top 5 pick?
The 2012 Offseason - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
My, what an offseason it has been. GM Brad Mallett made more noise than maybe anyone else this offseason. Rumblin', tumblin', blunderin', as John Madden himself might say. The dust is starting to settle and we, more or less, have ourselves a team, though there are still two big rumours still floating about team HQ. One involving a high priced free agent and another involving a possible trade with an AFC North rival. Yep, I'm recapping the offseason by telling about more rumours. It's hard to believe there is so damn much going on with this team. Will it amount to anything? It's really hard to say. The exit of 2011 Breakout of the Year Colt McCoy makes that an extremely difficult question to answer. So let's get to that right away.
Starting at QB for your Cleveland Browns...
As has been reported on a bajillion times, Colt McCoy will be starting for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. The move made little sense when we first found out about it, and even with full knowledge of what the team planned to do, we're left scratching our heads. Partially because it was such an insane plan to begin with, and partially (mostly?) because it didn't work. Mallett wanted Mallett, but the evil Patriots nabbed him first and then didn't want to give him up for anything other than a ransom that Mallett was (thankfully) unwilling to pay. Even before all of that came out on draft day, the team paid none other than Vince Young big money out of free agency. As a smokescreen? As the 2012 sometimes starter to ease in Mallett? Due to a bad acid trip? I can tell you that the Browns spent 2.1 on QB Andy Dalton, probably because his hair is the same colour as the team's jerseys. That seems to be the kind of reasoning the team is using to pick players, anyhow. So word on the street is that Young will begin as starter and they'll ease Dalton in. What a huge victory for the team.
In the McCoy trade the team added a very solid guard in Davin Joseph and, if you'll permit me some optimism, he feels a bit like the final piece to a puzzle that gives the Browns what might be the best offensive line in the GZL. That sounds like something going right... right?
The rest of that trade was in draft picks, so that's look directly at the draft
Let me start off by saying I don't even want to talk about the Meachem trade in light of us getting rid of our QB. So moving past that, picking a punter at 2.9 is... unorthodox, but the team had no answer at punter and with all those second rounders, I'm not sure it wasn't a solid play. Griffin has some potential at safety and even if he doesn't pan out long term, he's an immediate upgrade at a position of need. Ross Homan might end up starting or sharing starts with Rick Jones which is not bad for a 3rd rounder. I'm really excited about Lance Kendricks who has clearly been picked up as the heir apparent to Ben Watson. Two TE sets just got really interesting for this team. Kenneth Thomas may beat out Phillip Merling for the starting RE spot that the team can't seem to find a slam dunk answer for. After that the players are mere warm bodies, really.
Coaching Changes Almost lost in all of this was the signing of an entirely new coaching staff with the not-even-remotely-insignificant signing of Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak. This is a big time development in itself. Both coaches have had mixes success in recent seasons, but both had enormous success as a team - and they are a team once again. Nabbing Gunther Cunningham to the run defense isn't without merit, either.
2012 Training Camp - The Hunger Games
Hell bent on an improved record - especially with the media overhyping the departure of Colt McCoy - the Browns players have been balls to the wall all training camp long. I've said this before, but I'm impressed by how scrappy and hungry this team has been in camp. They'll still probably be lucky to go 8-8 this year, but this is not a lifeless team. In particular, Joe Haden seems to have added a step, and rookie SS Steve Griffin is flying all over the damn place letting his play scream "Your answer at SS has arrived, and his name is Steve!" Sammie Lee Hill has been a man on fire and despite adding 10lbs of blulk actually seems to get winded less often. There are improvements in many of the returning players this year and it gives me some tentative hope, I won't lie.
Without obvious answers at a few positions, we have several players at war with each for starting positions.
I'm not sure Homan can do it, but I think the team is secretly hoping he can play well enough to justify them starting him over Tulloch. Homan's mental and technical game is so much weaker than Tulloch's that it's hard to imagine, though. Making this battle even more interesting are the rumours that the team might be bringing in yet another OLB via trade.
The team insists there is an open competition, here, but I don't see how Meachem and Mitchell aren't your starters with Cribbs in the slot. Naanee certainly provides some interesting matchup opportunities, though. The Ravens have recently boasted about their big, hulking WR corps, but the Browns' is not entirely dissimilar.
2012 Season Outlook - Rushmore
What will the Browns look like in 2012?
With an improved offensive line and swirling enigmas as QB, you have to assume this team will be even more dedicated to the run than last year. I also believe some of Peyton Hillis' success last year was because McCoy presented a legit threat - as weird as that may sound. Can Young and Dalton play well enough to keep defenses off Hillis? I'm not sure the answer to that question is 'yes', but I'm not sure it's 'no', either. The defense definitely seems improved. The secondary was very good last year and with the addition of Steve Griffin and improvements from returning players, it has only got better. The front, so far, remains mostly the same which
is troublesome. This team needs to get better at stopping the run if it wants to actually contend for the playoffs.
*Apologies to Anthony for blatantly stealing his title idea
Can Young recapture the glory from his previous stint in orange?
So it seems we've found GM Brad Mallett's answer for "what now?" in the wake of the trade that shipping Colt McCoy out of Cleveland. None other than Vince Young will be suited up for the Browns this season. Will he be the starter? With Alex Smith the only other QB currently on the roster and Young being a much better answer than Smith, we have to assume that's the case.
This time we actually have some words from Mallett:
It's no secret that we're attempting to build an historic rushing attack in Cleveland right now. Colt had a tremendous season for us last season and we honestly believe he'll do good things in Minnesota, but he allowed us to bring in an important piece on our offensive line (OG Davin Joseph) and collect much-desired draft picks. Vince Young fits our scheme perfectly. He's a competent QB who can actually contribute to our rushing attack. Meanwhile, his big arm will help keep the defense honest.
I think that he has some points. Young obviously has his detractors, but he's had some success in this league. A new change of scenario could clean up some of the personality conflicts that have gone town in Tennessee over the years and he really does bring a rushing threat that would seem to fit nicely with the Browns' goals. Stay tuned!
To everyone who follows the Browns, I have a confession. DT Sammie Lee Hill was a restricted free agent and I was busy buying Christmas gifts and forgot to put in our tender. Thus, he became an unrestricted free agent! Thanks to a generous bid, we were able to sign Sammie so that he can return to his proper place in the center of our defense.
That is a load of stress off my shoulders!
Mallett happily skips off the stage with a look of relief on his face
For a team not used to making much noise in the offseason - or any other time of the year, let's be honest - the Browns have made waves and given ulcers to their fans with two huge and questionable moves.
What do you do when your sophmore QB leads the league with 30 TDs, boosts his QB rating by 25 points from his rookie campaign, and wins Breakout Player of the Year? Well, if you're the Browns, you trade him. Fans are furious, as McCoy's huge 2011 had given them hope for the future of the Browns. Apparently he doesn't fit with whatever vision GM Brad Mallett has.
Colt McCoy is gone to the Vikings, according to reports
#BrownsFail was trending on Twitter in Ohio today as fans took to the popular social network to vent their angst. Some snippets:
@brownsfan1983 Trading away Colt McCoy after a 30 TD season? I could run the team better than that meathead Mallett! #BrownsFail
@AhoyMcCoy McCoy was going to be a franchise QB for this team. Now he'll fill that roll for someone else. Thanks a lot, Browns. #BrownsFail
@DawgPounder Just as our long-miserable franchise shows us a glimmer of hope, they fuck it up with more boneheaded moves. Maybe I'll move to Cincinnati. #BrownsFail
Despite McCoy's big season, the Browns finished a mere 6-9-1 and landed the 9th pick in the draft. With Mallett declaring "I'm not in love with anyone at 1.9", he promptly sent it the Saints for I-guess-he's-pretty-solid WR Robert Meachem. Meachem's a good player, and I'm really excited that they've added a legit receiving weapon for McCoy... oh, wait.
Could Meachem be catching passes from... Alex Smith?
More from the Twitterverse:
@footballguy42 If Alex Smith is under center in week one I'm taking hostages #BrownsFail #DIAFMallett
@ohiofootball4life I like Meachem, but this feels like buying the target before the gun. Or, rather, buying the target and selling the gun #BrownsFail
The team better hope to do something or they are going to be looking at a major hit in attendance. Stay tuned.
That's how many more games our Browns won in 2011 from 2010. Peyton Hillis returned from injury and had a massive year. Rookie DE Cam Jordan proved to be every bit the monster we'd hoped he'd be. And Colt McCoy exploded in his sophmore season leading the league with 30 TDs. All it amounted to was taking a 5-11 record and improving it to 6-9-1. So! Let's talk about next year! *sigh*
There are two huge stories going on in Cleveland right now. Those are that the entire coaching staff is no longer under contract, and that the team's response to Colt McCoy's extraordinary season was to place him on the trade block.
Colt McCoy may still be back, of course. I'm not sure what move the team could make that involves moving McCoy and improving the team at the same time. McCoy's certainly no [url=]Peyton Manning[/url], but he showed a boatload of confidence, skill, and wiliness this past season and you'd think that have cemented him as the starter for the near future. Instead, he's on the block. So what other options are there? To be honest, there are a lot of ways it could play out, but if you go on the assumption the scouting department has someone in the draft pegged as The Future, I have to think that's Auburn QB Cam Newton. Blaine Gabbert is the obvious 1.1, and will be a superstar. Newton's rawness and reputation as a scrambler should drive him down near the Browns' pick. With the Browns trying to create the greatest rushing attack in the league, Newton makes a certain amount of sense. He could actually contribute to the team's ability to run it down your throat.
The following players have been awarded 2011 Browns Team Awards.
Offensive Rookie of the Year OG Randy Russell Almost by default (the only other offensive rookie was punter Peter Williamson), but the kid had a pretty darn good year at RG, replacing last year's unspectacular Shawn Lauvao. Russell started all 16 games and allowed just one sack (which didn't come until week 15). His 65 pancakes is 10th in the league for RG, 1st for rookie RGs, and 6th among all rookie lineman. His sack ratio was 2nd among all rookie lineman. Not bad at all for a 3rd rounder.
Defensive Rookie of the Year DE Cameron Jordan When you draft someone 6th overall, you expect results. Luckily, Jordan delivered in spades. Jordan was drafted to excel against the pass and rush equally. He proved up to the task. His 13 sacks are a rookie record (and good for 4th in the league this year). His 17 tackles for a loss are 1st among DEs. His 57 tackles are 5th among DEs and his 30 plays behind the line lead the entire league. Jordan was everything we hoped he'd be.
Offensive Player of the Year QB Colt McCoy Clearly a case could be made for Peyton Hillis to be given this award, but I'm going to go with the Spread the Love strategy and offer this award to a man too deserving of recognition to just ignore. The second year McCoy exploded onto the scene this year, and played way better than we could have ever hoped for after a tentative and modest rookie outing. After a rookie campaign of a 48% completion percentage and a sub 70 QB rating, the team was really just hoping McCoy could make fewer mistakes this year. With an improved offensive line, the return of Peyton Hillis, and some hard offseason work, McCoy had a dramatic improvement in all aspects of his game. Perhaps most telling is that he threw at least 1 TD in every game this season - no other QB managed the feat. McCoy reacted to trade rumours by tossing 9 touchdowns in his final 3 games of the season. Unfathomably, the sophmore McCoy actually tied for the league lead in TD passes. McCoy's 92.7 QB rating was good for 8th in the league. Not to mention 25.6 points higher than his rookie totals.
Defensive Player of the Year D'Qwell Jackson This could easily have been handed to Cam Jordan, but his numbers weren't quite as league-wide dominating as Jackson's. Jackson broke his own single season tackle record with 152 tackles this season. He has 300 tackles in 32 games. That's 31 tackles higher than the second place player. Jackson is a constant powerhouse in the middle of a front 7 that seems content on letting him do most of the work and that earns him this award.
Most Valuable Player HB Peyton Hillis Before this season began, Peyton seemed like the runaway candidate to claim this award - and he did - but Colt McCoy gave him one hell of a run for his money. Both players were consistently strong the entire season, and both players exploded in the final weeks of the season. Hillis' final 4 games of the season saw him rush for 170, 143, 183, and 120 yards and not against crappy competition, either (ok the 170 was against the Deadskins). But, this is a running team and Hillis' strong performance is a significant part of why McCoy did so well this year. Even ignoring that, Hillis' numbers don't need the context of a sophmore season to be considered tremendous. Hillis finished 4th in rushing with 1865 yards (116 per game), Tied for 8th in rushing TDs, and tied for 5th in rushing avg with 5.2 yards per carry. He had just a single game under 70 yards all season and ten 100 yard performances. To show Hillis' influence on the team, they were 1-5 when he failed to reach 100 yards on the ground - thus 5-4-1 when he did.
The Dawg Pound Award Player most exemplifying the Browns' style of blue-collar, smash mouth football. TE Ben Watson I doubt anyone noticed Watson's strong season this year. Along with the indirect help that Peyon Hillis' dominance provided McCoy in the passing game, Watson provided plenty of direct help as the oft-described Safety Valve to the young McCoy. Watson was consistent and relentless on his way to 58 receptions (4th amongst TEs), 827 yards (3rd amongst TEs), and 8 TDs (tied for 1st amongst TEs and tied for 8th amongst all receivers). All on a team focused on the run. Watson is a huge part of why McCoy saw such a dramatic improvement in his performance.
Browns Beat: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of..
damn title length limit
By Cleveland Brown | GZL-Football.com Beat Writer
The last we spoke, the Browns were playing .500 football with a 2-2-1 record. Not an extraordinary start, but better looking than things currently look. Since that start, the Browns have gone a miserable 2-5 (and 1-5 in the last 6). Yes, things are no longer optimistic and fans are left to speculate what the offseason will look like. But, hell, I'd be remiss if I didn't try to cheer you up with some bullshi... er, stats about just how much better this year's Browns are than last year's.
The reality is that last year's team was lathargic, at best, and barely showed up to play outside of a few strong efforts. The Browns are a classic case of a team for which you can point to significant improvements everywhere but the win column.
On offense, there is a significant amount of good news. Last year's unit scored a pathetic 18.8 points per game. This year's unit is scoring a clean 5 points more at 23.8 per game. The unit gains 20.7 more yards passing per game, and 31 yards rushing for a total of almost 52 more scrimmage yards per game. That has helped the team's time of possession (something GM Mallett desperately wanted to improve after last year) increase by 2:37. Turnovers were 28 over 16 games last year and just 17 in 12 so far. That projects to 23 over 16 games. The rushing game has been revived with the full time return of Peyon Hillis (1249 yards - 7th in the league) and strong contributions by newcomers Bryant McKinnie (82 pancakes - 5th in the league) and rookie Randy Russell (0 sacks allowed against 45 pancakes). Ben Watson is having a pretty large year (49 catches, 599 yards, 6 TDs so far) and sophmore Carlton Mitchell is quietly enroute to his second 1000 yard season. What might be most impressive and hope-giving is Colt McCoy's dramatic improvement from his rookie QB rating of 67.1 to this year's 88.5 on the back of a 7.4% increase in completion percentage, 2700 yards, and 20 touchdowns. McCoy has thrown a TD pass in literally every game this season showing that he's found a consistent quality of play and isn't just flashing genius here and there to keep his rating up.
On defense, things are more muddled. The unit is actually allowing 1.3 more points per game (after starting the season fairly strong). Total yardage is down 16 per game, though. The team is also surprisingly fiesty when the opponent is in the redzone. Just 18 touchdowns in 41 trips. Turnovers, however, are way down. 32 last year (on the back of massive performances by Joe Haden and T.J. Ward) and just 17 so far this year. Much of this is from Haden and Ward falling off the radar completely - Ward has just 2 interceptions to last year's 6 and Haden has 3 to his 6 in 2010. More positively, last year's non-existent pass rush (20 sacks - dead last) is slightly improved. 25 sacks already through 12 games. 12 of those coming from rookie phenom Cameron Jordan who has been an absolute monster. Not only does he lead the league in sacks, his 44 tackles are 4th amongst defensive ends and his 12 tackles for a loss are tied for 1st amongst defensive ends. Not mention he's already topped the rookie sack record by 2 sacks with 4 games to go. In the middle, D'Qwell Jackson is "putting on a tackling clinic", as John Madden likes to say. He's on track for 152 tackles which would put it him right at 300 tackles in two seasons. And if it weren't obvious, that leads the league by a healthy margin.
At the end of the day, this team hasn't yet turned any of this into more wins - which is all that matters, you could say - but it's hard to argue that this team isn't feeling on the up and up. And, consider this: with 4 games left in the season, this team is still mathematically capable of having a winning season. That would be the first in Cleveland since 2007.
Last year we won 5 games and lost 11. And as I write this article, we've played 5 games and have 11 games left to play. Lots offseason shuffling about, lots of playing hard, and lots of almost the same results after 5 games and before the next eleven.
The reality is that we were 2-3 after 5 games last season, and we're 2-2-1 after 5 games this year, which amounts to a half-game improvement after the first (roughly) third of the season. Not a hell of a lot to be excited about, perhaps.
Until you start looking at the trees, the forest looks largely the same as it did 52 weeks ago, it's true. Luckily, some of the trees are growing.
Last year Colt McCoy started 13 games. He had 2 games with a QB rating over 85. After 5 games this year, he has 4 games over 85. His rating for the season is 90.1 and he's already tossed half as many TDs (8) as he did in 13 games last year. It has been a steep improvement for the sophmore QB many thought shouldn't have ever been given the starting job in Cleveland.
After spending a great deal of last season injured, Peyton Hillis is looking pretty darn good this year. He's already passed 500 yards for the season, has three 100 yard games in 5 tries, and is averaging over 5 yards a carry. Zero complaints to be found.
Moved from the slot to the outside, Josh Cribbs is kicking ass and taking names. He's supplanted Carlton Mitchell as the #1 WR on offence - on pace for 90 catches for 1331 yards. Throw in 642 KR yards at 30+ yards per return and 2 TDs already (4 TDs overall) and you've got an offensive star on a team that lacked one last year. Cribbs, McCoy, and Hillis have helped the team score 5.4 more points per game so far, and gain 52 more yards per game.
On defence, D'Qwell Jackson continues to flourish in the Browns' system and is projected to total 186 tackles by end of season. He leads a unit that's allowing 18 yards fewer per game and 14.6 fewer rush yards per game.
Games against the Titans (0-5), Steelers (4-1), and Colts (4-1) will bring the Browns to midseason. While it's likely that the team will arrive at 3-4-1, that would still be an improvement over last year's midseason record of 2-6.
I am a big believer in not getting too worked up over preseason results, but it's hard to prevent smiling about a 3-1 preseason after a 5-11 regular season. That Colt McCoy lit up it up 3 of the 4 games is reason to have a glitter of hope in the plan we've been working on it Cleveland.
We had a lot of position battles going on, and not everything worked as expected. SS Willie Scott showed definite promise during his preseason audition, but as of today has not been named a full-time starter. At least for now, Scott and Sabby Piscitelli will split time at SS.
With 16 pancakes and just 2 sacks allowed, Randy Russell gave us every reason to make him day one starter at RG. Rick Jones' 18 tackles, 3 for a loss, and two forced fumbles makes him a no-brainer at LOLB.
FS Eugene Wilson was signed during preseason as an injury replacement and his presence on the team was instantly felt. He'll be a rotational player in the secondary and replace Abram Elam on the roster.
Highlights of the season's upcoming schedule are a week two meeting with hype-phenom Andrew Luck, two clashes with the Bengals in three weeks during weeks 13-15, and a season finale against the rival Ravens. With any luck at all, that meeting will have meaning beyond the rivalry.
The dust has almost settled on the offseason and the Browns, while not the loudest, were not quiet. Here's to hoping the changes the team has made will lead to more wins and more kicking ass. Let's take a look at what's been going down since the offseason began.
Before the Draft The team made one quiet trade and one big trade before the draft began. Using their 2nd rounder and last year's stop-gap LT Nate Garner, the team traded for veteran LT Bryant McKinnie. And they checked one of their two 6th rounders at the Patriots for Tully Banta-Cain. McKinnie provides a bonafied stud at LT immediately, and should remain that way for a few more years. Banta-Cain offers another mid-range OLB to fight for a starting spot. Beyond that, the team's other pre-draft transactions were merely the cuts of several players who weren't wanted on the team anymore.
2011 Browns Draft Class The team made some significant upgrades during the draft and focused very heavily on defense. The only offensive player draft is OG Randy Russell who will battle for the starting job with Shawn Lauvao. Pick by pick:
1.6 DE Cameron Jordan - The Reggie White style DE GM Mallett had been dreaming of. This kid should have a massive impact on the team's defense and the team as a whole. Look for him to show his prescence in both passing and rushing situations.
3.3 OG Randy Russell - Has a very real chance of starting at RG this season, which was a position identified as needing an upgrade. Not bad for a 3rd rounder.
3.6 OLB Rick Jones - Does not quite have the huge size and strength the team seems to want at every position, but has quite a bit more athleticism than existed at OLB last season. He'll battle for the starting spot, but if you ask me, he's a lock.
5.6 FS Willie Scott - Leaves a lot to be desired in the mental department, but has some pretty solid athletcism. Should battle for the starting SS spot.
6.6 CB Jacob Lawson - Will fight Eric King for the dime spot.
7.6 P Peter Williamson - The team snapped up Williamson on a whim and he'll battle for the starting punting spot.
2011 Browns Training Camp When you finish 5-11, there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that are going to go into the following training camp to prevent 5-11 from happening again. I've been camped out in the bleachers since day one and I'm seeing a lot of positive signs. This is not a lifeless team and the new additions are making things all the more exciting. Colt McCoy has been in strength training all summer looking to add more zip to his passes. T.J. Ward hasn't seemed to stop running since I got here and Peyton Hillis is a man on fire. He is clearly obsessed with not getting hurt again this year. With an improved offensive line, Hillis is dreaming of a big season to make people forget his disaster of a 2010 campaign.
Should the position battles play out the way I believe they will, 5 of 6 draft selections will start for the team and team's front 7 will feature 3 new players, including new players at both OLB positions.
2011 Season Projection With a tough division to battle through and many other teams being similarly improved, we can't just assume these new players and hard work will result in a miraculous turn of fortune for the Browns, but I believe somewhere in the 8-8 range is certainly possible. Should the team stave off injuries better than it did last year, it certainly has more viable players stepping onto the field than it did last year and a year of development for key members of the team should result in a scrappy group that shouldn't provide an easy win for all but the most elite teams GZL has to offer.
The following players have been awarded 2010 Browns Team Awards.
Offensive Rookie of the Year WR Carlton Mitchell On a run-first team that wasn't good on offense at all, Mitchell hauled in 62 catches, over 1000 yards and topped it off with 9 TDs. All as a rookie, with a rookie QB throwing most of the passes. An impressive season, to say the least.
Defensive Rookie of the Year FS T.J. Ward An extremely tough call, given [url=]Joe Haden's[/url] own stand out rookie campaign. In the end, Haden's numbers were more a result of specific monster games, and Ward was more consistently a beast in the Browns' secondary. Three 10+ tackle games, and his 6 interceptions came in a 7 game stretch of dominance, including a pick-6 against the division rival and play-off bound Bengals.
Offensive Player of the Year WR Carlton Mitchell Mitchell's performance does not require him being a rookie for it to be the best on the team.
Defensive Player of the Year MLB D'Qwell Jackson Jackson roamed the middle of the field and range up 148 tackles - leading the league by 9 tackles over second place. His secondary stats of tackles for a loss, forced fumbles, and deflections were all strong at worst and outstanding at best.
The Dawg Pound Award Player most exemplifying the Browns' style of blue-collar, smash mouth football. HB Ryan Torain Torain was signed when Peyton Hillis went down with injury and proceeded to take the hand-off and pound his way into the opposing defence and do his best to keep a run-focused, injury-ravaged team going. He continued pounding the ball from the back-up spot when Peyton Hillis returned and when Mike Bell was given the start when Torain was first signed.
It has been no secret that the Browns have been considering offers to trade down from 1.6 to gather extra picks in this draft. At least in theory, a solid enough plan for a team with so many needs. The Browns never committed to this plan, always reiterating that they were "exploring all options", but it always sounded like keeping the pick was less likely than a trade.
I just received word from my source inside the Browns organization that after looking over the draft class and building a wish-list, there is too much to gain by keeping 1.6 and too much risk in trading down, so the Browns are opting to keep 1.6 and continuing building around whatever star they land with that pick.
It's an interesting choice, given they've already chucked their 2nd rounder at the Vikings for OT Bryant McKinnie. Clearly a response to the Browns' inability to run the ball and the bet that better protection will get better development out of QB Colt McCoy. At this point you could argue that he Browns probably have the best tackle combo in the league.
Just a couple of days ago the Browns made a quiet, but savvy move by chucking the Chargers' 6th rounder at New England for unspectacular OLB Tully Banta-Cain. This is a very cheap price for a player that can, in a pinch, start for the team and provide depth at the very least.
So the team continues to try to make 'surgical strikes' as it were, and pick up key role-players without breaking the bank. They should pick up a tremendous player at 1.6, picked up established McKinnie with their second pick, and have two third rounders to attempt to get more upgrades.
Well, with just two weeks left in the season, you could describe 2010 as yet another Browns season. We've got just four wins so far, and with the Ravens and Steelers to come, it doesn't seem incredibly likely we'll win any more. Especially when the team has started playing some backups as of last week's game against the Bengals.
The biggest news right now is Peyton Hillis' return the lineup last week. 86 yards on 22 carries isn't anything to write home about, but I don't think it's anything to be concerned by. The Bengals are strong and the Browns, well, aren't. And to watch the game, Hillis looked better than his final stat line. Yes, he often got stuffed - leading to his low ypc - but he also had several bruising 5+ yard runs where he looked every bit the player the Browns need him to be next season.
New arrival Phillip Merling has been solid, if not spectacular. Two sacks already. Two tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery offer a glimmer of optimism for Merling as a possible week one starter next season.
Also on the optimism bandwagon is the recent explosion of S T.J. Ward. His six interceptions for the season is strong on its own. That they've all come in the last seven games shows a player who is in the zone and making plays for the team.
Presently, the Browns are in line for the fourth pick in the draft, and the next two games could potentially land them anywhere in the top eight or so picks. While all the focus seems to be on the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes, it's not clear whether the Browns would take Luck and throw Colt McCoy onto the bench. Especially with some vague rumours of the Browns being interested in trading down from whatever spot they land. When I contacted the team, however, they assured me that they had no comment and their team was evaluating all players and exploring all opportunities for improvement.
Keep an eye on my column as the offseason approaches. With our new management having a season under their belt and a complete offseason to improve the roster, many among us can't help but be hopeful.
Well, was all the hype worth it? I reported earlier in the week that the team was in various trade talks to find a defensive end via trade. And, officially, the team has. However, the reality may not be as exciting as Browns fans hoped. The team has agreed to send their 4th round draft selection the Dolphins for DE Phillip Merling who offers a big strong body with athleticism that is noticeable better than the ends currently on the team's roster.
GM Brad Mallett had said from the get-go that he intended to build a team that was big, strong, and could kick your ass, so it seems he plans to take 3-4 style DEs with speed and play them in the 4-3 configuration. Whether or not this is a terrible idea will only be shown with time.
With the trade deadline approaching, sources within the Browns front office are suggesting the team is looking to use one or more of their draft picks to procure a defensive end, rather than take their chances in the upcoming draft. Word has it one team has already given verbal confirmation, but details aren't any more specific than that.
More information as I get it, folks!
Update: 17:06 Sources confirm that one of the trade negotiations have been cut off due to league imposed restrictions on the movement of players signed through free agency. An anonymous source inside the Browns' front office stated, "That power mad Anthony Fernandez wouldn't know freedom if it bit him in the ass. Luckily we kicked that ass in week one." No word on whether the previously rumoured "verbal agreement" was this trade or another.
Well, things aren't looking too pretty in Cleveland, are they? I'd be lying if I said I looked forward to holding this press conference. We haven't won a game since week two. We sit at 2-6 and our most recently bit of newsworthyness was having starting guard Shawn Lauvao suspended for two weeks.
I knew this year wasn't going to be showing us the promised land. It was a transtionary year and a building year. As Browns fans, you're probably bored of those, by now. I don't blame you. All I can tell you is that we're learning which players on this roster will be worth keeping around in 2011 and which ones will get released or traded or just benched.
I'm not sure I even want to try to waste your time with upsides. I could talk about how Ryan Torain has helped make our disaster less, errr, disastrous. But we still haven't won any games, so I'm not going insult you by saying that's an upside. I'd love to say that we haven't been truly embarrassed more than a couple of times this season, but there comes a point where the number of 'respectable' losses in a row makes you an embarrassment. And that's what we are.
So, what I want to say is this - Colt McCoy was not benched, per se. As I mentioned in my interview with Tim Miller, we took him out of the lineup to protect him. The Patriots have one of the best pass defenses in the league and Lauvao was out of the lineup and we felt we weren't helping anything by having McCoy play that game. The continued positive development of McCoy is important to this organization and we'll continue to handle him with care. So you can all know right now it's not a failing on Colt's part or any indication we've given up on him. He is our quarterback. But he is under construction, as it were.
That's about the only important message I can think to bring to you, other than let's all look forward to Peyton Hillis' return to the lineup and, more realistically, next year.
Mallett hastily and swiftly exits the room while reports shout frantic questions his way that he doesn't want to answer
What is that sharp pain? Oh, right, that's the feeling of cold harsh reality. To put it another way, that's the feeling of being a Browns fan.
You know, GM Mallett simply stated at the start of this season that he wanted the Browns to compete and not be a joke. Our 2-0 start had everyone all worked up that we might not suck after all.
Well, two losses later and things aren't looking too bright. A huge part of that outlook is, of course, the 9 week injury to one of our best players - HB Peyton Hillis. Oh, man, do we not want to even think about what the next 8 or so games are going to look like without our mountain of a HB toting the ball.
The way things have played out so far is interesting and depressing. We pretty handily defeated the Buccaneers in week one. We dug out of a hole and fought our way to a tight victory against the Chiefs in week two. Week three saw us lose a close hard fought battle to the Ravens. And to finish out the 1st quarter of the season we got ourselves humiliated by the upstart Bengals. In case you're missing the trend, things have gotten progressively worse since week one, folks.
Bright spots?! Obviously Joe Haden is kicking ass and taking names. While others have been playing reasonably, I'm not sure there's another player truly worthy of high praise.
I'd have plenty to worry about this week's loss, even if Hillis hadn't gone down. Him going down presents so many problems, I barely know where to start.
1. Poor, poor Colt McCoy. The gameplan this season was to put McCoy on the field immediately, but rely heavily on the running game and don't ask much of McCoy. Protect him at all times and give him a chance to learn playing in the NFL. With Hillis gone, defenses really have nothing to worry about with regards to the run game and can now stop stacking the box and can focus on stopping the passing game. A task that most defenses are probably up to. Should the team actually consider benching the kid, to protect his long term development?
2. Who's going to run the ball? Probably just Mike Bell, but we'll have to sign someone. Will they try to sign someone who'll start? Sign someone to split carries with Bell? Sign someone to fill roster req's and just have Bell and Montario Hardesty do their best? I don't think it makes sense for the Browns to trade for a quality back given that Hillis is a stud and will be back. So the running game's going to be ugly.
3. How bad is our defense going to end up looking? In our first three games, our defense seemed to do pretty well. Our rush defense wasn't anything to write home about, but our pass defense was getting the job done. The Bengals exposed to our defense for what it truly is - undermanned in the front seven and not strong enough in the secondary to overcome our lack of balance. This is going to get worse, folks. Our offense with no running game will not be able to keep the other team off the field which means we're almost certainly in for some ugly games, folks.
So, basically, it's another year with your Cleveland Browns.
Until next time, fans. Try not to drink too heavily.
Firstly, I'd like to talk about the first two games of the season, and then I'll talk about our upcoming week three matchup with the Ravens.
Our week one matchup with the Buccaneers was obviously a very exciting game for us. While it was far from a perfect performance, the reality is that we took on a team with high aspirations and really kicked their butts, if you'll excuse my French. To go into the 4th quarter of a game up 21-3 is a reality that will put a smile on a person's face. We didn't run the ball as well as we would have liked, but Colt McCoy threw the ball really well in his rookie debut. And our defense obviously played better than we could have hoped. Yes, they put up 13 points on us in the 4th quarter, but such is life when the other team is desperately trying to claw victory from defeat's hands. We held on, and won our season opener.
While you might not guess it from the box score, week two excited me more than week one. With all due respect to the Chiefs, I don't believe them to be a stronger team than the Buccs, though they certainly aren't a weak opponent. What makes that win so encouraging to me is the way in which it played out. We dug ourselves an 0-10 hole by half-time, but our team didn't give up. We fought our way back slowly and with determination. The team's toughness - both physical and mental - showed in that game and it gives me hope for the kind respect we'll be able to command this season. Our passing game was ugly, but neither team could pass on the day. Our running game was the stuff of legend. 232 yards on the ground between Peyton Hillis and Mike Bell. I want to build this team to exert its will on the opponent and in this game, we did exactly that. Very exciting.
So, up next is our first divisional game. We travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. The Ravens are clearly a step above our previous two opponents and that this is a division game ups the pressure even more. Should we win this game, we'd be 3-0 with a divisional win and the Ravens would be 1-2. Let's be honest, that would start turning some heads.
On paper this game is pretty interesting. Our defense statistically outranks theirs so far, and their offense statistically outranks ours. That's with two weeks in the books. I believe us to be the scrappy underdog. I do think the Ravens take us seriously and even should we lose, I believe it will be a tight game. We have to succeed in running the ball, we have to succeed at protecting Colt from making mistakes and we have to force turnovers and stop the run on defense. No voodoo magic, here, that's what most teams need to do.
You know, week one definitely provides one a clean slate from which to draw whatever hopeful picture of the season a deluded fan may wish to dream of. Granted, the chalk dust of an 0-4 preseason and the bleak opinions of most around the league regarding the chances of the Browns in 2010... well, that makes the slate not as clean as us loyal Dawg Pounders would like.
Never the less! We have a season to play, folks. And we haven't been eliminated from the play-offs, yet. And there are other things to play for. Draft order. Spoiling the play-off hopes of other teams who underestimate us. Keeping your jobs! Keep these dreams in your heads, members of the Browns organization!
So let's get to it, folks. Who's up in week 1?
Well, it's none other than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that is loaded with small children who weren't alive the last time the Browns were relevant. (Who are we kidding, the last time the Browns were relevant, Bretty Favre's streak hadn't even started).
To get more real, this game is obviously favored towards the Buccs, but what makes the game worth even bringing up is that it's the first (and hopefully not last) heavy weight match between the two freight trains of the GZL running world. Yes, it's Peyton Hillis vs LaGarette Blount to see which beefy old-school bad-ass motherfucker is the most bad-ass. Both defenses are going to be nursing bruises after this one. With any luck it'll be a hard fought match up.
Other notable story lines are that of who will start for the Browns at QB (Delhomme vs. McCoy), how will the Browns' 4-3 defensive line do (especially with two 3-4 DEs), and how will all the rookies that are likely to start on both of these two teams fair in their first GZL game?
New General Manager Brad Mallett didn't take very long to start putting his stamp on his new team. While his moves were for the most part minor, there is a bit of shakeup going down at Browns Headquarters.
Let's get started with the negative - the following players have been released.
If I had to guess, I'd say the RT job is Garner's to lose, but Okam is probably looking at being a back-up or perhaps a rotational player in the 4-3 system Mallett and Mangini are rumoured to be switching to.
Finally, two rare trades were executed that ship out too relatively big name veterans for an interesting collection of new assets.
Most recently, the team finalized a trade with the Buccaneers that looked like so:
There are a lot of rumblings from the Dawg Pound about what Mallett could be hoping to happen this season if he's already shipping players out for draft picks that won't be on the field until next season, but one has to consider the other secondary players the team has, Brown's age, and the fact that the league overruled the team's request to play Brown at Safety this season. Time will tell if this move benefits the team, at any rate.
Finally, pretty much proving the rumoured switch to a 4-3 is the following trade:
Now, in a 4-3 you have to give the edge here to Sammie Lee Hill, and Tye Hill infuses the secondary with some desperately needed speed, though his polish isn't quite where I'd like it to be for a 28 year old. All in all, I think you have to call this trade a smart one for the future of the Browns.
Today I am excited to announce a change in staffing for your Cleveland Browns. General Manager Tom Heckert has been replaced with young up-and-comer Brad Mallett - a successful pro coach from parallel universe leagues such as TWR and TNL. While Mallett has never won a championship, he's virtually always fielded competitive, exciting football teams. Something the fans of Cleveland haven't enjoyed in quite some time. No one wants to listen to the Team President, so I'll give the podium to your new General Manager.
Brad Mallett steps up to the podium
First off, I'd like to thank this organization for believing in me and giving me a chance to bring success to an historic franchise that hasn't tasted success in quite some time. This team has been competing in this league since 1946 but hasn't won a championship since 1964. That's 46 years ago. We haven't won a division title since 1989 - 21 years ago. We haven't haven't made the play-offs since 2002 - 8 years ago. I was finishing up my undergraduate degree the last time this team played in the play-offs. That's one play-off appearance the previous decade. We had just one play-off appearance in the '90s, as well. This is not acceptable.
Naturally, I hope to change that.
I look at this roster and I see lots of places we can improve. Thankfully, the general managers of the other 31 teams in this league can say the same. I like to build teams. As a General Manager I don't see the fun in taking a job where the roster is already in tremendous shape. Fortunately, those types of job openings rarely occur, for obvious reasons!
This is a once proud franchise that has suffered under failed attempt after failed attempt to bring back its winning tradition, and I am yet another contender. I have talked extensively with the coaching staff led by Eric Mangini and we intend to install a system and roster that brings back the way this team once played. We intend to relentless pound the opponent on both sides of the ball and control the tempo of the game as much as possible. Recently acquired HB Peyton Hillis will help us pound on the offensive side of the ball, and we think rookie QB Colt McCoy has the talent to do what we ask of him - which shouldn't be too much this year. Both have looked tremendous during the offseason so far, and we have high hopes for the duo. On defense, it's harder to find that standout player that will help us towards our goal of pounding the opposing offense into submission, but its my job as GM to build towards that and Mangini's job as Head Coach to extecute that goal with what he's got.
Anyone standing at a podium introducing themselves to this kind of position should have hope, optimism, and confidence. I have these things, but I also want to be realistic in that we are in one of the toughest divisions in football and we do not expect a division crown this year. What we intend is to field a competitive team that commands respect, to begin establishing our new idenity. I hope to have a winning season by next year and I hope to be in the play-offs by year three. These are ambitious goals - if for no other reason than our division members - but they are not overly ambitious.
To all the other GMs, coaches, and players of the GZL, I look forward to competing with you.