Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Browns: True or false?

Sometime after the 49ers game, it hit me. An entire season of Browns football had passed, and I don't think I remember a single public mention of owner Randy Lerner.

No wondering about whether he is considering selling the team. No arguing about his involvement or lack of involvement in the day-to-day matters of the team. No hand-wringing over whether Lerner cares more about the Browns, or his English Premiership club, Aston Villa.

From August through December, Lerner had managed to do something he had never done in any previous football season since assuming control of the Browns: stay out of the spotlight. Having a winning, smoothly-run team will allow most owners to do that.

Without talk of a front office overhaul, philosophical changes in direction or a general feeling of impending doom to command the attention of fans and the media, this Browns offseason promises to be like few in recent memory. Football gets to take center stage as the Browns look, for once, like they're building toward something besides the next coaching change.

This whole concept of "adding pieces" is far different from "scrapping the whole thing and starting over," I realize. But once you get used to it, you'll find you're spending far less money on ulcer medication.

With that in mind, let's begin with a little true-and-false about what the Browns need to do this offseason.

1. The Browns need to sign Albert Haynesworth.

FALSE. It would be nice for the Browns to nab Haynesworth, Tennessee's temperamental defensive tackle who is entering unrestricted free agency. But not for what he's likely going to demand.

The buzz about Haynesworth is largely unwarranted. He was playing for a contract this year, yet the only major statistic that took a jump for him was his sack total, which climbed to six from a previous high of three in 2005, which was also his most productive season for tackles with 36 solos and 16 assists. This year, he netted 32 and eight.

At 6'-6" and 320 pounds, Haynesworth is a monster in the defensive middle, to be sure. But at the age of 26, offering him a deal that will take him to the other side of 30 is also a big risk.

2. The Browns need to trade as high as they can to draft a defensive tackle.
TRUE. If you want a franchise-caliber player to act as the centerpiece of a rebuilt defensive line, it's probably better to get one of your own in the draft, rather than buying someone else's used model.

In a fantasy world, the Browns would figure out a way to trade for Miami's first overall selection and take LSU's Glenn Dorsey, possibly the best interior defensive lineman to enter the NFL since Warren Sapp. But daydreams don't make good draft picks.

A more realistic scenario would involve the Browns trading into the middle of the first round for a shot at USC's Sedrick Ellis. At 6'-1" and a shade over 300 pounds, he's a boulder who scouts say has enough speed to get in the backfield and make plays. With Ellis and Shaun Smith up front, the Browns' D-line sure wouldn't hurt for width. And they might be able to apply a pass rush without blitzing, which would be a nice change of pace from the just-completed season.

3. The Browns need to trade Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn, or risk a team-polarizing quarterback controversy.

FALSE. The only way Derek Anderson stays on this team and doesn't remain the starting quarterback is if he plays his way out of the position next year or gets injured. Anderson, while still possessing some very noticeable flaws as a QB, is still the starter for a 10-win team, and deserves to be the unquestioned starter until he proves he shouldn't be, regardless of how good or bad Quinn looks.

There is no controversy brewing unless Anderson makes it so with his play.

4. However, if the Browns decide to move a QB, it should be Anderson.

TRUE. While the decision to trade Charlie Frye and insert Anderson as the starting QB might have been a watershed moment for the new Browns, Quinn is still the longterm future of the QB position in Cleveland.

As Kellen Winslow alluded to following the win over the 49ers, you don't trade away a first- and second-round pick to move up and draft a guy whose future is longterm clipboard duty. If the Browns trade Quinn, there is virtually no chance they would recoup the value of the picks they surrendered to draft him.

Anderson is the hot commodity right now. He would likely yield more than Quinn at this point, though it's still safe to bet that Quinn has a higher performance ceiling than Anderson. While the Browns are under no pressure to trade Anderson, it appears, given the choice, they should listen to offers for him and guard Quinn as their future starting QB.

5. Todd Grantham is a bum and should be fired.

FALSE. It's amazing what a year can do to a guy's reputation. Last January, Grantham had come within a whisker of taking over Michigan State's football program, and was considered the fast-rising assistant coach who would inevitably take over once Romeo Crennel got himself fired.

This January, Grantham is coming off a season in which the Browns defense was among the league's worst, and the public's perception of Grantham has gone from "defensive mastermind" to "village idiot."

Both assumptions are wrong.

Last season, Grantham benefitted from the emergence of Kamerion Wimbley, D'Qwell Jackson and Leigh Bodden as the Browns defense played well enough to create the illusion that defense would be the team's calling card in the coming years.

This year, Ted Washington ran out of gas, Orpehus Roye officially became old, and the defensive line was woefully thin for most of the year. It created a domino effect as Wimbley was frequently double-teamed and neutralized, no pass rush was evident from the opposite side, and the Browns' linebackers and secondary were frequently forced to play deep coverages to try and give the huffing, puffing pass rushers a chance to get to the quarterback.

Translation: Grantham's playcalling isn't the primary culprit for the Browns' defensive struggles. It's a defense that's too old and too thin at some key positions. The Browns need to correct the personnel issues before making a judgment on Grantham.

6. The Browns need to shore up their receiver corps.

TRUE. Winslow and Braylon Edwards are studs, but the receiver corps is dangerously thin behind them.

Joe Jurevicius has said he will return for at least one more year, but already well into his 30s, you can't count on J.J. for consistent production much longer. Beyond Jurevicius is Josh Cribbs, whose primary responsibility is to the special teams unit, and Tim Carter, who will never be mistaken for Cris Carter.

The Browns need to dip their toes into the free agent market here, or spend a middle-round pick on a receiver -- or maybe two. It might not look it now, but in a year, the Browns' receivers lineup could be Winslow, Edwards and a big load of ???

7. Re-signing Jamal Lewis is the most important item on the Browns' offseason to-do list.

TRUE. In one season, Lewis proved that he fits here and still has gas left in the tank. There are no other options out there that fit the Browns as well as Lewis does, and that might be true for both parties.

Trading up to draft Darren McFadden is pure fantasy, Chargers free agent Michael Turner is a career backup from a warm-weather team, and the rest of the top free agent running backs include Dallas' Marion Barber (not going anywhere) and Julius Jones (always hurt), and Oakland's Justin Fargas (do you really want to sign anyone from Oakland's offense at this point?)

Without Lewis, Cleveland's offense takes a big step backward next year. The Browns should try to squeeze every last ounce of football out of Lewis that they can, before his body wears down for good.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with you about Albert Haynesworth. He's a cancer – hasn't Cleveland had enough of them? The Browns finally have a group of core guys that even a Bengals fan can respect.

Lance McCallister, whose a Cincinnati area talk show host put it best with his blog entry about why the Bengals shouldn't pick him up (same applies for the Brown):

Would the real Haynesworth please stand up? Is he completing the classic "salary drive"/"career year"?....or...has he finally gotten it all together?
Prior to this year you knew him as the guy who stepped on the head of a Dallas Cowboy and was suspended 5-games last year. He was an underachiever viewed as lazy. He once stomped a Titans teammate in the chest in practice. He once left a UT practice and returned with a pole to hit a teammate before being stopped. He was often thought to fake injuries. He was so often overweight he was nickmnaed "Fat Albert".
And while he's a Pro Bowler this year and the Titans were 8th in points is where the Titans ranked in points allowed the previous three year: 31st, 29th, 30th.
Among other stuff .....

Sporting News

At UT Haynesworth nearly was kicked off the team because of a lack of maturity and motivation. At one point during a practice in 2000, Haynesworth walked off the field in frustration and nearly walked away from the game for good. "Haynesworth, I honestly believe, will be a dominating player in this league," an AFC scout says, "if he can keep it all together upstairs."

Pro Football Weekly
Some suggest that his play and his soon-to-be free-agent status go hand in hand. For years, the knock on him as a player was that he wasn’t well-conditioned, that he tended to take plays off and that he didn’t play to his potential.
He commands two blockers on nearly every play, opening things up for other defenders, and has been at the center of the Titans’ 180-degree turnaround from their 30th-ranked run defense a year ago to the league’s best at the midpoint of 2007.

Zach said...

True or False:

The Indians lack of moves this offseason is troubling, if only because you can't count on everything that worked last season working again.

What do you think, Erik?

Hornless Rhino said...

It kills me to admit it, but you're probably right about needing another wide receiver. The Browns have thrown a ridiculous number of high draft picks at wide receivers over the past eight seasons, and with the notable exceptions of Winslow and Edwards, haven't had a lot to show for their efforts.

That brings up the whole unpleasant topic of Travis "T Money" Wilson, upon whom the Browns apparently wasted a third round pick in 2006. Wilson, as you'll recall, announced that he was the top receiver in the draft in 2006, and then proceeded to spend the next two seasons adding depth to the Browns inactive list.

The good news is that although he didn't play a down in 2007, Wilson does have his own web site, where you can keep up on the latest news about him and buy his autographed merchandise. Can a reality series be far behind?