When a team loses consistently for years, it’s hard for fans and members of the media to be rational about anything. Everyone wants instant gratification, and any attempt to take the long view about a team’s roster is met with emotional outbursts about how people are tired of waiting for a winner.
I was waiting for this draft before making any kind of judgement about the new Browns regime. Like most I’m tired of the revolving door in Berea, and I wasn’t thrilled with some early comments from Joe Banner and his team that suggested they might blow up the roster, particularly at quarterback.
With that said, I’m very happy now that the draft and the first phase of free agency are completed. The biggest plus has to do with what the Browns didn’t do. Banner always said he would listen to his coaches regarding personnel and needs, and it’s clear that both Chud and Norv Turner told Banner and Lombardi that they thought they could work with Brandon Weeden. So, the Browns resisted any impulse to reach for a quarterback, and all the rumors about Geno Smith going to Cleveland turned out to be BS. That alone makes this draft a success.
I love the Barkevious Mingo pick. The Browns are obsessed with developing a pass rush, and Mingo will be another impact tool for defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing, per se, but the guy who will impact the Browns most in 2013 might not be the player they took at No. 6 overall. At No. 68 overall, they took Leon McFadden, a much-needed CB who knows how to operate on an island. As I look at the depth chart, I don’t see a reason why McFadden can’t break camp as the starter across from Joe Haden. That’s not a small deal because it also maximizes Buster Skrine, who will be able to spend more time in the slot, where he’s much better. Now, that first pick was Barkevious Mingo, a player I’m at once infatuated with as a talent, but skeptical of because of what I considered production that didn’t match up with his talent. Now, Mingo adds depth at outside linebacker, but he’s going to need some developmental work because he played with his hand on the ground at LSU. After that, there isn’t a lot here that you’ll see in 2013. Jamoris Slaughter could provide depth at safety. The lack of a second-round pick really hurt the Browns, who could have used a higher-rated guard — though I do think Garrett Gilkey has the chance to start eventually — and I thought would have been wise to add another inside linebacker. But Josh Gordon is developing and Davone Bess should provide Brandon Weeden with another solid target in the passing game. The hope is Mingo becomes a star, and McFadden can perform early. The good news is, both could happen.
I’m encouraged that the reviews on McFadden seem to be good. If he turns into a starting corner, either on the edge or in the slot, then that’s a very good pick.
Then we have the trades that brought out all the emotions from fragile Browns fans and media members. Basically, the Browns traded a 4 and a 5 and got back and 3 and a 4 for next year . . . and people complained. That’s just beyond silly. A third rounder in particular is a huge asset, as you can grab an excellent player or use it to jump up in the first round.
Our fourth round pick was also used to grab Devone Bess, which was another excellent move for the Browns. Bess gives Weeden a reliable option on third down, which was sorely lacking last year.
All in all, this draft was solid. They didn’t make the kind of headlines that impress draft graders, but who cares? Banner and company made very solid moves, and they avoided making a boneheaded move when they resisted reaching for a quarterback. Right now it looks like we can have a very disruptive front seven, and we have a young offense that has the potential to thrive under Chud and Norv Turner.
The news out of Berea has been much more encouraging lately with some of the statements coming from Joe Banner and Rob Chudzinski. Both seemed to make it clear that they saw some real positives with Brandon Weeden, and it appears Weeden will get every opportunity to win the starting quarterback job in the fall. They’re seeing what we all saw last year – a QB with a great arm that can make every throw, but also a rookie who made predictable mistakes. Many “experts” thought the Browns would be a complete mess last year, but they were in every game and often covered with Weeden keeping them close, so the sports betting world learned not to underestimate him.
Of course, they also challenged Weeden to step up and really work for it, and I have no problem with that at all. I also have no problem with them bringing in competition for him. For his part, Weeden is confident he will start and welcomes the competition.
Most fans and local writers seem to get this, and now the new regime seems to understand as well, though we still haven’t heard from Mike Lombardi. Chud and Norv Turner obviously saw all of this on tape, and hopefully they weren’t shy about letting banner and Lombardi know they had a guy that could run their offense. Banner seemed to state that the Browns will not waste the #6 pick on a QB, and that’s a very positive development. Of course Banner still needs to build some credibility with the media. He says he’ll never “lie” to the media, but do any of us think that his statements that Tom Heckert would be evaluated at the end of the year were honest? In hindsight, they had made up their mind, and the early rumors of Mike Lombardi were all true. Let’s hope this time he’s telling the truth.
There’s also the bizarre infatuation with the read-option that seems to unite Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner. Let’s hope this “trend” runs its course before these two shake up the QB position by trying to find running QBs.
Jim Nantz called in to the Bull and Fox show on 92.3 The Fan and delivered an epic rant about the new Browns organization. You can listen to it here.
His basic message was simple – Jimmy Haslam has assembled an impressive group of people to turn the Browns around, and that Browns fans will soon realize it as they get to work and start winning. He strongly defended his friend Mike Lombardi and took some tough shots at Tony Grossi without mentioning him by name regarding his harsh criticism of Lombardi.
Let’s consider some of the things Nantz said.
First, I agree with him that the overall team assembled by Haslam is impressive, and I’m optimistic about the future direction. This is coming from someone who thought Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert did a ton of the dirty work in turning around the franchise and were heading in the right direction despite some mistakes. Rob Chudzinski is an excellent coordinator, and he seems to have the charisma and leadership qualities necessary to make him a good head coach. I like Haslam’s general style and think he’s looking for the right qualities when considering head coached. Chud has also assembled a very impressive staff, with Norv Turner and Ray Horton leading the pack.
As for Mike Lombardi, I understand both the concerns expressed by people like Grossi along with the praise coming from people like Nantz. Still, Grossi’s comment on the radio the other day that Lombardi was not qualified for the job is ridiculous. People can question past draft picks but he’s certainly developed a resume that prepares him for this job. I also like the fact that Lombardi has been with the NFL Network for 5 years. Anyone with a brain would gain some excellent perspective from that job and would leave there knowing practically every coach and personnel guy in the league.
Also, it’s not like Haslam has handed Lombardi the keys to the organization. The biggest problem with Randy Lerner wasn’t necessarily the people he hired, but the total lack of oversight and accountability that existed after the introductory press conference. Guys like Butch Davis and Eric Mangini desperately needed a strong owner and GM to push back when their desire to control everything led to silly decisions. With Joe Banner and his “team” approach to decision making, no one person can make rash decisions without intense oversight, and you can bet Haslam will be in the room to make sure everyone knows they’ll have to answer for mistakes.
So I know Lombardi isn’t perfect, but I have no problem with a guy like him in the brain trust. Of course Jim Nantz is totally biased in arguing that Lombardi is a football genius. Nantz worships at the Bill Belichick alter, so he’s seems to see everything through that filter. Still, I’m more than comfortable giving Lombardi and the rest of the team a chance.
On the other hand, I think Nantz took some cheap shots at Tom Heckert. Of course Bull and Fox just gushed and didn’t push back on that, which is disappointing given that Heckert rebuilt an old, pathetic roster.
Now, there are legitimate debates on some of Heckert’s picks, and Nantz did raise good points as well. Taking Trent Richardson with the third pick after trading up is certainly debatable, as many believe drafting a running back that high is a mistake. Nance points out late round picks that did well, but pointing out a running back that scores touchdowns in the potent New England offense like Shane Vereen is ridiculous. The question is how would a guy like Vereen have fared with the Browns, who were desperate for some weapons on an offense that didn’t have a great quarterback. I think his point was more persuasive when he brought up Doug Martin who went to Tampa Bay. The Browns could have gotten him at the 22nd pick, and you could argue that young QB Ryan Tannehill at #4 and Martin at #22 would have been better than Richardson and a much older Brandon Weeden.
The real cheap shot was bringing up Russell Wilson, who was passed over by everyone and frankly dropped into the perfect situation. Wilson had a great first year, but he really didn’t flourish until Pete Carroll started running him, and that style of play doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term success.
These are all debatable points, and Nantz brings up a good point that Heckert’s record isn’t pristine. Still, he fairly noted that Richardson could be incredible under Norv Turner, and many think Weeden could flourish there as well. So it will take time to flush out Heckert’s record.
At least the Browns recognize that a foundation has been built, and hopefully the new brain trust can build on it. Overall, I’m glad to hear that Lombardi has guys like Nantz will to speak up on his behalf.
As for Tony Grossi, I understand his reservations, and it will be interesting to see how the soap opera plays out now with Lombardi, Grossi and Nantz. To his credit Grossi has said he’s giving Lombardi a clean slate. Let’s see if he lives up to it.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future for this young Browns team, and Josh Gordon certainly has emerged as a real weapon on offense. Tony Grossi elaborates on this in his latest column, where he also takes the opportunity to repeat his opposition to the absurd notion of having Mike Lombardi replace Tom Heckert.
Grossi points out that Lombardi mocked Heckert’s selection of Gordon in the supplemental draft, and Grossi is leading the charge for those of us who believe that Heckert has done an excellent job of rebuilding the Browns roster.
It will be fascinating to see if the reactions of Grossi, other writers in Cleveland and the fans will have any impact on decisions made by Joe Banner and new owner Jimmy Haslam regarding Heckert’s future. I’m taking them at their word, and assuming they will in fact wait until the end of the season to evaluate Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur.
Grossi has argued that there is little Heckert can do at this point to affect his status, and thus Banner and Haslam should have stated their intentions regarding the GM. I don’t buy that. First, they don’t want to treat Heckert any differently than Pat Shurmur in terms of deciding his future before the end of the season, so I don’t read anything into their silence. Also, Heckert is preparing for next year’s draft and free agency, so they are observing how he works in that lead role. And finally, Heckert’s resume evolves as young players like Gordon improve their performance through the season.
In his latest post, Mike Lombardi writes the following about Beanie Wells:
Who is the best player you have played against?
Every time I talk to a player, I always ask who the best player was they played against in their career. I keep a list, and often the names are not the same. But when the same name seems to come up all the time, I make sure I do more work on that player. This year, it seems like Ohio States’ Chris “Beanie” Wells is the winner. His combination of speed, power and size seems to have players in awe.
Wells should be a force in the NFL. I’d love to see the Browns find a way to get him. I’ll throw up if the Steelers or Ravens take him.