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Browns trade Trent Richardson

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Now that the shock has worn off, here are some thoughts:

- So many people are analyzing this trade in the context of Richardson being the third pick in the draft and also in the context of the past 14 years of misery in Cleveland. I get it, but that shouldn’t impact the football decision this regime made.

- Richardson’s potential is hard to give up, but his production never lived up to the potential. Yes, he was injured last year, and I like many had high hopes that a healthy Richardson would be a beast this year. He hasn’t been. He still dances too much approaching the hole. He seems to lack the instinct of great between-the-tackles runners like Emmitt Smith. He has never had the explosiveness of elite backs like Barry Sanders. He’s also been very injury prone. In hindsight, I don’t think even Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert would have drafted him again at #3 knowing what they know now. So we need to put aside where he was drafted.

- Given his production, and even with his potential, the Browns definitely got more than fair value in return for Richardson. Having another first rounder in a loaded draft next year is a great asset.

- Many of us were wondering why we weren’t seeing Richardson on third down. Tony Grossi has implied that the new coaching staff wasn’t happy with his grasp of those packages. This new regime saw him play two mediocre games, and apparently they weren’t that impressed.

- I was all for drafting Richardson in 2011, but I understood the risk of taking a running back that high. So far the move hasn’t panned out that well, and I can’t blame the new regime for getting back a first rounder for a running back, particularly when they subscribe to the theory that you can always find backs in later rounds.

- Most suspect that the current regime has given up on Brandon Weeden. None of us know for sure, and he or Hoyer could potentially surprise everyone by playing great over the rest of the season, but it’s safe to say the Browns will likely need to address the quarterback situation, and they’ve certainly put themselves in a position to address that in a stacked 2014 draft if necessary.

- Because that draft is stacked, the Browns don’t have to collapse this year and “tank for Teddy” for all this to make sense. There will likely be plenty of good quarterback prospects to choose from next year, and they also have the assets to trade up if they so desire.

- This team doesn’t suddenly become a 2-14 mess like the Raiders just because they traded Richardson. The defense should be able to keep them in most games. We can’t replace Richardson’s potential, but his actual production won’t be that hard to replace. If they can get solid quarterback play from Weeden or Hoyer, they will win some games. I’d rather see the defense and offense improve so next year’s draft isn’t the start of another total rebuild project.

It’s disappointing that after only two weeks the entire season has been thrown into turmoil with this trade. I understand why some fans are reacting so negatively. But from a football perspective I think they made a good move. We’ll see how it plays out.

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Chud won’t overreact to Browns struggles on offense

Fans and pundits can overreact to one half of preseason football, but Rob Chudzinski seems determined to keep things in perspective. Maybe the film wasn’t as bad as some feared. Chud initially said he would have Brandon Weeden and the first team offense get some reps against the Chicago Bears in the last preseason game, but now he has changed his mind. Weeden, Trent Richardson and the other Browns starters will sit for the game, with only guys like Josh Gordon and Oniel Cousins getting in the game. Cousins needs reps at guard to get ready for the season opener.

I would have liked to see Weeden and the offense play better against the Colts, but progress will not occur in a straight line for this young team. Last week was a setback, but it’s important to look at everything we saw in the preseason. Richardson looks ready and healthy, and it looks like Weeden can flourish in the new offense.

We won’t know anything, however, until we see several regular season games. The NFL is so unpredictable these days, and the Browns are a young team that will probably be inconsistent even if they improve dramatically. The national media types seem to be giving the new regime the benefit of the doubt, but Weeden will have to prove things on the field. This seems to be highlighted in the odds, with Cleveland’s odds to win the Super Bowl ranging from 80/1 to 150/1 at online bookmakers.

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Jason La Canfora needs a better editor

Jason La Canfora created quite a buzz in Cleveland last week with a column that basically ripped the personnel decisions of Tom Heckert. Here’s the most damning paragraph in the article.

So, while the previous brain trust in Cleveland — president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert — received praise (some in the local media took Heckert’s departure particularly personally), the reality is this: Aside from center Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas, the new regime didn’t inherit one above-average offensive talent. No one has proven he is, as training camp looms, a standout skill player.

Yes, from a personnel standpoint, it really is that bleak.

On it’s face this quote seems ridiculous. When one considers whether a player has “talent,” most interpret that as having the physical tools and skills necessary to have significant upside in the sport. With that in mind, the young Browns offense is loaded with talent, with Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz, Greg Little and Josh Gordon. Now, La Canfora can rightly point out that none of these guys are proven talents, but that’s not what he said in that blurb above.

Later in the article, he does address the players I mentioned. He calls Greg Little an “inconsistent but talented receiver.” He says that “Gordon clearly has talent.” So which is it? You can’t say they have no players beyond Mack and Thomas that are above-average talent players, and then turn around and point out that Little and Gordon have talent.

As for Richardson, sure there are questions about injuries and whether he was drafted too high at #3, but many pro scouts called him the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. La Canfora may not agree with that, but his argument that Richardson isn’t even an “above-average talent” seems ridiculous.

He does lay out the challenges facing the Browns on offense, but he completely misses the mark on the nature of those challenges. The Browns have plenty of young talent. The key is developing that talent and overcoming the inconsistency issues that plague most young players. La Canfora is confusing the issues of talent and youth.

Epic rant from Jim Nantz about the Browns and Mike Lombardi

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.

Browns hire Norve Turner as offensive coordinator

The Browns have made it official. Norv Turner will be the new offensive coordinator. He hasn’t been a very good head coach, but he’s an excellent coordinator who was in high demand, and he should make Rob Chudzinski’s job a lot easier as a first-time head coach.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Turner calls the plays as well, and I’m very curious to see Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson in this offense.

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