By Tony Grossi
The advent of the NFL transaction season brought a slew of great questions about the Browns’ intentions in free agency and the draft. There were also some pointed remarks about my infatuation with Brigham Young defensive end/linebacker Ziggy Ansah in my mock draft.
Hey Tony: The Browns NEVER get any decent free agents. We always talk, but never sign. Andre Rison? Jeff Garcia? We know they can usually be the difference between 8-8 and 11-5. Seriously, is this year going to be different? I think arguing between DT or LB or WR is just semantics. We need more talent. Anywhere.
-- Michael, Ravenswood, WV
Hey Michael: The past regime was anti-free agency and also had to follow the instructions of the previous owner. This regime seems more agreeable to use free agency for the following reasons: 1. The timing is right. The team has enormous cap room and has a foundation of youth in place. Plus, there are no unwieldy contracts to discard. 2. The new regime wants to invigorate the fan base. 3. The owner knows that while he professes to build the team through the draft, he has to show the fans that things are different. I expect the Browns to be more active in free agency than in recent years. We’ll know more this week.
Hey Tony: If the current regime really believes that Josh Gordon has great upside and really is impressed with how Greg Little finished the season and yet still pursues a big name free agent wide receiver, does that mean they intend to use a base three wide receiver set?
-- Paul, Crescent Springs, KY
Hey Paul: My guess is that the new regime does not have a consensus on Gordon and Little. So if they add a big-name receiver, they would be saying, “This is our No. 1 wideout.” My opinion is that Little is best utilized in the slot, so there is a need for a second outside receiver.
|Ahtyba Rubin Photo/Getty|
Hey Tony: Love your work Tony. Thanks for all the insight and info. I have not heard anything about what the Browns plan to do with Rubin or Taylor. It doesn't make much sense to keep both guys while running a 3-4 defense. That's a luxury in talent we just can't afford. Taylor would seem most probably, to me, to be possibly traded for either another player or an additional draft pick. What are your thoughts on this?
-- Jeff, Aurora, OH
Hey Jeff: I agree that both players have been devalued by the change to the 3-4. Now, if Ray Horton believes otherwise – that one or the other can be just as productive as a 3-4 end, or that both can still be used frequently in four-man defensive fronts – then I can see both players remaining. But it seems to me that a few players might be expendable as a result of the switch to the 3-4. Taylor would bring more in a trade because of his draft status (first round, 2011) and because he is still bound to his original contract, whereas Rubin (fifth round, 2008) received a big contract extension last year.
Hey Tony: I’ve probably missed some news stories along the way, but why would the Browns even be considering letting Phil Dawson go only to sign another veteran kicker? Based on the list of free agents available, Phil matches up against any of them! His leg seems to have gotten stronger over the years and he knows how to kick in Cleveland winds. Unless we are talking millions of dollars in savings, I just can’t get behind this.
-- Mike, Columbus, OH
Hey Mike: Neither Joe Banner nor Mike Lombardi have commented about any of their free agents, so we’d just be guessing on their reasoning. My guess is they feel Dawson’s contact demands have reached the point where they exceed his value to the team, in their opinion. It’s not even debatable that Dawson is the best outdoors kicker with a northern team. The Browns simply don’t value that distinction as highly as fans, media, and Dawson, do.
Hey Tony: We've heard Brandon Weeden compared to Derek Anderson from time to time. For example, both have an arm that can rocket the ball down the field. With Chud now running the show and with the success DA had under him as OC, what are the real similarites/differences between the two? Are they so similar it's scary or does Weeden have some noticeable differences that will save everyone in Cleveland from freaking out and worrying about another "one-year wonder?"
-- Jeff, Madison, OH
Hey Jeff: The only similarity is arm strength. Anderson was blessed to have a fairly good supporting cast in 2007 – a strong left side of the line in Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach, a strapping WR who had elite skills at the time in Braylon Edwards, a TE who despite a knee injury could create mismatches and catch in Kellen Winslow and a physical running back who had one good year left in him in Jamal Lewis. And a coach in Chudzinski who was able to match all those talents with a system to get them the ball. Weeden obviously is older than DA and I think much more mature. I think Weeden has potential to have a better year.
Hey Tony: What will be the role of the fullback in a Chud/Turner offense? Is there anyone on the roster who can fill that role? If not, what will be done in the off-season to find that guy?
-- Bill, Florence, KY
Hey Bill: Chudzinski and Turner both have used the fullback in the traditional role as a lead-blocker for the feature running back. Frankly, I don’t see anyone who can fill the role, so they have to sign one in free agency, draft one or sign an undrafted free agent.
Hey Tony: With no one hot in the draft, Alex Smith headed to Kansas City and Michael Vick off the market at least for the upcoming season do you think the Browns are headed into this season with Brandon Weeden as the starter despite what they have said or will say about competition? Personally I'd like them to be "stuck" with Weeden in this Offense for a year and see how he develops. Also despite what people may think isn't Derek Anderson a logical backup or is that just too easy?
-- Doug, Orange, CA
Hey Doug: My sense is the Browns are resigned to putting Weeden on a one-year trial with the new coaching regime. If he doesn’t cut it, he will be gone. Anderson might be more of a logical backup if you were sure about Weeden. But less than that full confidence in Weeden, they may look for a true “competitor,” who might take over the job if Weeden fails in 2013.
Hey Tony: I think that Greg Toler will be one of the CBs that we will sign. He played under Horton in Arizona and is an underrated corner. Thoughts?
-- Kevin, Middletown, NY
Hey Kevin: Agreed. I think Toler could be a target of the Browns. He doesn’t have much starting experience but he definitely could start in Cleveland and Horton knows him well.
Hey Tony: How much will the Browns' activity in free agency affect the draft? If they sign a pass rusher like Paul Kruger to play opposite Jabaal Sheard or a cornerback like Keenan Lewis to play opposite Joe Haden, what does that mean for the sixth pick? Do you still take a pass rusher? Do you take the best guard prospect a number of analysts have seen in a long time in Chance Warmack? I saw a tweet from Bleacher Report's Matt Miller Feb 27th that said the Browns really like Geno Smith but didn't think he would be available. Is he a real possibility? What would you do?
-- David, Mentor, OH
Hey David: Yes, the draft is tied to what the Browns achieve in free agency. If they fill a vital need with a high-priced player, that gives them the flexibility to seek another need with their first pick in the draft. I can see a pass rusher in free agency followed by a pass rusher in the draft, but I wouldn’t see them doubling up at cornerback. As for Smith, I am not enamored enough with him to sacrifice other needs at No. 6 overall to take him. The Browns might have a different opinion.
|Tyrann Mathieu Photo/Getty|
Hey Tony: In thinking of the upcoming draft and free agency, I have been hoping the following scenario plays out and wanted to get your thoughts … I've heard the talk of the Browns possibly grabbing Paul Kruger and Keenan Lewis in free agency. I think that would be great. However, in relation to the draft – if they do take Dion Jordan, or Ziggy Ansah at #6 – do you like the idea of taking Tyrann Mathieu in round #3? I think someone with his tenacity would tremendously bolster the defense. Obviously, here’s hopping he’s a changed individual. From interviews I’ve seen, it does appear so… I truly think he will be a tremendous playmaker in the NFL and am hopeful the Browns go this route via the draft. What say you?
-- Brenin, Westerville, OH
Hey Brenin: I’m not a fan of Mathieu because: 1. He carries the baggage of his college offenses (drug-related). 2. Is too short for my liking at the position (under 5-9). 3. Is not that fast (ran 4.5 at the combine). I know he was a playmaker at LSU in 2011. That’s fine. I don’t see the attraction to match the hype.
Hey Tony: I respect your football opinions a great deal, but it surprises me that you would fall for the "NFL Combine super-athlete" in Ziggy Ansah from BYU. Shouldn't a #6 overall pick be used for a more proven commodity? You know, someone who's played the sport for more than two years? I can just hear us in the future saying, "Remember when the new Browns brain trust spent its first pick in the new regime on a soccer player who runs fast for his size?" I'd let someone else take the chance on this guy.
-- Jim, Boardman, OH
|Ziggy Ansah Photo/ESPN|
Hey Jim: I wouldn’t classify Ansah as a “combine super-athlete.” Unlike some workout warriors, Ansah didn’t manufacture his athletic skills. They were natural. He didn’t even train for the combine – as so many draft-eligible players now do – and still turned in a 4.63 40 while measuring 6-5 and 271 pounds. Yes, he is a risk at No. 6. But I submit that every one of the pass rushers in that vicinity have risks, too. The difference is Ansah’s “ceiling” – his absolute maximum level of play based on his talents – could be higher than any of them. Jarvis Jones, Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo are players worthy of consideration at No. 6, also. But none, in my mind, is a clear choice over Ansah.
Hey Tony: You were recently asked a question about the availability in acquiring Ryan Mallett from the Patriots and whether or not it was a wise decision. And to my shock (sarcasm dripping from lips) you turned it into a anti Belichick rant saying "The amazing success of Brady, a sixth-round pick in 2000, has given Bill Belichick an almost legendary status as an evaluator of quarterbacks. It is a myth, however. Belichick has achieved only one playoff season with a quarterback other than Brady – and that was in Cleveland in 1994 with Vinny Testaverde"...blah blah blah ...unreal Tony... give it up man ...it's ok ...Bernie's skills were diminished ...he carried a clip board for the rest of his career... You are really, really bitter man...Seriously... Oh, BTW who took over as a QB coach when Brady was a rookie after their QB coach Dick Rehbein died of a heart attack??? Oh yeah that would be Belichick...who said they never learned more about football that year?? that would be Brady...Belichick actually showed him films of Tim Couch on how to stay in the pocket and step up in the pocket ( look it up bitterman)... Oh yeah what has Matt Cassel done sense he left Belichick’s tutoring???? The reason he hasn't been able to show his ability to evaluate, tutor and teach a new QB IS BECAUSE HE DOESN'T HAVE TO BECAUSE HE A HAS HEALTHY ONE THAT PLAYS !!!!!!
-- Devin, Concord, OH
Hey Devin: You imply that I formed my opinion based on Belichick’s release of Kosar? Not true. My comments were aimed at his draft record at the position. I rest my case. And you should take a chill pill and come off that ledge. ALL CAPS and multiple !!!!!! are not good for your blood pressure.
Hey Tony: Looking at all these mock drafts, Why aren't the Browns considering Geno Smith. Look at his stats over 3 years in college as a starter.
2010 cmp% 64.8; yds 2763; TD 24; Int 7;
2011 65.8%; 4385; 31; 7
2012 71.2%; 4205; 42; 6
His overall stats are 97 TD and 21 Int.
These stats are significantly better than Weeden's coming out of college. (75 TD; 27 Int). The knock on Smith has mainly been his footwork and he is sometime inaccurate. Weeden just went to a footwork camp and is also inaccurate. You have two coaches who have seen both Smith and Weeden (I am saying Weinke is one) and both say Smith is franchise QB and Weeden is basically just good. I have some faith in Weeden, but for all this talk about the vertical game, Weeden is not accurate with the deep ball. How many did he overthrow then compensate for it and underthrow last season? Geno is accurate with the deep ball. When was the last time the Browns have been in a position to pick the best QB in the draft since 1999? If Geno is there, he is arguably the best player available (a draft strategy the Browns never explore) and is also a player of need as they are looking for another QB. I understand we have many holes to fill, but it all starts with the QB.
-- John, Denver, CO
Hey John: Going into the combine, I agreed with you. The Browns definitely needed to do their due diligence on Smith. If they conclude that Smith is undeniably ‘the man’ to take them to the Super Bowl, then without question they should take him. If they’re not sure and just think or hope he is better than Weeden, then they should pass on him, address another need and give Weeden another year to develop.
Hey Tony: There are reports of the Browns targeting big names like Paul Kruger and Cliff Avril but I hope those reports are wrong. Each player amounts to a part time starter where Avril played 66% of the defensive downs and Kruger played 71% but only because Suggs was out with an injury. Neither one can play the run well, and Avril would need to switch positions. At 10 million a year I would think it would be much better to invest that money into two players such as Ellerbe and Connor Barwin. Barwin had a monster year last season but dropped off when he switched from the weakside to the strongside this season. I think he can be had for a bargain and would still allow the Browns to draft Ezekiel giving them a nice rotation with Sheard without too much money invested into the position group. Do you think Avril is worth 10 million a year? What would you like to see them do?
-- Este, San Francisco, CA
Hey Este: Both Avril and Kruger are good values under their rookie contracts. Give either of them a mega-deal and the value diminishes greatly. The point is this: You want these type of players at the start of their careers, not when they are looking to break the bank. A change of venues, a change of positions, a change of systems, boatloads of guaranteed money … they all have different effects on each player. Teams are better off finding the great pass rushers in the draft and developing them during their initial contract. For that reason, I would favor your second scenario. Given the choice of Avril v. Kruger, Avril clearly has more elite potential and would be the more impactful player, in my opinion
Hey Tony: I love these fan forums, you do a great job. Your former employer had a really interesting article on the Browns and Banner employing advanced statistical analysis as part of their player evaluation process. Compared to baseball, football has a lot less data to sift through and it really is more of a team game which makes it harder to apply this science, but I still feel like this sort of exercise can really help a team. What is your opinion on this? Thanks, keep up the great work.
-- Ananth, Richmond, VA
Hey Ananth: I think statistical analysis has been in place in the NFL for several years. Bill Belichick was doing it in Cleveland in the 1990s. It’s just now teams call it analytics and they create a position and give somebody an office to churn out computer analyses of selected projects.
Hey Tony: When Jimmy Haslam was announced as the new owner he stated that he was looking into putting a dome on FirstEnergy Stadium. Architects were called in and he spoke to city council. There has never been any of their findings released. Is the dome still being discussed or has the idea been canned?
-- Greg, Hermitage PA
Hey Greg: Haslam never stated he was looking into putting a dome on the stadium. He was asked, ‘Would you consider it?’ and he responded, diplomatically, that he would look into anything to improve the stadium. He did state he would hire “the leading” architects to research the idea. Their findings have not been released. My opinion is this is a pie-in-the-sky idea with absolutely no chance of happening. If there ever is a dome stadium on the lakefront, it will be a new one built from the ground up and I pity the taxpayers who will be forced to pay the multi-billion dollar tab.
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