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Browns have issues to resolve as offseason reaches Phase 3 with OTA practices

May 22, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The Morning Kickoff …

Taking care of business: The Browns take the field for the first time in 2015 as a team – offense and defense, veterans and rookies – starting Monday with the first of 10 OTA (organized team activities) practices spread over the three weeks.

The OTAs lead into the mandatory full team minicamp June 16-18, which concludes the “off”season, and takes everyone to summer vacation – the last break before the long haul of training camp, preseason and regular season.

While the Browns’ roster is mostly 98 percent set, there are some issues to resolve before training camp convenes in late July.

Such as:

1. Settling the Tashaun Gipson contract dispute: Gipson, a restricted free agent, has boycotted the voluntary offseason program partly in protest of the team’s decision to give him the second-round contract tender of $2.356 million rather than the top tender of $3.352 million.

The tender merely protects a team’s rights to the player and can be erased with a multi-year contract, which probably was the Browns’ plan. But Gipson apparently took offense that the Browns did not max out for a player who rose from the ranks of undrafted free agent to Pro Bowl safety, doing everything the right way and epitomizing the club’s stated “play like a Brown” mantra.

By not signing the tender, Gipson protected his own right to stay away from any team activities – voluntary or mandatory. He could choose to remain absent from the June minicamp and even training camp without the club leverage of fines as long as he remains unsigned.

The next key date in this squabble is June 15. If Gipson remains unsigned on that date, the Browns could reduce the one-year tender of $2.356 million with an offer just 110 percent of Gipson’s 2014 salary of $627,000. That would be a hardball tactic – effectively a 341 percent paycut from what they originally offered – and would signal the beginning of the end of Gipson’s tenure in Cleveland.

Ideally, the Browns and Gipson would arrive at a long-term deal. But a source said that the two sides are far apart on the value of a multi-year contract. The Browns would prefer to see how Gipson responds in training camp after missing the last six games and the Pro Bowl with a sprained knee.

Ultimately, Gipson may sign the $2.356 million tender before the deadline and bet on himself having an even better year in 2015, and then enter the unrestricted free agent market in March of 2016.

At the Browns’ charity golf event last week, cornerback Joe Haden, the leader of the secondary, which is the clear strength of the team, said, “I don’t think he’s thinking about holding out of training camp. It’s a business and sometimes when the players do their part of it, being a business it looks a little foggy. I think he’s going to be OK. He understands what’s going on. He’s going to be out there for training camp for sure.”

2. Finding a new place-kicker: Since the Browns let Phil Dawson leave in free agency after the 2012 season, they have had three kickers – journeymen Shayne Graham, Billy Cundiff and Garrett Hartley – and most likely will have a fourth different one in 2015.

The team presently has two first-year kickers on its roster -- Casey Spear of Mayfield High School and Vanderbilt, and Travis Coons of Washington. GM Ray Farmer recently said he’d be comfortable heading into the season with an untested kicker or a veteran let go from another team. In 2013, the Browns signed Cundiff the week of the first game after cutting Graham in after preseason.

This position, however, loomed larger after NFL owners made PATs less than automatic by moving them 13 yards – from a 20-yard kick to a 33-yard kick. And everybody knows that nothing is a given in FirstEnergy Stadium in November and December.

3. Surviving the Hard Knocks cut: At NFL meetings in late March, the Browns emphatically stated their opposition to appearing on HBO’s Hard Knocks.

Their No. 1 point was to protect quarterback Johnny Manziel’s private recovery from an offseason drug and alcohol rehabilitation stint.

Although the Browns are one of nine NFL teams eligible to be “drafted” for the series, a source told ESPN Cleveland that the Browns’ request most likely would be granted.

The source said that NFL Films, which produces the series, does not want an unwilling participant. Potential participants are the Texans, Redskins and Bills.

If the Bills are chosen as the featured team, the Browns would have a cameo appearance, after all. The Browns and Bills will have joint practices at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, for a couple days prior to their preseason meeting in FirstEnergy Stadium on Aug. 20.

The featured team on Hard Knocks should be announced in June.

 

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Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Thoughts on Deflategate, Tom Brady's legacy and the PAT rule change

May 20, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The Morning Kickoff …

Deflating Deflategate: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft finally swallowed his medicine on Tuesday and glumly announced he would accept – “reluctantly” – Commissioner Roger Goodell’s discipline for violating NFL rules by secretly deflating Tom Brady’s footballs below league standards in the AFC Championship Game.

Kraft “accepts” Goodell’s $1 million team fine and the loss of a first-round draft pick in 2016 and a fourth-rounder in 2017, he said, in the spirit of the “collective good” of all 32 teams.

It’s the second time under the watch of Kraft and coach Bill Belichick that the Patriots were caught cheating red-handed.

In 2007, the team broke NFL rules by brazenly videotaping the defensive coaches’ signals of Eric Mangini’s New York Jets during a game. The discipline in Spygate was a $500,000 fine for Belichick, a $250,000 fine for the Patriots, and the loss of a first-round draft choice.

The Patriots did not win another Super Bowl after Spygate until Deflategate.

Belichick, 63, shows no signs of retiring anytime soon. So what is more likely to come next – a fifth Super Bowl title or a third Patriots –gate scandal?

Whither Brady: The unfinished business of Deflategate is Brady’s four-game suspension. He is appealing through the players union and the appeal will be heard by Goodell.

Some believe Kraft consented to “accept” his team’s sanctions as a result of a back-channel deal with Goodell that will result in a reduction of Brady’s suspension to, say, two games.

We shall see.

In the meantime, I agree with Jim Brown’s take on Brady.

Brown, who was invited by Belichick to speak to the Patriots on the eve of their first Super Bowl win, is an unabashed fan of Kraft, Belichick and Brady. He said to me in an interview on the Hey Tony Show on ESPN Cleveland 1540 KNR2 that “cheating is a very hard word,” but “if he intentionally is doing something against the rules, then that’s cheating.”

“I think the rules are like golf. You have so many of them (that) people take for granted that you can do certain things and it doesn’t really affect the game. But you really have to play by the rules even though the rules might not be very realistic.”

As to whether this scandal would alter Brady’s legacy, Brown said, “Does this affect his accomplishments already? Heck no. The man is a great quarterback. There’s no equipment that’s going to make him so much greater that we have to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

“I emphatically say the guy is a great quarterback. Whatever happens with this does not change my mind about him.”

I think Brady should follow the lead of Kraft, take his medicine and move on. Unless, of course, Kraft struck a deal with Goodell to reduce the suspension to two games.

The longer PAT: NFL owners voted to move the line of scrimmage on point after touchdowns from the 2-yard line to the 15 for the 2015 season, which means the routine 20-yard extra point moves to a 33-yard kick this year.

(While a two-point conversion try remains from the 2-yard line -- some wanted it moved to the 1 to encourage more attempts -- defenses now can score two points if it blocks and returns a PAT or returns a failed 2-point try.)

Although Browns special teams coach Chris Tabor made a valid point about the new rule penalizing kickers in northern outdoor stadiums, the rule change was a passion of Belichick, whose Gillette Stadium venue is as treacherous as any in the months of December and January.

In truth, PATs from the 33-yard line are almost as automatic as ones from the 20.

Another two yards to the 35, however, might skew the numbers considerably.

Last year, the Fall Experimental Football League (FXFL) designated PATs from the 35-yard line. Brian Woods, commissioner of the FXFL, informed me via email that kickers in the four-team FXFL first season in 2014 were 23 of 36 for 63.8 percent on PAT attempts.

The NFL rule change does warrant one suggestion for the Browns: Find a kicker.

After waiving Garrett Hartley, the Browns currently have two unproven kickers on their roster -- Casey Spear of Vanderbilt and Mayfield High School and Travis Coons of Washington.

 

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Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

At last, coming soon to NFL Network: Paul Brown, A Football Life

May 19, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

P.B. revisited: Three months ago, after Bill Belichick’s historic fourth Super Bowl triumph spawned debates about whether he or Vince Lombardi was the NFL’s greatest coach of all time, I wrote how Paul Brown has been largely and sadly ignored from such conversations.

The legendary Ohio football coach, founding coach of the Cleveland Browns – the very namesake of the franchise -- pioneer of so many coaching innovations that are taken for granted today, founder of the Cincinnati Bengals franchise, and trunk of the largest and most successful coaching tree in NFL history, has been forgotten, I concluded, because the NFL has failed to memorialize or honor him in any meaningful way.

I wrote, with insight from Mike Brown, Paul Brown’s son and president and GM of the Bengals, that Brown was a victim of bad timing. The birth of NFL Films in 1964 coincided with the rise of Lombardi in Green Bay and the temporary exile of Brown after Art Modell fired him as Browns coach.

I pointed out that the popular “A Football Life” film series produced by NFL Network, the descendant of NFL Films, had not devoted a single episode to Brown – yet had produced two-parters on both Belichick and Lombardi.

On May 4, I received an email from Lindsay Spieler of NFL Films.

“We heard you,” she wrote.

“This season Paul Brown will have a long overdue episode dedicated to his legacy.”

I am happy to report the film is in earnest production. An NFL Films production team will conduct interviews in Cleveland this week.

The Grand Canyon of coaches: Neil Zender has produced five “A Football Life” films and considers the Paul Brown epic a unique challenge.

“People under the age of 30 don’t realize just about everything they love about football originated in Paul Brown’s head and he made it a reality,” Zender said, speaking from Cincinnati, where he spent Monday researching his subject.

“The tough thing about it, how do you tell Paul Brown’s stories? What things do you focus on? You can do a whole film just on Paul Brown and Massillon. That’s part of the problem.

“I remember going to the Grand Canyon. It was so immense, it completely overwhelms you being there. It’s the same thing with Paul Brown. Because he did so much stuff and had so many different lives, nobody really ever put it together and what he meant to our sport. It’s a shame.”

Lombardi was mythologized by NFL Films because its cameras captured most everything he did. Brown’s heyday came and went before NFL Films was created by the late Ed Sabol.

“Creatively, it’s very tough to make a film about a story that (happened) before the 1950s because you have a limited amount of footage,” Zender said. “A lot of creative challenges are associated with it.”

For instance, there is no NFL Films footage of Brown coaching the Browns. Zender was limited to primitive newsreel highlights of the great Browns teams originating in the All-America Football Conference in the late 1940s and the NFL in the 1950s.

But his research did uncover some rare film footage from Brown’s years at Massillon Washington High School in the late 1930s and also in the AAFC in the 1940s – all of which was obviously authorized, if not commissioned, by Brown.

“Some of the Massillon high school games are in 35mm. It’s astonishing,” Zender said. “That’s just first-class, state-of-the-art – like movies of that time.”

Brown’s image was that of a myopic football coach who was only devoted to winning games – not to selling tickets. Yet he had a keen sense of selling the AAFC Browns as a first-class operation and he apparently devoted some effort into recording his team for posterity sake.

“The interesting thing about Paul Brown,” Zender said, “is that Browns highlights films in the AAFC were way ahead of any football team’s highlight films at the time. Browns highlights films in the 1940s were in all color. NFL teams didn’t catch up until the 1960s.

“We’ve got Browns films about team picnics. Another one was about how the Browns traveled to games, where they stayed, so forth. It was sponsored by an airline. I think they were made because the AAFC was competing with the NFL and they were going to sell their best team.”

His legacy continues: Paul Brown won seven league championships as coach of the Browns – four in the AAFC and three in the NFL, none more important than the team’s first season in the NFL in 1950.

After recovering from the traumatic firing by Art Modell in 1963, Brown founded the Bengals as an American Football League expansion franchise in 1968. He retired as coach in 1975 at the age of 67 and then continued as the driving force of the franchise until his death in 1991. The Bengals reached the Super Bowl after the 1981 and 1988 seasons, losing both times to the San Francisco 49ers coached by Bill Walsh, the former Bengals assistant coach whom Brown had so famously and regrettably passed over to succeed him in Cincinnati.

Lest you think that Brown’s influence on the NFL has long passed, consider this astonishing fact uncovered by Zender’s research: Of the 32 current NFL head coaches, 31 of them are direct or indirect descendants of the Paul Brown coaching tree.

(For example, Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s second season as an NFL DB coach was spent with the Minnesota Vikings in 1985, which was Bud Grant’s last season as Vikings head coach. Grant played on the Great Lakes Naval Station team coached by Brown prior to him forming the Browns in 1946.)

The only current NFL coach with no connectivity to Brown is Chip Kelly of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Zender said the production of the film on Paul Brown will be completed for the final product to air on NFL Network on Nov. 6. Appropriately, that is the day after the Browns play the Bengals in Cincinnati.

Those twice-a-season division meetings have become known as the “Battle of Ohio.” In truth, they are tributes to Paul Brown – the legendary coach who still dominates the football landscape in Ohio and the NFL.

 

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Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

With NFL rosters virtually set, challenge of Browns' 2015 schedule comes into sharper focus

May 18, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The Morning Kickoff …

The schedule game: Unrestricted free agency and the draft have come and gone. The only players added to NFL training camp rosters at this point are a few “street” free agents and undrafted free agents who earn promotions through the minicamp season.

Now is the time to fully analyze the schedule that awaits the Browns in the 2015 season.

Game 1, at New York Jets: On defense, they added arguably the best player in free agency, cornerback Darrelle Revis, and the best player in the draft, defensive end Leonard Williams. On offense, they added one of the most consistent possession receivers in the NFL, Brandon Marshall, and one of the fastest in the draft, Devin Smith. What a start for rookie GM Mike Maccagnan. New coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey have to make it work, however, with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith at quarterback.

Game 2, home v. Tennessee Titans: The new names of note are quarterback Marcus Mariota, receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and venerable defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Unless Mariota is an instant impact player, which is unlikely given his expected learning curve, this team could be drafting first in 2016. Because they won’t be in the market for a quarterback, it means they are likely to trade the pick.

Game 3, home v. Oakland Raiders: Hopeful that Derek Carr is a franchise quarterback, they supported him with veteran receiver Michael Crabtree, and rookie receiver Amari Cooper and tight end Clive Walford. New coach Jack Del Rio’s best hire may have been Brad Seely as special teams coordinator.

Game 4, at San Diego Chargers: Keeping quarterback Philip Rivers and adding running back Melvin Gordon should insure a high-scoring offense. With no impact players on defense, however, they are looking at 8-8.

Game 5, at Baltimore Ravens; Game 11, home v. Ravens: If you buy into Joe Flacco as an elite quarterback – which I do -- they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Rookie receiver Brashad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams have to be immediate impact players for Flacco to steer this team deep into the playoffs. But are they expecting too much from receiver Steve Smith Sr. at age 36? The defense is good enough, certainly not great.

Game 6, home v. Denver Broncos: Surely this will be Peyton Manning’s last visit to Cleveland – as a player. (Whether he returns some day as a Browns executive will be the subject of speculation beginning in January.) New coach Gary Kubiak should have no trouble assimilating Manning into his zone-blocking run scheme. Perhaps the more valuable coaching addition was defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who always has huge impact in his first year with a new team. By the way, this is Phillips’ eighth stint as a defensive coordinator (second with the Broncos), which must be a record.

Game 7, at St. Louis Rams: Jeff Fisher begins his 19th full season as an NFL head coach. In nine of them, he has won 7 or 8 games. After a quarterback change to Nick Foles, I think it’s more probable than not that the Rams will win 7 or 8 games.

Game 8, home v. Arizona Cardinals: It all comes down to the health of quarterback Carson Palmer. If he plays 16 games, they are capable of reaching the Super Bowl. Yes, they are.

Game 9, at Cincinnati Bengals; Game 12, home v. Bengals: A talented team roster that has Andy Dalton at quarterback. It is what it is.

Game 10, at Pittsburgh Steelers; Game 16, home v. Steelers: This might be the best offensive team in the AFC. Two key players on defense are rookie linebacker Bud Dupree and Troy Polamalu-replacement Shamarko Thomas. If they come through, this is your AFC rep in the Super Bowl.

Game 13, home v. San Francisco 49ers: The switch of head coaches from Jim Harbaugh to Jim Tomsula could be an ingenius gamble by GM Trent Baalke or a train wreck. Among the bold moves: Letting running back Frank Gore leave.

Game 14, at Seattle Seahawks: On offense, they added tight end Jimmy Graham and subtracted a good, veteran center in Max Unger. On defense, they added Ahtyba Rubin and cornerback Cary Graham. What they have most going for them is the nauseating feeling of blowing a second consecutive Super Bowl championship with one of sport’s all-time controversial play-calls. That could motivate them to a third trip to the Super Bowl.

Game 15, at Kansas City Chiefs: Receiver Jeremy Maclin added to running back Jamaal Charles gives them some firepower. But after nine seasons, isn’t the jury in on quarterback Alex Smith?

Some footnotes

1. As usual, the season opener sets the tone for the first month. A win at the Jets could thrust the Browns as the NFL surprise team in September.

2. If you divide the schedule into four equal quarters, the second quarter is brutal: Baltimore, Denver, St. Louis, Arizona. Only to be followed by that third quarter AFC North meat-grinder of Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati.

3. If you would handicap who will be the Browns’ starting quarterback for the Game 16 finale against Pittsburgh, the odds might look like this: Connor Shaw, 2-1; Thad Lewis, 3-1; Johnny Manziel, 20-1; Josh McCown, 30-1.

 

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Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

This just in: Browns' rivals got better in the draft, too

May 06, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The Morning Kickoff …

North winds: In the first competition of the 2015 season, the Browns took first place in the AFC North division in something – most players added in the draft, 12.

Baltimore chose nine, Cincinnati nine and Pittsburgh eight.

The Browns’ rivals, of course, had fewer needs and fewer roster openings. They also each have an established quarterback, but that’s a story for another day.

Here’s a look at how the Browns’ formidable rivals did in the three days of the draft:

Baltimore Ravens

Top priorities: Wide receiver, cornerback.

Picks: 1. (26th overall) WR Breshad Perriman, Central Florida; 2. (55) TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota; 3. (90) DT Carl Davis, Iowa; 4. (122) LB Za’Darius Smith, Kentucky; 5. (125) RB Javorius Allen, Southern California; 6. (136) Tray Walker, Texas Southern; 7. (171) TE Nick Boyle, Delaware; 8. (176) OG Robert Myers, Tennessee State; 9. (204) WR Darren Waller, Georgia Tech.

Analysis: Rule of thumb: When you have an elite quarterback – face it, Joe Flacco is elite – you never lose sight of supporting him. The Ravens went out and got the fastest receiver in the draft and the top-ranked tight end. Breshad Perriman (4.25 40) is bigger and faster than Torrey Smith, the departed receiver he was tabbed to replace. But GM Ozzie Newsome, the Browns’ Hall of Fame tight end, is most excited about the addition of Maxx Williams. Newsome suspected the arch-rival Steelers wanted Williams at No. 56, so he traded up three spots for the cost of an extraneous fifth-round pick. Fortunately for Newsome, he had a willing trade partner in Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who never shies from stoking the Steelers. Newsome helped his defense with the picks of two-gap plugger Carl Davis and Pernell McPhee clone Za’Darius Smith. Newsome would have taken cornerbacks Kevin Johnson or Marcus Peters first, but they were gone at No. 16 and No. 18, respectively. The inability to upgrade the cornerback position means the Ravens will still be vulnerable if their pass rush falls short.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top priorities: Offensive tackle, linebacker, tight end.

Picks:1. (21) OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M; 2. (53) OT Jake Fisher, Oregon; 3. (85) TE Tyler Kroft, Rutgers; 4. (99) LB Paul Dawson, Texas Christian; 5. (120) DB Josh Shaw, Southern California; 6. (135) DT Marcus Hardison, Arizona State; 7. (157) TE C.J. Usomah, Auburn; 8. (197) DB Derron Smith, Fresno State; 9. (238) WR Mario Alford, West Virginia.

Analysis: Cedric Ogbuehi would have been the first offensive tackle taken in the draft if healthy – in the top 10, everyone says – but an ACL injury in his last college game means the start of his rookie season will be delayed until the seventh game. Meanwhile, when Jake Fisher dropped to the second round, the Bengals could not resist taking him. They didn’t plan to draft two tackles that high, even though both of their capable starters are entering the last years of their contracts. In tight end Tyler Kroft, they selected a replacement to Jermaine Gresham and complement to Tyler Eifert. The pick of Josh Shaw raised some eyebrows. He was the cornerback who admitted making up a story that he sprained both ankles while jumping off a balcony to save his nephew in a swimming pool. In truth, he suffered the injury in a spat with a girlfriend. Still, at 6-0 ½ and 200 pounds, Shaw is a physical force at the cornerback position.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top priorities: Everywhere on defense.

Picks: 1. (22) LB Alvin Dupree, Kentucky; 2. (56) DB Senquez Golson, Mississippi; 3. (87) WR Sammie Coates, Auburn; 4. (121) DB Doran Grant, Ohio State; 5. (160) TE Jesse James, Penn State; 6. (199) DE Leterrius Walton, Central Michigan; 7. (212) LB Anthony Chickillo, Miami; 8. (239) DB Gerod Holliman, Louisville.

Analysis: For the first time since the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1993, the Steelers sold out to one side of the ball. They chose six defensive players from their eight selections, their most lopsided draft since 2005. They couldn’t have scripted the first round better. They thought Alvin Dupree would be gone in the top 15. The Steelers don’t like to rush in their draft picks, but Dupree could be taking over for linebacker Arthur Moats by October. Then they came back with cornerbacks with two of their next three selections, and ended with four consecutive defensive players. The notable exception to this defensive draft was receiver Sammie Coates, a freak athlete whose drops don’t scare the Steelers. They can take their time with him because they are loaded on offense. But they are not allergic to playmakers on offense if their draft board calls for it.

 

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Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

On the clock: Turning the page to the next Browns quarterback discussion

May 05, 2015 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

The Morning Kickoff

The dust has settled: Now that the draft is over – and all the speculation and the rumors and the trade reports proved exaggerated – it’s quite possible that the Browns not only did not make up ground on their rivals but actually lost ground.

That is, if you measure the strength of a team by the quarterback position.

Because Pittsburgh still has Ben Roethlisberger, Baltimore still has Joe Flacco, Cincinnati still has Andy Dalton, and the Browns still have …

Let’s break it down as fairly as possible:

* Josh McCown: He turns 36 on his Fourth of July birthday and three weeks later will embark on his 13th NFL training camp with his seventh team. That doesn’t count the season of 2010, when McCown bounced out of the NFL and led the five-team United Football League in passing. The Browns will be McCown’s third team in three years. The last two saw McCown go from the sublime – a 13 to 1 touchdown to interception differential in a five-game relief stint for the Chicago Bears – to the ridiculous – a 1-10 record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that helped them earn the worst record in the NFL and a free pass to Jameis Winston in the draft. McCown is now considered the favorite to open the OTA workouts, training camp and probably the regular season as the Browns’ 23rd different starting quarterback.

* Johnny Manziel: He finished his rookie season serving a timeout in the visitor’s locker room during the final game in Baltimore because he overslept and missed a scheduled rehab session for a hamstring injury suffered in the second of two miserable starts. And that was as good as it got for him. He would check into a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Wernersville, PA, and receive therapy for 73 days. Manziel has made immediate progress in healing the scars of veteran teammates who may have felt betrayed by Manziel’s admitted lack of work ethic and dedication as a rookie. He also has checked out of his living quarters in a posh downtown apartment complex surrounded by night clubs and relocated to a quiet residential neighborhood in a far west side suburb. Manziel’s recovery from substance abuse may be the ultimate “day to day” classification. And while Manziel’s substantial fan base expects nothing less than for him to rise from the ashes, the Browns have proceeded exceptionally cautiously. “We’re off to a good start, but it’s a long road,” coach Mike Pettine said on Saturday.

* Connor Shaw: He held a 10-3 lead into the third quarter in the 16th game in Baltimore in his only start as an undrafted rookie. Suffering two injuries in that game and acquitting himself admirably in adversarial circumstances earned him immense respect and gave him the confidence to say to ESPN Cleveland that he considered himself in the mix for the starting job in his second season. After that game, Pettine remarked that some of Shaw’s passes resembled “pop-ups," which was a cutting remark considering Shaw suffered an injury to his ribs and dislocated a finger on his left hand during the contest. Recently, Pettine said that Shaw is “easy to overlook” because he is “very quiet … He’s not the tallest and he doesn’t have the biggest arm from a measurable standpoint, but in his own way he’s got a very subtle ‘it’ factor to him.”

* Thad Lewis: His signing to a second stint with the Browns on March 12 seemed to be backup insurance in case Manziel isn’t able to contribute anything. GM Ray Farmer’s most extensive comments about Lewis were interpreted by some as a shot at outgoing quarterback Brian Hoyer. At the NFL owners meetings in March, Farmer said of Lewis: “One, I like the player in the sense that Thad’s not a road block to anybody. He’s not going to come in here and have the personality or the disposition to come in and say ‘I deserve’ or ‘I need to be.’ He’s going to be a humble worker. I think that having humble workers in a group is a good thing. You want to have the right guys on your team to help the group grow, because as guys get better and the group gets better, then it’s a win for the club.” Lewis has had six NFL starts and won two of them, both for Buffalo while Pettine was the Bills’ defensive coordinator.

Going forward: In their recap of the draft, Farmer and Pettine downplayed the bleakness of the Browns’ quarterback situation.

“We go 11 against 11,” Pettine said. “We’re not just trotting quarterbacks out there at the 50-yard line and they’re thumb wrestling. To me, there are a lot of different ways to win football games and you just don’t force a situation.

“Do we look at it and say, ‘OK, if we perceive our quarterback room is not the best in the division, what does that mean? Do we call the league and cancel games?’ We’ve still got to play them. I don’t think we can emphasize it enough that we’re going to build a football team. We’re not going to over-prioritize the quarterback position.”

On Monday, the first work day after the 2015 draft, the mock drafts for 2016 started trickling in.

Dane Brugler, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com and CBSSports.com, had the Browns picking 12th and selecting Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook of Hinckley, OH.

Brugler had Cleveland native and Ohio State 2015 national championship hero Cardale Jones going to Arizona at No. 24.

And so, let the quarterback debates begin anew.

 

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Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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