January 30 2012
CLEVELAND, Oh – There are many hypothesis out there of what the Cleveland Browns will do in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft. It seems most of the Browns fans are looking forward to the Super Bowl only so it will pass and stop getting in the way of the constant discussion on the possibilities this years draft holds for Cleveland. One thing is for sure, there is a large talent gap between the Browns and the rest of the AFC North. The Browns are working on addressing this issue on all sides of the personnel spectrum. Lets take a look at how this has been addressed and what can be done going forward.
Brad Childress has an impressive resume in the NFL and the Browns just added him to the staff as the new Offensive Coordinator. Brad was a QB coach for the Indianapolis Colts in 1985 where he coached a 4th round 3rd year player in Mike Pagel (Pretty similar to Colt McCoys situation). He later was the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2005. He worked to develop Donovan McNabb who was drafted in the first round by the Eagles (This would be a similar case if the Browns grab RGIII in this years draft). During this stretch the Eagles made three NFC Championship appearances before winning that game to get to the Super Bowl in 2004. That is a pretty nice five year stretch after picking up a QB in the draft at #2. Childress was also the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2006-2010. He made the playoffs in 2008 and coached the team to a NFC Championship loss in 2009.
I like this addition as he has history with most of the key players in the front office and coaching staff including Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmer. He may not have play calling duties but will be a key player in the scheme and have the ability to free Coach Shurmer from many duties that distracted his decision making in the 2011 rookie coaching campaign. I believe that the addition of Brad Childress will allow a fair assessment of the ability Coach Shurmer has to coach the Browns to success.
It seemed that in the 2011 season there was a weekly issue with Coach Shurmer’s ability to control the clock and manage the offensive side of the ball. The lack of talent and playmakers on the offensive side of the ball made it unfair to accurately assess Coach Shurmer in his rookie campaign and it is up to Holmgren and Heckert to provide some offensive weapons through free agency and the draft to see if the addition of Childress will be a positive impact.
Speaking of offensive talents, with the drama that unfolded with the Peyton Hillis contract, the lack of a true #1 wideout and the rash of dropped balls on key plays in 2011, Colt McCoy has been hard to truly assess in his first two years in the NFL. If the Browns are not going to add a QB in free agency (Matt Flynn would be my top choice) or the draft they must focus on adding the talent needed to assure an addition at QB in 2013 is not necessary. Matt Flynn excites me due to the competition he would bring to the table but I feel McCoy is a similar talent and that either would have similar success depending on the talent you surround them with. Other free agent options such as Kyle Orton, Vince Young and Jason Campbell have floated from team to team with similar gaps in talent on the offensive side of the ball and do not seem to be the answer for the Browns. In the draft the possibility of landing Robert Griffin III with the 4th overall pick seems plausible. If the Browns pick RGIII they would have invested a lot into a rookie who comes into a situation where the lack of talent can only hurt his confidence and development. Cam Newton had Steve Smith as his #1 WR. At this point in time RGIII will have Josh Cribbs. It is for this reason I am against picking RGIII at the #4 spot without considerable additions to offense in free agency. Needs at WR, RB and RT all need addressed before the team can put a young quarterback behind center and expect a positive result. I have read opinions on trading up to the #2 spot to grab RGIII. Again, this has less to do with the talent of RGIII and more to do with the situation you would be placing him in, and to give up not only your top pick in the draft but other picks including a likely 2nd round pick seems like a step backwards when trying to add multiple pieces to the offensive puzzle. Any scenario that includes trading up without a huge boost through the free agent market seems like a flawed plan from the beginning. At this point, the end of January, before the start of free agency and the unfolding of a bigger picture I have to say the only player at #4 that I would be 100% comfortable with is Matt Kalil, OT USC. He could fall to #4 if the Rams or Vikings trade down to #6 (or lower) with a team interested in RGIII and the other team picks up an offensive threat like Justin Blackmon, WR Oklahoma State. This automatically shores up our RT need and improves our running and passing game with one player.
If the scenario of Matt Kalil falling to #4 does not happen then trading down may be the smartest option for the Cleveland Browns. In 2010 the Browns traded down from the #6 spot to add multiple picks to their arsenal. In 2011 a similar scenario could play out and with the plethora of needs on the roster, it could have a very positive impact on the offensive side of the ball in 2012. Two possibilities seem likely at this time.
One is that RGIII is available at #4 and the decision makers for the Browns see the value in multiple picks higher than the risk of adding the talent RGIII brings to the table to the other wise talent lacking offense of the Cleveland Browns. Trading down a few spots and still grabbing a WR or OT seems plausible. Trading down and going defense with Morris Claiborne, CB LSU who many say is better than last years LSU CB Peterson or Quinton Coples, DE North Carolina may not be a bad option either, depending again on moves made in the free agency market.
The other is that either the Rams(2nd pick) or Vikings(3rd pick) trade down so a team, such as the Redskins with the 6th pick, can grab RGIII and then want to trade back up with the Browns to pick Blackmon at the four spot. This scenario is obviously more complicated and less likely but still exists.
At the end of the day draft talk can go on infinitely so talking about the depth at WR in the first round or the talent of RGIII or the impact of Matt Kalil is a moot point without first seeing what develops during free agency which starts March 13. The Browns can use talent at every position. LT is shored up with Joe Thomas and D’Quell Jackson is more than solid at MLB but even added talent on the other side of these players would be a welcome addition. Along with that Joe Haden at CB and TJ Ward at S would welcome studs playing the other side of the field as well. So lets look at the free agency market and see who is out there and who might want to come to the Browns.
We already discussed the QB position. I think sticking with Colt McCoy while adding talent is the way to go but bringing in another guy at the right price to add some competition couldn’t hurt. What the Cleveland Browns need are some play makers at WR and RB.
WR would have to be a guy who isn’t coming from a great team, like a Marques Colston or Wes Welker. Why would they want to leaving a winning team and start over again? It can’t be a trouble maker either, such as DeSean Jackson, because the Browns do not have the tools necessary to keep a guy like that happy and the last thing the Cleveland Browns need is a problem in the locker room. I think a key addition through free agency at the WR spot has to be a guy who wants to be a #1 WR but may not have the opportunity on the depth chart. Pierre Garcon, Robert Meachem and Mario Manningham all jump out as guys who fit this mold. Guys who can be the #1 in Cleveland right away but are sitting behind established #1’s like Wayne, Colston and Cruz on their current teams. I do want to add that if the Giants win the Super Bowl then Mario Manningham would be likely to return to the success he had in 2011 in hopes of repeating it.
RB is a position that is not as weak as it seems at first glance. Brandon Jackson is coming off an injury and Chris Ogbonnaya showed he can contribute when he gets the chance during the 2011 season. I think the Browns need to cut their losses with Monterio Hardesty. Trading up to the 2nd round to grab him has forced the Browns to give him more of an opportunity but his lack of hands out of the backfield is killing drives. At one point he had dropped 6 passes out of 18 targets during the 2011 season including 4 dropped balls in week 4 against Tennessee. That is 33% of the balls coming his way hitting his hands and falling to the ground! Unacceptable for an NFL player. Unless he wants to supple a cardiologist to treat my heart attacks on Sundays he has to be let go!
In looking at who is available I think it is fair to say the Browns have too many needs all around to spend big money on one position. They were not going to pay Peyton Hillis big money at RB so I see them going middle of the road here if they bring in a player through free agency. Players like Ray Rice and Matt Forte are going to demand a lot of the teams resources and I am not going to get my hopes up for them while players like Mike Tolbert and Michael Bush can come at a fair price while adding a huge boost to the RB position.
As for shoring up the right side of the offensive line not a lot of names jump out to me on the free agency market at RT but that is how the position is designed. You never hear about these players unless they mess up so the addition of a solid RT could be a great move in free agency. The more strength and depth the offensive line has the great the strength of the offense as a whole. With Eric Steinbach’s return to the line and a few additions in free agency the offensive line could finally have the stability it has been looking for in past years.
It is a wait and see game but this off season offers great opportunities for the Cleveland Browns to gain traction in the AFC North and if you can get to the top of the AFC North you have a legitimate shot at a great playoff run!