The Time For Cleveland Is ... Now?

If the future is now in Cleveland, the Browns are going to need superhuman efforts from the eight projected starters on offense with two years of experience or less, including rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Friday Tip Sheet: Is future now in Cleveland?

Never to be mistaken for George Allen, whose well-known suggestion

about the connection between the time-space continuum and winning games stretched about as far as the tip of his nose, Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur might want to paraphrase the famously impatient Hall of Famer's legendary admonition.

Allen is credited for adopting the phrase "Future is Now" and his constant wheeling and dealing, including 131 trades, was more than a passing phrase.
With the investment of a second-round choice in Thursday's supplemental draft on former Baylor/Utah wide receiver Josh Gordon, the lone prospect selected in the special summer lottery, the Brown's future is, obviously, well ... the future.

Anything can happen between now (which is when Allen contended is the future) and the start of the season.

But the admitted projection by Cleveland officials for an offense that statistically ranked among the four lowest in the NFL in each of the past four seasons, and has been No. 23 or worse in all but one of the last 10 years, is to start rookies at quarterback (Brandon Weeden), tailback (Trent Richardson), and right tackle (Mitchell Schwartz); second-year veterans at one wide receiver spot (Greg Little), left guard (Jason Pinkston) and fullback (Owen Marcecic); and a third-year pro (Shawn Lauvao) at right guard. Add Gordon to the mix -- and Shurmur said after Thursday's draft that he expects the youngster to contribute as a rookie -- and it's clear that youth will be served on the Cleveland offense.

But will it be immediately serviceable?

Probably not, since the Browns might have just three starters -- center Alex Mack, perennial left tackle Joe Thomas and tight end Benjamin Watson -- with more than three seasons of previous league experience. And since, even though Weeden will turn 29 years old before he starts his sixth game, the latter of the club's two first-round choices almost certainly will suffer the inconsistencies inherent to any rookie at the position. Given that background, it's easy to criticize the early choice of Gordon, especially since the No. 2 pick forfeited by the Browns figures to be a slot high in the round in April 2013.

But the Browns, one assistant allowed Thursday evening, "desperately need some" offensive play-makers. And the feeling among team officials and coaches, who did as much background work, and maybe more, on Gordon, as any team in the league, is that he can partner with Little in the not too distant future to provide Cleveland with a pair of big, physical wideouts.

And maybe, given the recent history of second-round receivers, he can.

Little himself was a second-rounder and, while he rated among the NFL leaders in dropped passes in 2011, he still registered 61 receptions, third most among 2011 rookie wide receivers. Of the 21 wide receivers chosen in the second-round in the past five "regular phase" drafts, Little was one of six with 50 or more catches in his debut campaign. That's not a lot, you say, especially in a league that is so skewed to the pass? Maybe not, but after Little, the wide receiver with the second-highest number of receptions for the Browns was converted return specialist Josh Cribbs. Heck, nine of the 21 wideouts taken in the second round over the last five seasons posted at least 30 receptions as rookies. If Gibson can do that, he'll be about as productive for Cleveland as three-year veteran Mohammed Massaquoi (31 catches) was last season.

It's undeniably a ballsy gamble by the Browns -- one criticized in many quarters around the league, since no one has used higher than a third-round pick in the supplemental draft since Houston grabbed flop tailback Tony Hollings in 2003, and Gibson was the first wide receiver taken since Rob Moore in 1990 -- but it was one that Cleveland officials felt they had to make. One club official insisted to The Sports Xchange on Thursday night that the grade the Browns had on Gibson was "pretty damned close" to the one they assigned Kendall Wright, another onetime Baylor wide receiver, and the prospect Cleveland apparently wanted in the first round three months ago. When Wright went off the board to Tennessee two slots ahead of Cleveland, the Browns picked Weeden instead.

Also, there was a suspicion that Buffalo, the only team ahead of Cleveland in the weighted lottery the NFL conducts before the supplemental draft to determine the order of selection, might have tabbed Gibson at the top of the third round.

Time, something for which Allen had no use, will tell if the Browns won the bold gamble on Gordon, for whom it's believed no other team on Thursday afternoon submitted a second-round bid. For now, though, the Browns seem to feel that, in time, Gordon will be a productive receiver who will be able to emerge as all of the very young components of the club's offense grow into a viable unit.

The operative caveat there is "in time," something about which George Allen seemed to know very little, but in which Shurmur appears willing to invest.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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