Malaise has been the operative word this off-season. You know it's a malaise when several starters leave town and reinforcements amount to an exceptional special teams player and a long snapper. Even with the draft around the corner, there is doubt and worry among the spiritual stockholders. Who will the Browns go after? What IS the plan?
As usual, Butch plays his cards close to the vest-- so close they're now under his shirt. He has a good chuckle as reporters and fans scatter in search of clues as if he set up one big Easter egg hunt (Sean McClelland in a bunny outfit—rich). Butch makes vague pronouncements and reporters and fans scrutinize them like the boy Emperor's morning dumps. Are we to divine that a drought will ravage the crops? Will bandits return from the north this fall? I swear, you take one lousy turd and ten mystics, lock em in the antechamber, and you will get ten different forecasts on the future.
So many questions: will we go defense in the first round? Will we go speed as advertised or beef along the lines? Will we trade up or down? Will Couch or KJ or Jamel be traded away? Are we looking for players with big up sides but who may not be immediately ready, or go for guys who can hit the ground running?
One year Butch says one thing and goes a different way. Those who know better then think that he talks in opposites. "We like what we see of Byzfyx," says Butch. Translation: forget that dude. "Well, Creplow seemed to us to be a bit flakey." Translation: we love this guy so much, we may just trade up for him. But we're now at the point where Butch has us talking like Wallace Shawn in "Princess Bride:" "But I know that he knows that I know that he knows that I know Butch is lying." We take a swig, think about it, and our head hits the table.
So we think all the answers will come by next Monday. All the long winded arguments will be answered. Our steadfast viewpoints will finally be vindicated or dashed to the rocks.
But the answers will not come by next Monday. Trouble is they may never come.
Oh, maybe in 20 years when Butch writes his book after bringing us 5 Super Bowl titles, he can unveil all the top secret plans from draft days of yore. But then Pete or Randy will dispute some of the facts, or we'll figure Butch is fudging a bit in the name of vanity, and we still won't know the full story.
It seems to me that a team's conducting a draft is like war or jazz. In jazz, you can have a song that provides the structure of a melody, a guideline of sorts, and the individual musicians can alternately play within it or take off on an improvisational bent. In coverage of the Iraq war, any news junkie heard dozens of times that a battle plan never really survives the first shot. An army reacts to dozens of situations with a myriad of changes, some actual plan B's and C's, some a little this side of improvisation, but all in keeping with the overall plan.
And so it goes with a draft plan. The Browns may have a good idea of what needs require attention now, or what needs are anticipated for NEXT year. Oh, they don't work that far ahead? Three words: Bentley, Taylor, Andra).. The Browns may have a good idea as to who will be on the short list when it comes to their turn in each round.
And you can throw a lot of it out the window because 31 other teams are waiting to throw their monkey wrenches into the spokes. You can't always get what you want, and for the most part, you can't always get even close to what you need. The ability to regroup and improvise at every turn is critical. The Hammond B-3 went on the fritz, so we'll have to alter the song list in the next set and keep to the piano. Improvise. Stick to our music—we're not switching to easy listening for Chrissakes. Just leave out the numbers with the B-3. Improvise within the plan. The plan is to hit the beach and go 2 miles inland to the bridge. But once we hit the beach, we got pinned down by a machine gun emplacement.
The worst case of the first shot unraveling battle plans?
"With their selection, the New York Jets select Kyle Brady."
The Browns were all set to grab the heir apparent to Ozzie Newsome… when the Jets, who already had a decent te in Johnny Mitchell, all of a sudden got this crazy urge for a two te offense. The Browns reacted by trading down with the 49ers and grabbing Craig Powell, the cherry on the shit linebacker sundae started by Junkin and Charlton.
So in essence the Browns that day played the jittery GI who can no longer stand being pinned down on the beach. He can't sit tight and wait for the air strike. He has to yell "OMIGOD, WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!", then get up to run around like a chicken with its head about to be shot off.
Draft day is littered with the untold stories of coming this close to grabbing the prospect the club really wanted, of failed attempts to trade up or down, the failure to anticipate another club's interest in the same player. There are other instances where a club has a very definite idea of who they want and attempts a maneuver, but it's often next to impossible with 3-4 teams on the phone trying to work a deal in 15 minutes or less.
Hey, Andre Davis looks like a good, solid player for us. But nobody expects that's whom the Browns had their heart set on last year. Was it really Bentley? Fonoti? Our true intentions will remain classified secrets for another 20 years, or until we grab that player in free agency in a couple of years. Did we try to trade up to get Deuce McAllister? Probably, but it just didn't work out. New Orleans had Ricky Williams—why would they need another running back? Know your opponents.
[flash forward to some NFC team who is all set to grab a great prospect at rb when the Browns snatch him up. "Why did they do THAT?" they'll cry, "they already have Green!!"]
So even when it's the morning after and fans are basking in the glory of their righteousness at who the Browns drafted, or can't fathom why in the world the Browns chose to go wide receiver in the second round for the fifth year in a row, just remember that WHO was drafted is hardly the same as who the team really WANTED. It's always a case of "we couldn't believe our luck that Byzfyx was still on the board." It's never a case of "geez, we really wanted Creplow, but then the friggin' Saints grabbed him, so we had to settle for Byzfyx."
And it will have all started with the dominoes falling on the first pick. Most teams probably expect the Bengals to quit posturing, but take Palmer. Only what if they don't?
31 teams feel the ripple effect. Maybe the dominoes start falling with the Chicago Bears.
For a long while, teams may have figured them to go after Byron Leftwich. But then they picked up Kordell Stewart and may have turned their eyes towards filling a hole in their defensive line. But then the Bears will cross up most everyone and go with Leftwich after all, and all of a sudden many war rooms are shuffling the cards again.
That's one less quarterback and one more defensive lineman on the boards, that's one gm who will later have to smile and be happy with Boller when what he really wanted was a Longines—er, Leftwich. Then there's another coach who is genuinely happy that William Joseph was still there when it was their turn. And the rippling effect will be seen for the next two hours.
My only prediction? The Browns have 3 players on their list they think will be worthy at 21, and who they think will realistically be there. Their positions are less important than their ability to start on day one, and their representing not only a significant upgrade at a particular position, but also have a residual effect on the entire offense or defense.
If one of those players isn't there, the team will look to trade down. Until he actually makes his first trade down or trade up, I'm a little skeptical at Butch's ability to do so.
But the third time's a charm. The domino effect is as certain as death and taxes, so it will be the ability to adapt and improvise while keeping with the plan.
Copyright 2003. Questions? Comments? Post in the Fans Comment section, or write Aardvark at AakronAardvark@aol.com.