Usually these Upon Further Review pieces analyze the performance of a Browns' player, position or team after a pivotal regular-season game. Or at this time of year, free agency is deconstructed and an annual foundation of hope is laid for the coming season.
Yet, in 2011 – with football being played only in a figurative courtroom sense – adjustments have to be made. Since there are no mini-camp and OTA passes to be thrown this offseason and the possibility of actual games dwindling by the day, how about instead we throw some awards around?
And so it goes…Part One:
Best Offseason Moment
Peyton Hillis Making the Cover of Madden 2012
Also known as the "Did That Really Happen?" Award, Hillis becoming the first Browns' player to grace the cover of Madden Football could possibly rank as the greatest moment of the team's expansion era. For a team that has languished in both the win column and public relations department for more than a decade, this news is earth-shattering in that the Browns have finally gained an identity in a contemporary football universe.
On a national level, the Browns are still defined by their past greatness – almost to the point of cliché. Nearly every draft prospect I interviewed over the past several months pointed to the team's past glory, yet couldn't name a player beyond Jim Brown. Most national media tend to rely on a word bank consisting of terms such as "tradition," "history" and "pride" whenever they have to produce a 200-word blurb about the Browns.
From a fan's perspective, the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s are becoming more remote – especially when you consider that the team's last championship occurred nearly 50 years ago. Or, to put the comparison into more stark terms, Browns' fans under the age of 40 can only claim the Kardiac Kids, The Drive, The Fumble, The Move and a decade-plus of expansion false starts. In this sense, the idea of continually clutching to history doesn't make a lot of sense for generations of Browns' fans.
Although it's a warped sense of identity, people of this same age group have to realize the place that Madden holds in both football and pop culture. There is no higher off-field distinction for a player than the Madden cover, nor is there a greater sense of fan pride. From an organizational perspective, the online drive spearheaded by the Browns to ensure a Hillis win speaks to a long-needed progressive shift in how the team markets itself.
Of course, the real winners in this category are the million-plus Browns fans who catapulted Hillis over Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick, two of the highest-profile players in the league. Talk about creating some instant history. In 30 years, this will be just one of the stories Browns fans will tell their children.
Best Offseason Curse
Yet, even the most rational of Browns fans have to realize the potential of the "Madden Curse," which has felled several players over the past couple decades. It's entirely possible that Hillis suffers a similar fate, yet an important distinction has to be made. In terms of curses, the Madden version is not exclusive to Cleveland. Combine this more comforting idea with Hillis' physical running style, and the possibility of a 2011 letdown becomes apparent.
Yet, the greater curse is the labor abyss that is swallowing up the entire league. It's likely that the release of Madden 2012 will occur before any actual NFL business resumes – which would be just Cleveland's luck.
For better or worse.
Best Offseason Moment – More Football Related
Considering the current landscape of the NFL – hereby known as the National Federation of Lawyers – there weren't many options to pick from here. The other candidates were a Pat Shurmur luncheon, a Dick Jauron interview and Colt McCoy's punt, pass and kick camp.
Yet, it appears the Browns have pulled off a second consecutive solid draft. Similar to 2010, the organization targeted specific team needs with their first two draft picks, and then added some intriguing developmental talent in the later rounds. The approach was both practical and value-driven, as arguably each of the team's top three picks could be considered first-round talent.
Anti-Phil Savage Memorial
The Browns' second-year GM clearly entered the draft with a specific plan of targeting as many team needs as possible. In what was already considered a thin top part of the draft, Heckert in many ways conned the Falcons into giving up four draft picks, including a 2012 first-round selection. Ultimately, the decision will be marked by comparing additional picks and landing Julio Jones – who is anything but a can't miss prospect.
The results of Heckert's trade-down are yet to be determined, but the Browns now have some much-needed flexibility heading into next April's draft. In terms of Heckert's overall plan, the extra first-round pick can be used to either add a final piece to the team's rebuilding effort – or another building block. Depending on the Browns' 2011 fortunes, it's also possible that Heckert has set himself up to employ the Bill Belichick method of annually trading a first-round pick for later round volume.
Anti-Phil Savage Memorial – Cleaning Up the Mess
2008 seems like a lifetime ago in Browns' history. Consider that in barely four years, the Browns have gone through three head coaches and three and a half general managers. Along the way, schemes have shifted and multiple players have left town.
However, in a strange correlation, Heckert's first two draft picks, Baylor's Phil Taylor and Pittsburgh's Jabaal Shear, are in effect a replacement for Savage's 2008 wheeling and dealing. Although a new defensive scheme predicated Heckert's moves in April, Taylor and Sheard basically serve as replacements for Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams.
Editor's Note: Check back to The OBR for Part Two.