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 Two. (For Part One click here)
Best of the Draft – Value Edition
I have a huge disdain for the term "value" as it relates to all things draft-related. However, it appears that Heckert may have landed an instant second-round starter in Sheard. Sheard has a unique mix of size and athleticism and should settle in Jauron's new defensive system.
In many respects, Sheard is both a "safe" pick, as well as a player who boasts some great potential. At the least, Sheard should be an effective run-stopper at defensive end – yet could also become a dynamic pass rusher in time.
Best of the Draft – Honorable Mention
The reality of the NFL draft is that maybe half of a team's draft picks will eventually become game day contributors. Heckert's 2010 draft appears to have produced starters in Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Colt McCoy, with possible prospects in Shaun Lauvao, Montario Hardesty and Carlton Mitchell.
Perhaps the 2011 draft will follow suit. If so, Skrine could become the team's fourth cornerback and contribute on special teams. It's unknown how Skrine will adjust to top-level talent coming out of tiny Tennessee-Chattanooga, yet the undersized corner was one of the fastest players in the draft. For Pinkston, the Pittsburgh product could get some playing time thanks to the age and injury issues found along the right side of the Browns' offensive line.
Best Free Agent Signing
But enough about the draft, how about those free agents the Browns signed?
Idle Hands Award – Management Division
Perhaps the biggest non-story of an offseason void of stories is the behind-the-scenes role that Team President Mike Holmgren has appeared to embrace. April's draft seemed to be the exclusive domain of Heckert and new head coach Pat Shurmur. If anything, Holmgren served his team simply by singing the praises of various quarterback prospects – perhaps in an attempt to camouflage the team's ultimate draft direction.
It's hard to say anything negative about McCoy's efforts to organize some unofficial team workouts during the lockout. McCoy is simply trying to show leadership and keep his offensive teammates on a relative same page as it relates to the team's shift to a West Coast Offense.
However, McCoy's efforts – much like similar "camps" that have occurred around the league – do not produce much more than an extended throwing and route-running session. Similar to training camp seven-on-seven drills, what is produced now will bear little effect once coaches, defensive players and actual contact are re-introduced later in the year.
Idle Hands – Sociology Chapter
How ironic is this quote from the spiritual leader of the NFL, Ray Lewis?
"Do this research if we don't have a season. Watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game."
"There's too many people that live through us. Yeah, walk in the streets, the way I walk the streets, and I'm not talking about the people you see all the time."
At first, I thought Lewis was referring to the idle hands of locked-out NFL players – which would have been some delicious irony on its own, considering Lewis' own checkered background. Yet, Lewis is somehow associating NFL fans with denizens of Ancient Rome – whose insatiable lust for violence can only be soothed by bloody, gladiatorial excess.
At the least, most NFL fans will find other distractions on Sundays without football. Perhaps at the top of the list will be taking self-defense classes – especially considering "the way Lewis walks the streets."
Idle Hands – Honorable Mention
While according to some, NFL fans will become criminals without their football, some sportswriters have it even worse. With virtually nothing else to talk about, NFL scribe Mike Lombardi has resorted to recycling last year's rumors – the ones that again see Kevin Kolb coming to Cleveland.
And why not?
Kolb is the perfect headline-generating material, since he's a quarterback and the Browns conveniently enough have an extra first-round pick in 2012.
The lockout is tough on everybody.
Where Are They Now?
Talk about some bad timing.
Vickers, Roth and Elam were all set to enter free agency in 2011 after signing one-year restricted deals this time last year. However, one lockout and coaching change later, these three talented players each face an uncertain future.
Adding to the mystery is the Browns' shift to a West Coast offense and 4-3 defensive scheme – two developments that could make Vickers and Roth further offseason casualties. Vickers, probably the league's most dominant blocking fullback, could be replaced by rookie Owen Marecic, or just simply have his position phased out. Roth, despite being ultra-talented, doesn't exactly fit into one position – which could price him out of the Browns' future plans.
Best PR – General Manager Edition
Speaking of Roth and the team's defense, Heckert has already stated that he wants to re-sign Mitchell once the lockout ends. Mitchell was the mystery man of Berea in 2010, after a mid-season trade brought the defensive lineman to Cleveland. Mitchell didn't play in Eric Mangini's defense during the second-half of the season, despite a rash of injuries.
Entering 2011, Mitchell's name has been bandied about as a possible solution to the team's still crippling lack of defensive line depth. Yet, in most respects, no one seems to know what position Mitchell will actually play.
Best PR – Head Coach Edition
New Browns' head coach Pat Shurmur showed an intriguing bit of bravado by recently responding to a claim that the Browns' offense lacked playmakers. Citing tight end Ben Watson as a "weapon", Shurmur admitted what even the most optimistic of Browns' followers have come to realize – that the team's offense is still starved of playmakers.
Of course, this isn't a knock on Watson, who contributed 68 catches for 763 yards in 2010, but rather a reflection of how much work needs to be done on offense. If anything, Watson was easily the team's most reliable receiver and gave McCoy a consistent underneath option. Going forward, if one of the team's current wide receivers can emerge, Watson could easily become a legitimate "weapon."
John Elway on Brady Quinn
Speaking of weapons, let's consider the following to be some revenge towards Elway for his soul-crushing playoff victories in the late 1980's. Elway recently commented on his team's quarterback position – and threw a bone to the former Browns' first-round pick.
"I've seen him in Cleveland. For young quarterbacks to be successful, they have to have that supporting cast around them. The supporting cast in Cleveland wasn't what it will be here. I don't know that Brady has ever had that."
Something else that Brady Quinn has never had is basic throwing accuracy. While I will grant that Quinn didn't have much to work with in Cleveland, it also didn't help that he pinged his passes off his receiver's feet.
Or in other words, let the Tim Tebow era begin.
Delicious Irony – Local Chapter
Talk about an identity crisis. Edwards, who famously derided Browns fans for not accepting a Michigan product, offered the following regarding his current free agent status and the possibility of accepting a "hometown discount."
"It depends on what the discount is. I'm not aiming for the moon. I put myself in a situation where I think I'm in a certain ballpark. You get close, then let's do it."
Evidently, playing less than two years in New Jersey has further alienated Edwards from reality. The starcrossed wideout now seems confused as to where his actual hometown is. Either the bright lights of the world's media capital have further blinded Edwards, or he's about to sign a deal with the Lions.
Quote of the Offseason
But then again, we'll give Edwards a pass – as long as athletes continue to say things like this.
"It's modern-day slavery, you know? People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too. With all the money, the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money."
Of course. Between the endless student loans, child care costs, rising price of gas and groceries and eternally stifled job market, it is pretty much the same.
Put a sword in his hand and Peterson is basically the contemporary Spartacus.
Good Guy Award
Joe Haden and Abe Elam
Luckily, not all NFL players are complete idiots.
From sponsoring a youth baseball team to holding a charity bowling event to supporting both the Indians and Cavaliers, Haden is quickly becoming an ambassador for both the Browns and the city of Cleveland. Haden's teammate, Abe Elam, is doing the same in his hometown of Riviera Beach, Florida. Elam is putting on a charity weekend June 9-11 that will feature Haden, Mike Adams and Cavalier Alonzo Gee.
Offseason Least Valuable Player
But of course, the dark cloud again emerges.
However, instead of performing the expected and pinning all of the labor blame on the league's owners, the NFLPA – or the remnants of such – should shoulder their own burden. The group led by DeMaurice Smith based their labor strategy on a faulty decertification tactic, which was only temporarily rewarded by a day-long lifting of the owner's lockout.
Now, the entire process has fallen into the abyss of litigation – an area in which labor unions have historically faltered. Or, if the words of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell are to be decoded, the courts are no place for an unorganized labor force.
"The courts aren't going to resolve our differences. We need to resolve them at the table."
Offseason Least Valuable Player
But then again, it's not like the owners deserve NFL fans' support either.
Despite what appears to be a noble gesture, comments like the following from Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay actually make the situation worse.
"I look at someone who's making $40,000 or $50,000 a year, who has to pay rent and I just can't see as an owner asking them for anything."
Yet, that's exactly what all owners are doing – and have been doing – for the past few decades. Or, maybe not if you subscribe to the idea that the owners no longer need the "average" fan's money. Considering that most NFL owners' revenue comes from TV deals, executive stadium suites and sweetheart city leases, it's entirely possible that the courtroom is the ideal destination for this situation.
Offseason Least Valuable Player – Lifetime Achievement
Either way, we all know who the real losers in this situation are – and maybe not for the most apparent reasons. Another lockout and the rising costs of tickets should give fans yet another reason to evaluate their financial attachment to the game.
Of course, the emotional attachment is quite another thing.
No matter the volume of fan complaints regarding the greed of the game, one thing is obvious. When football returns, so will the fans.
Because we're all suckers – and both the owners and players know it.