Front Office Speak
Despite a horrid 2011 performance, the one constant regarding the Browns' immediate future is the consistency of the team's front office. For the first time in the Browns' expansion history, a clear chain of command exists between Team President, General Manager and Head Coach.
Or, so we thought.
How else to explain the following contradictory messages?
"We're not going to go crazy in free agency. We're not going to do it."
-Tom Heckert – 3/8/12
"I'm not sure any offer was going to be good enough. We were very aggressive and it didn't work. Rest assured, we were aggressively involved in that... Honestly, when it didn't happen I think there are reasons that I can't go into right now, but there is a very close relationship between the people getting the deal done and the people who offered ... Most of the stories that I have seen — all of them I've seen — were incorrect in what our offer was, when we entered the process and in how we went about it." -Mike Holmgren – 3/14/12
While Heckert and Holmgren are clearly speaking about two distinct things – free agency and the draft – the two entities are wrapped together. Heckert (and Holmgren at times) has continually preached a mantra that the Browns are building through the draft. Yet according to Holmgren, the Browns nearly traded four high draft choices to the Redskins in an attempt to land Robert Griffin III – a move that would have crippled the team's already stated rebuilding philosophy.
Perhaps the overall organizational strategy could have been amended to include the possibility of blowing up the future to land "one really talented player." But then again, it's worth asking the question: just what does Mike Holmgren do for the Browns?
According to Holmgren:
"My definition of my role is hire good people and support them the best I can. That's why I don't do press conferences. That's why I don't have a radio show. I've done that for 25 years. I support my people behind the scenes. We have a very competent young coach who will be here for a long time." -Mike Holmgren – 12/14/11
Yet it seems that all Holmgren does is hold press conferences – especially during moments where the Browns' collective fan base is about to melt down. In the case of not securing the rights to draft Griffin, Holmgren offered a salve that showed his inherited team is relevant in a league currently measured in offseason marketability. To this point, Holmgren serves as nothing more than a PR spinster who specializes in damage control.
As for Holmgren's talks with the Rams, the question now becomes just how serious the Browns were in trying to acquire Griffin. Holmgren's thoughts about the Browns' actual and rumored role in the discussion could suggest that perhaps the team was not as heavily involved as previously thought. A logical assumption could be that Holmgren was involved in only an exploratory manner – which ballooned into another narrative constructed by various media outlets.
Or, Holmgren indeed was authentically involved in a pursuit – to the point where he would contradict the front office's stated goal of building through the draft. While Griffin would become the centerpiece of such a strategy, the consequences of losing several draft picks would become real over the next few years.
If Holmgren was a serious player in trade talks, then his cryptic comments regarding Jeff Fisher and Mike Shanahan's friendship are even more troubling. If Holmgren essentially serves as the head of the Browns' PR wing, then usurping such a relationship is a primary duty for an executive who is banking some 50 million dollars. Otherwise, an NFL Team President who can't use his league connections is practically worthless.
This brings us back to Heckert, who is clearly the actual architect of the Browns' current rebuilding plans.
The Best Laid Plans – Part One
As the zenith of free agency approaches, we have learned the following regarding quarterback situations around the league.
As of Monday, Peyton Manning is now a Denver Bronco, which means that pseudo-wunderkind Tim Tebow is now on the trade market. Matt Flynn turned his two career starts into a nice free agent deal in Seattle. Alex Smith – spurned by the 49ers during the Manning sweepstakes – has re-signed with the 49ers. Matt Hasselbeck is still a Titan – at least for the time being. Andrew Luck and Griffin will become the first two picks and as for the Browns.
About those Browns….
What's old is new again. What's amazing is that Colt McCoy – who was essentially shoved out of Browns' fans memories beginning in December – is now again celebrated for his heart, courage, moral fiber and other such auxiliary descriptions. For lack of a better option, McCoy is still the Browns' starting quarterback.
At least until April.
While the Browns' quarterback situation remains the same, free agency along with the Redskins' trade has at least cleared up April's convoluted draft. With Indianapolis, Washington, Miami and Seattle securing quarterbacks, there are only a few teams behind the Browns who may attempt to trade up for either Ryan Tannehill or Brandon Weeden.
Of these teams, only Kansas City (11th pick) can make a serious claim to needing a young quarterback. The likes of Jacksonville (7th pick), Buffalo (10th pick), Philadelphia (15th pick), Oakland (17th pick) and Denver (25th pick) are teams that could be interested in at least drafting a quarterback. However, none of the above teams are likely to be motivated enough to trade up with the Browns.
Unless a surprise team emerges, this clears up possible scenarios with the fourth overall pick. With an unsettled QB situation in Miami remains unsettled, as the Dolphins and Browns are likely the only teams in the first half of April's draft possibly showing an interest in Tannehill. Miami could force the Browns into taking Tannehill at a spot much higher than necessary. Now, it would appear that the Browns have a better control of their own fortunes.
Assuming that the Browns even want to draft a quarterback.
The Best Laid Plans – Part Two
After all, the Browns could wait until 2013. Let's hope Matt Barkley and Landry Jones stay healthy.
In the meantime….
Dick Jauron Owns Free Agency
Frostee Rucker was probably not what most Browns' fans envisioned when dreams of free agency began last week. However, Rucker makes perfect sense for the Browns' defense – for the most part. While the contract given to Rucker could be considered a bit of a reach, the team's need at defensive end was not. In 2011, Jayme Mitchell proved to be a bust, while the resulting depth (Emmanuel Stephens, Brian Schafering and Auston English) was less than inspiring.
Additionally, Rucker fits the mold of a traditional Jauron defensive end. In Jauron's past Chicago and Buffalo defenses, one end serves as a pass rusher while the other is more of a run stopper. In 2011, rookie Jabaal Sheard proved to be the team's best pass rusher – possibly because he was always matched against opposing right tackles. In 2012, this should continue. Sheard will likely still compete against right tackles, while Rucker mans the right side of the defense. Veteran Juqua Parker could also provide some relief.As a result, Browns fans can't expect much from Rucker in the way of statistics. Rucker's addition is a boost mainly to the Browns' rush defense, which still struggled in containing opposing running backs. His contributions will come on first and second downs, as opposed to third down passing situations. In this area, the Browns still need to add more depth – something that could arrive in April's draft.
The Savage Truth
Finally, for all those bored fans who wanted to bask in Phil Savage nostalgia last week, consider that the former Browns' GM was more flash than substance. Great March headlines such as Ted Washington, Donte Stallworth and LeCharles Bentley proved to be September disappointments. On a similar note, veteran upgrades such as Kevin Shaffer, Joe Jurevicius, Willie McGinest, Eric Steinbach, Hank Fraley and Jamal Lewis were solid quick fixes, but ultimately broke down.
In the end, the narrative on Savage simply states that free agency is not a solution to overall team building. Veteran players are expensive and more prone to injuries. While some fill immediate holes, free agency can never become a self-sustaining process.
Which brings back to the present.