Cleveland remains on a roll, folks. The Cavaliers continue to bask in the glow of the city’s first championship in 52 years. The Indians just finished the best month in the team’s history. And the Browns haven’t done anything noteworthy.
The relative boredom that comes with the final point is actually a good thing. The NFL handed down a few high-profile suspensions Thursday—including a certain quarterback who will remain unnamed.
For the first time in a couple years, the Browns weren’t at the forefront of this conversation. Instead, it’s all quiet in Berea, which is a very good thing. Things can always change—cross your fingers—but the overall approach by the team and its young players is far different than what fans have come to expect.
There is still time for all of this to change, but the longer it goes without any incident during the team’s off time the better everyone should feel about this roster and its staff. It seems like a simple thing, but this organization has been plagued with unnecessary headaches for far too long.
A completely dull offseason where those on the outside can just discuss the team makeup should be what every franchise strives to achieve each and every year.
Let’s initially revisit a topic from last week…
1. In a conversation with long-time offensive line coach Howard Mudd, Joe Thomas became a primary topic. Last week, I argued Thomas should be considered among the league’s top 10 or 15 players due to his consistent performance at a premium position. But I became curious how those in the league actually viewed the Browns left tackle.
“Joe Thomas is a premier offensive tackle in the NFL,” Mudd said. “He has outstanding qualities: He's dependable at a high-level, he's smart and his work ethic and character must be outstanding to play at a high level consistently, especially considering the culture in the organization over his career.”
2. Mudd added, “It's a real good thing [the Browns] have Joe as a starting point for a new beginning for their team. This is especially true in light of losing [Alex] Mack to free agency.”
3. Many argued Mack had one foot out of the door last season due the player option on his previous contract. This wasn’t entirely true as the center struggled with his decision to finally leave Cleveland. However, Mudd’s point still stands. Mack’s leadership became a primary reason why the Browns wanted to retain the veteran center. Cameron Erving may eventually prove he can fill the physical void in the middle of the offensive line, but his ability to control the line during game days and fill a leadership role Mack left in the locker room will be far more daunting.
4. The young linemen look up to Thomas and follow his lead. There’s no better evidence than Mitchell Schwartz’s career path. The former second-round pick struggled early in his career. When watching him closely last season, his technique looked almost identical to Thomas’. The left tackle’s influence became obvious. This allowed Schwartz to develop into a top right tackle and garner a five-year, $33 million contract from the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency. Thomas, Mack and Schwartz were close, which made the team’s decision to move on from two of them difficult. The offensive line might not have performed as well as many expected last year, but it was still a very talented group that will take a step back this season.
5. The front office did make a move this week when it decided to release quarterback Connor Shaw. It was inevitable. Shaw’s days became numbered when the team draftedm Cody Kessler. The timing of this move and others this offseason remain curious, though. It’s difficult to understand the thought process behind the moves based on when they were made. After Shaw’s release, one league source asked, “Why wait this long?” At the very least, the former undrafted free agent will have an opportunity to catch on with another team before the start of training camp.
6. While quarterback remains up in the air, an interesting competition should also evolve at safety. Jordan Poyer and Ibraheim Campbell are considered the favorites to win the starting spots, but they’ll be pushed by Rahim Moore and recent fourth-round pick Derrick Kindred. Plus, the team has quietly worked Pierre Desir at safety as well. The coaching staff wants to keep Desir along the back line. This will allow both him and Justin Gilbert to get as many reps as possible in training camp to see if they can contribute this season.
7. After Joe Haden - whose injury could keep him out training camp - the rest of the team’s depth comes into question. The staff is leaning heavily on veteran Tramon Williams until Haden can get back on the field. The remaining cornerback depth chart is completely up in the air.
8. Williams is a solid veteran presence, and the staff believes it can get him back to a Pro Bowl level of play. The team acquired Jamar Taylor in a draft-day trade, but he hasn’t had the time or reps to truly establish himself. The team’s depth then falls on three young corners— K'Waun Williams, Charles Gaines Jr. and rookie Trey Caldwell. One name to remember: Tracy Howard Tracy Howard. The undrafted free agent is a former five-star recruit who struggled during his senior season. In 2014, though, Howard actually graded better than Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Artie Burns.
9. On a personal note, I finally sat down to watch “Believeland” last night. Surely, most Browns fans already did so before ESPN added the Cavs’ fairytale ending. Previously, I simply didn’t see the point of reliving all of the city’s painful sports moments. After all, they’ve been rehashed on so many occasions. For those who watched before the Cavs changed the city’s culture, I now understand what drew everyone to it in the first place. The segment with Earnest Byner alone is worth watching. The glassy-eyed look on the running back’s face after the game was absolutely surreal. His tearful apology to the fan base and city after all of these years proved to be truly heart wrenching.
10. Byner is now Cleveland’s version of Bill Buckner. A once-hated moment in the city’s sports history can finally be forgiven. It’s overshadowed the life of a great player and person for far too long. Kudos to head coach Hue Jackson for bringing Byner into the fold to help the young running backs during training camp. Kirby Wilson is a tremendous coach and run-game coordinator, but the staff will be even better if it finds a way to retain Byner’s extensive experience as both a player and coach.