Or is it?
Don't buy it. Players in the Browns locker room are furious with the reports and are strongly supporting their demoted teammates.
The timing of these rumors is rather sickening and appears to be a perfect storyline for someone within the Browns organization to pass along to reporters.
Bernies Insiders has spoken with a large number of players in recent days. To a man, we were told Johnson and Couch are not perceived as problems or annoyances. Nor are they players with whom teammates have personal issues in the locker room or playing field.
Quite the contrary, according to What We've Been Told.
Neither player, Couch or Johnson, has taken the demotion lightly, but both players have conducted themselves in a very professional manner. According to one player on the active roster, he was quite surprised at how supportive the outgoing and personable Johnson has been this past week. In the case of Couch, he is steadfast in his belief he should be a starting quarterback... if not in Cleveland, then somewhere else.
Couch has been the poster-boy for this Browns organization since he was the first player selected in the 1999 NFL draft. He has taken beating after beating for some terrible football teams in Cleveland. Couch rarely complained, although he was physically bruised and battered.
Putting the weight of the organization on Couch's shoulders was a mistake, particularly when he was saddled with a noticeable absence of offensive talent during his early years with the Browns.
When looking back at the first five seasons of Couch's career in Cleveland, it is almost inevitable that he will be evaluated as a failure and the one player who will take the majority of the blame. While it is doubtful he will ever live up to the expectations of a number-one selection, Couch has been a soldier and a player who gave his utmost on the field for this Browns organization.
For whatever reason, Couch has never developed into a star quarterback. Cleveland was seeking a star and a leader, and Couch never has been able to live up to the hype generated by the organization or expectations of the Browns huge fan-base.
Kevin Johnson had lower expectations, and has been successful in Cleveland. He was the Browns only consistent receiver in 1999 and 2000. Though not a playmaker or ‘big' receiver in the mold coach Butch Davis prefers, Johnson has been Couch's favorite target, and the rapport between the two helped to create most of the on-field success the Browns offense had those first two years.
Despite his lack of game-breaking speed and less-than-desirable quickness, Johnson has been the steadiest of the Browns receivers over his five-year career.
When the depth and quality at wide receiver improved, however, Johnson's weakness as a blocker got under the skin of Davis and receivers coach Terry Robiskie. Johnson has never been considered a strong route-runner - he has been adequate, and his sure-handedness had been enough to keep him in the starting lineup.
This demotion of Johnson is not driven by finances. Whether the team were to release Johnson or sit him on the bench, they would not gain any significant financial benefit. Putting Johnson on the pine provides the team with the opportunity to get second-year receiver Andre Davis on the field more often, matching him up opposite the inconsistent Quincy Morgan. Davis provides the team much greater speed and quickness at the starting receiver spot, which should provide the offense with some vertical opportunities in the passing game.
Benching Johnson is acceptable and sitting Couch down may have been the correct decision by Davis... but the excuses leaked to the media to make it appear Johnson and Couch are disliked and possibly problems within the team are far from the truth.
Call it the way it truly is: the Browns have improved the quality and depth at the wide receiver position and Johnson may no longer be able to crack the starting lineup. Couch has been highly inconsistent and prone to making repetitive errors in judgment on the playing field. His replacement, Kelly Holcomb, has struggled through some of the same issues.
Although Johnson and Couch appear to be heading into their last eight-games with the Cleveland Browns, they certainly don't need to have their reputations as teammates and team players tarnished as means of justifying putting them on the bench.