Passan: Q-and-A Time

In this installment of his weekly rants, Rich asks himself tough questions and gives himself tough answers. Pondering tough football questions is what we're all about. Well, that, and beer. Pondering tough football questions and beer are the two things were all about, plus ripping off Monty Python skits. Drat! OK, pondering tough football questions, beer, ripping off Monty Python, are the three things...

Questions that need to be asked and answers that need to be given  . . .

Q – Why is it taking so long for Peter Boulware to sign a free-agent contract with some team?

A – It's been said that answering a question with another question is not wise. But what the hell.

Could it be he's not the linebacker/pass-rushing specialist he was just a couple of years ago? You might not like the Baltimore Ravens (massive understatement), but you've got to believe they knew what they were doing when they cut Boulware.

If he were physically fit – he's coming off major knee and toe injuries (yes, turf toe is major; it ended Jack Lambert's career) – then we wouldn't be talking about him. He'd still be a dreaded Raven.

He has to convince four teams – the Browns, Seahawks, Texans and Steelers (how did they sneak in there?) – before money and contract terms are discussed. After watching him work out last Thursday at Florida State, those teams went behind closed doors to discuss strategy.

Browns General Manager Phil Savage knows what's at stake. He also knows the man and what he can do. And there's a chance he might take a pass on Boulware.

Sure, it would be nice to see him in Seal Brown and Orange. Sure, it would be nice to see him crushing opposing quarterbacks (most notably Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Kyle Boller). And sure, it would be nice to solidify an otherwise suspect defense.

If the Browns decline to get into a bidding contest and Boulware signs with, say, Pittsburgh and surprises everyone with a great season, do you blame Savage? Does he reside between that boulder and the proverbial hard place?

You bet he does. It's decisions such as this that make or break reputations. It's no different than if he took a chance on Boulware, only to see him fail miserably. There's a fine line between genius and doofus. Just ask Dwight Clark, P.H. Davis and Pete Garcia.

Q – Why did the Browns sign Phil Dawson to a five-year contract?

A – Because he's as consistent a kicker as there is in the National Football League. Granted, he doesn't get many field-goal opportunities – he averaged less than two a game last season – but he doesn't miss many. Besides, it's the one department that has been consistent the last six seasons.

But I believe Dawson this season will observe from the sidelines when the Browns kick off. The Browns recently signed Tyler Jones after the Bears cut him. The kid can kick. Usually gets a lot of depth on his kickoffs. Two negatives: He sometimes line-drives the ball and the fact he comes from Boise State might raise the possibility that Boise's high altitude might add several yards to his kicks.

Coaches love their defenses to start drives inside the opponent's 20-yard line. And with the Browns' defense a tad shy on talent, more drives begun there would be prudent. That means a kicker who drives the ball deep. And Jones drives the ball deep.

Q – How worried should you be regarding the Browns' defensive line?

A – Very worried. Even though the linebackers are the key elements in Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme, the defensive line plays a critical role by tying up offensive linemen so they can't get to the second level.

In other words, one of their main functions is to keep their linebackers clean to make plays. How do you think guys like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher wind up on highlight reels and SportsCenter? They get clean shots at their targets because they don't have to worry about some offensive lineman getting in their way.

That's why I'm worried. Beyond Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley, the Browns are bankrupt along the defensive line. Jason Fisk? He couldn't start as San Diego. Beyond that, you have a bunch of names unless a Nick Eason, a Simon Fraser, an Ellery Moore or a Drew Hoffman pop out and surprise everyone.

Q – And who's going to start at linebacker?

A – Andra Davis is the only certainty. The dept chart right now says Chaun Thompson and Matt Stewart on the outside and Ben Taylor next to Davis inside. But Taylor can't stay healthy, Thompson is a better inside backer and Stewart's resume doesn't mention solid tackling.

If the coaches keep Thompson outside, Brant Boyer should get a shot inside. He's fresh. Didn't play last season. He's due to have an injury-free season.

And if Boulware isn't here, Kenard Lang has a chance to unseat Stewart. Depends how well he has progressed since being switched from the defensive line several months ago. Training camp will unlock the mystery.

Q – The Browns have signed three draft picks so far. What are the odds they will have all eight under contract by the time the whole squad reports to training camp July 29?

A – Too high to discuss. Ain't gonna happen. If so, even Paul Tagliabue will be stunned.

Q – What are Gene Hickerson's chances of being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

A – Unfortunately, they are slim unless the Veterans Committee chooses to hear his case. Even then, they still might be slim because there most likely are players from other teams just as deserving and who suffered the same fate as Hickerson.

The campaign on this Web site to get Hickerson elected is admirable. But so is the campaign to get the late Mel Harder of the Indians elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite pressure from some prominent people, it hasn't happened yet.

It's an injustice to keep Hickerson out of the Hall when guys like John Hannah, Gene Upshaw, Tom Mack and Larry Little reside there. Hickerson was John Hannah before John Hannah. He was Larry Little before Larry Little. I saw him play and can vouch he's the best pulling guard I've ever seen. He was the quintessential pulling guard of his era.

But this isn't like the City of Cleveland and Browns fans everywhere on this planet bringing the NFL to its knees in 1995. Fighting this cause is commendable, but futile.

Q – Is this Q & A ever going to end?

A – Yes.

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