What to Make of the Crocker Trade

Mark Leonard recently wrote two articles for the OBR on the off-season priorities for the Browns on both offense and defense. Response to the articles was so strong and positive that we've asked Mark to contribute to the OBR on a weekly basis. We kick off his regular contributions with this analysis of what to read into the Browns' still-unofficial trade of Chris Crocker to the Falcons.

Contrary to what has been reported in a local newspaper, it is not likely Brodney Pool and Sean Jones, the organization's past two second-round draft choices, will compete for the starting strong safety slot vacated by the Friday deal of incumbent Chris Crocker to the Atlanta Falcons for a fourth-round draft choice.

More likely, this is what the club is saying, knowing full well it is in the market for a legit prototype at the post.

A piece authored elsewhere speculated weeks ago Crocker was probably not returning to a safety slot, but might move to CB, for which he was drafted in the third in 2002. With Pool, Jones and Bryan Russell, last year's starter at free, returning to the mix, it would have been excessive to stack Crocker, as well. Someone had to move or be moved. It was Crocker, but not to corner.

Russell's experience, not surprisingly, recommended last him season to Head Coach Crennel, as well as to D-Coor Todd Grantham, and his football IQ probably had a lot to do with the team's success defending its red zone. For all that he brings, he could be tough to unseat.

However, the team is understandably high on the potential of Pool, an Oklahoma underclassman who had a lot to learn as a rookie and further had his challenge complicated by an early concussion.

Jones, for whom Butch Davis dealt back into the second after foolishly surrendering his own to move up one slot with Detroit to secure Kellen Winslow, also hurt himself early in his first campaign, tearing an ACL. The injury typically requires more than a full season to rehab. Hence, the real Jones may be more evident this summer than last.

It is possible Jones and Pool will team in the deep secondary, with Russell the situational sub. But Jones is a former high school QB and these rarely provide the physicality requisite in a strong safety. Similarly, Russell, also a prep passer, is not known for his hitting. Bryan and Brodney share lanky builds more conducive to ranging widely as a free safety characteristically does.

Because of the experience valued by Crennel and Grantham, it is expected the SS will not come from the draft but in the person of someone like Titans' displaced Tank Williams, whose return to Tennessee seems compromised by the recent signing of Steelers' Chris Hope.

Williams, 6-2 225, is a thumper who played OLB at Stanford. Crennel and his mentor, Bill Belichick, have both been known to feature intimidating enforcers at the SS post: Eric Turner, Shaun Williams, Lawyer Milloy, Rodney Harrison, et al.

Much of this re-states earlier entries at this site.

As for the pick surrendered by the Falcons, it represents fair exchange for both clubs and signals AtL's intention to start the former Marshall captain. From Savage's perspective, a fourth-rounder is important because it is the opening round of Day Two, meaning he can be active following a full evening, night's sleep and early-morning of deliberations over the many youngsters left undrafted April 29. Additional picks in this round are the envy of the sport, and more may be pursued via the placements of Jeff Faine, Matt Stewart and Dennis Northcutt.

Either the players or the choices secured for them may further enable the team to go after the select few RFA of this spring's class. Minn WR Nate Burleson and SD ILB Matt Wilhelm are two who could factor helpfully here. None of the vet Browns was able to lock down a starting job last season when invited, yet each has value in the league--- possibly in prominent roles, given the right systems in which to express their gifts.

In yet another of the St. Patrick's Day developments, it is likely the organization viewed its ultimate options at pick 12, when it took in the Florida State Pro Day workouts in Tallahassee. One of two one-year Seminole starters figures to be the selection: DE Brodrick Bunkley or projected 3-4 ROLB Kamerion Wimbley.

It is possible the former will be off the board by 12, making the decision for them. It has earlier been opined that DE may already be adequately manned in Cleveland, so long as those players are aligned next to a NT like Ted Washington and backed sufficiently by appropriate LBs next to Andra Davis. McGinest, Wilhelm and Wimbley would seem suitable for the satisfaction of those stipulations.

At any rate, five starting jobs appear most unsettled: WR (until Braylon Edwards is fully rehabbed; expect him to open on the PUP), ILB, ROLB, SS and RDE, with the last the least urgent. What is more, experienced options at the post exist on-the-street and in abundance.

Liquidating a tradeable asset in the expendable Crocker was a step toward addressing one of these holes. Similar exchanges involving Faine, Stewart and Northcutt are foreseeable for like-minded reasons.

The draft, at this point, is expected to address ROLB, a NT for Washington to mentor, interior OL depth and another ILB, followed by welcomed depth at any number of locations.

Anyone spending any amount of time listening to sports talk radio in the DC area comes quickly to the conclusion it is much more significant an NFL market than previously anticipated. It may well be next to only NY in that regard.

Hence, it should be understandable Daniel Snyder's collection of FA additions is being hyped and heralded. But only three are players who might start or contribute significantly on this lesser Browns' roster. Savage's, on the other hand, are all prominent starters here (with the probable exception of utility OL Bob Hallen) and in each Phil secured the best-possible solution to his void. Bentley, McGinest, Washington, Jurevicius, Zastudil, even Shaffer, were probably the premier remedies available among unrestricted free agents.

That is incredible and merits Savage the top grade among this spring's shoppers, whatever that is worth. The real measurements arrive with the season; it's why they play the games.

In the meantime, the man is not resting, nor is he done. The manuever involving Crocker underscores as much and signals a  number of possible scenarios certain to bear watching.

The fact that the front office is active, alert, resourceful, proactive, creative and executing a clear vision is most encouraging and reflective of a winner's attitude and approach: "Whatever it takes to create success."

It's about time and we deserve it.

Mark has been an ardent and dedicated student of Browns' football since the championship season of 1964, with a conspicuous orientation toward and recall of personnel. An OSU grad in journalism/public relations, Mark has promoted USFL exhibitions in Charlotte, covered local sports for the Lorain Morning Journal, attended several drafts and Senior Bowl weeks, worked extensively in public education, enjoyed a too brief radio stint and performed free-lance writing of sports in his various states of residence. (He's lived in five and toured them all---as well as parts of six other countries---allowing him to relate to the distant Browns' fans.) Currently residing in Salinas, California, Mark joined the OBR staff in March. More of his writings can be viewed at www.xanga.com/maleonard . Respectful feedback is invited and encouraged at

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