Passan: Mangini Changes the Bargain

When he was hired, it was expected head coach Eric Mangini would tinker with the roster, not blow it up. But when the smoke clears, the Browns will be much different, and much older.

For someone who was hired under the pretext that there was going to be more tinkering with than overhauling of the 2009 Cleveland Browns, Eric Mangini sure has an interesting way of backing his words.

When Randy Lerner failed to land Scott Pioli for the vacant general manager's job with the Browns, two reasons were cited.

There was no way Pioli could work with Mangini, stemming from their days in the AFC East. That was understandable considering what unfolded during the sordid Spygate saga.

Pioli also saw a roster that needed more than just a tweak here and a nudge there. In his estimation, it was believed, it needed a serious reconstruction.

Lerner obviously thought otherwise. Why else would the owner hire Mangini and George Kokinis if he didn't believe Phil Savage left him with a much stronger team than he inherited? All that team needed was better coaching.

Mangini might not have nailed the job if he had agreed with Pioli's assessment of the club. What other logical conclusion can one come to? Why else cross the most qualified man to become the club's general manager off the list? And that most likely was the reason Pioli ultimately wound up in Kansas City as the Chiefs' general manager.

So far, we have seen the Pro Bowl tight end traded; the starting offensive right tackle released; failure to resign the starting strong safety; the release of a starting inside linebacker; and the release of a popular wide receiver who made significant contributions in his two seasons with the club.

One other veteran, offensive lineman Ryan Tucker, agreed to take the fullest pay cut in order to stay with the team. And it would appear as though other veterans who do not acquiesce to the fiscal demands of the team will find themselves seeking employment elsewhere.

There figures to be more bloodletting before some stability is achieved. There are a few other members of the team still vulnerable, some of them starters. If they don't take pay cuts in keeping with the new austerity program at Fort Berea, they will join the likes of Kevin Shaffer and Joe Jurevicius.

Replacing those who have already departed are players who, for the most part, toiled for Mangini during his three seasons with the New York Jets.

Why is all this happening?

Could it be Mangini wants to be fiscally responsible and save his new boss some money? Perhaps.

Is it because the coach feels more comfortable with men who have played for him previously? Probably.

Or is it because he really didn't like the roster he inherited to begin with and now, with the help of his handpicked general manager, is massaging it toward a major redo? Most likely.

That's not what Lerner bargained for – at least that's what we were led to believe – when he chose Mangini over Pioli.

As we stand today, the Browns have become the New York Jets West with four ex-Jets joining the 2009 Browns, whose roster promises to look considerably different than the one in 2008. The Jets, who have lost seven free agents with four landing in Cleveland, cut the Browns off there with the signing of safety Abram Elam (more on him later) Tuesday.

It is possible, however, that as many as 20 members from last season's team will not wear the Orange and Brown this season. That kind of turnover ratio is not a tinkering. It's an overhaul.

Granted, most of the new faces provide depth, but their arrival is almost certain to place the Browns among the oldest teams in the National Football League. Newcomers Eric Barton, David Bowens, Hank Poteat, Robert Royal, Floyd Womack  and John St. Clair are all at least 30 years old.

While it is difficult to pin down exactly what mad scientists Mangini and Kokinis are trying to accomplish in their laboratory, one thing is abundantly clear: Any resemblance between the 2008 Cleveland Browns and the 2009 Cleveland Browns will be accidental.

The Browns are so excited and pleased to have these new players on board, by the way, they have held zero news conferences to introduce them to their adoring public. A strange stab at public relations.

* * *

Thank you, New York Jets, for matching the Browns' offer sheet to Elam. The Browns did not need a convicted felon on their team.

Elam was convicted of sexual battery, a felony, in a rape case stemming from an incident in March 2002 when he was a freshman at Notre Dame University. It's all spelled out in the following story: (click here).

We first heard about Elam nearly four years ago when the Browns expressed an interest in the senior safety at Kent State. I wrote the following for the Orange & Brown Report in April 2005.  Check out the second half of the piece.

Fortunately, that interest did not translate into anything more than just that and Elam, who was not drafted, wound up with the Jets in 2007 after going failing to stick with Miami and Dallas as a free agent.

The previous Browns regime took pride in filling the roster with players of character. Straight arrows who stayed out of trouble and had clean pasts.

I'm not certain the Browns did their due diligence in checking out Elam. To the best of my knowledge, the team has never had a convicted felon under contract.

As I wrote back then, "At the risk of sounding high and mighty, Elam does not belong here. Let someone else take him. . . . I believe in second chances to a degree. But I draw a large line at sexual battery."

Haven't changed my mind.

Thanks again, Jets.

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