We're two months into the Mangini Regime in Cleveland, and what has transpired since Jan. 7 is leaving a lot of fans baffled and uneasy.
Odds are, this isn't going to change until kickoff in September. And maybe not even then.
For the moment, let's step back and examine what's been going on in Cleveland. The high-stakes, high-profile search for a new head coach and general manager was painted one way by the team and Mangini after it was over.
Let us imagine how those interviews went …
Scott Pioli: "Randy, I'll be frank. We need to blow up the roster. Some of these guys are good, but this teams is a couple dozen new players away from being a New England-style annual contender. We have a lot of work to do and it's going to take a few years before we'll be in a position to win the Super Bowl."
Randy Lerner: "Kansas City has good ribs. Send me a postcard."
Eric Mangini: "We can win with the players we have right now. Maybe add a couple here and there. We're close. You know, I used to work for Bill Belichick, right? Would you like to see my Super Bowl rings? When I first worked for the Browns back in 1994 as an intern, I used to put a Whoopee Cushion on Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston's seat in the press room, in case Coach Belichick wanted to have his annual laugh. Turns out, we didn't need the gag device. Did I mention I have Bill Parcells' number in my Rolodex? Also, we'll need to hire my old roommate George to run the team."
Randy Lerner: "You're hired."
So Mangini responds by blowing up the roster, trading away what he likely perceived as a malcontent in Kellen Winslow Jr., and has basically ignored fuming Mt. Rogers. He also signed in free agency a bunch of guys that couldn't earning a starting spot on other bad teams. Now, they can not earn starting spots in Cleveland.
They call it building depth. But what kind of depth is it when your team already fields a second-string lineup when compared to much of the NFL? This new depth seems not to be the Browns' junior varsity team, but more like the freshman squad. The JV is the starting unit in Cleveland. It's a roster of special teams players.
Mangini clearly intends to put his personal stamp on the team, which means he wants to be Bill Belichick being Bill Parcells. It's a wonder he didn't legally change his first name to Bill. If it works, I don't care if he changes his name to Judas Iscariot. In the meantime, public relations (a vital part of the game these days) continues to be a congenital defect of the Cleveland Browns, leading to rampant rumors, irritating innuendo, spectacular speculation and a fan base left wondering what the hell is going on. Maybe it's a Manginian tactic or maybe it's just more of the fumbling we've been subjected to for 10 years.
Let's take a look at those imported free agents (which means I don't give a hoot in hell they resigned safety Mike Adams):
Eric Barton (MLB, Jets): Reminds me a little bit of when Belichick brought Pepper Johnson to Cleveland from the Giants. Only this time, it's Mangini bringing in an old linebacker from the other New York team. The Jets gave up 95 yards rushing per game (7th best in the NFL), and Barton was instrumental in that from his middle linebacker position. He'll be replacing the departed Andra Davis from a Browns team that surrendered 152 yards a game on the ground. Of course, the Jets were 29th against the pass at 234.5 yards per game given up, which begs the question: Will Barton be a liability against the pass? Or did teams have to pass a lot because they couldn't run. Teams ran 134 fewer times against the Jets (407 attempts) than the Browns (541).
David Bowens (OLB, Jets): Cleveland is his sixth team in 12 seasons. His best was starting 15 games for the Dolphins in 2004 when he recorded 40 total tackles, 7 sacks and 6 passes defensed. He got five starts last year and turned in OK numbers in that time. But how much gas is left in the tank? How much of a tank did he have to begin with? He seems to be a body to fill a roster spot until someone better can be drafted, neither much hurting or helping the Browns in a meaningful way over the long term.
Noah Herron (RB, Packers): Who?
Corey Ivy (CB, "NFL team in Maryland"): Could only start for one of the NFL's best defenses because of injury, and will only start for one of the worst for the same reason. He's also 32 years old and has started just 21 games in 8 years. Most of them came last year. He's also very undersized. Old, small and ineffective is no way to go through life, son.
C.J. Mosley (DT, Jets): He's a big, young body that can spell big, old bodies. Got five starts in four seasons. Doubtful he's going to make anyone forget Michael Dean Perry, but the thinking is he's depth and maybe could blossom in a new city. He comes cheap so it's no big whoop.
Robert Royal (TE, Buffalo): Cleveland traded its all-world but often injured and grumpy tight end for a far less talented tight end that couldn't catch in Buffalo. Maybe he'll blossom in Cleveland. Maybe palm trees will blossom in Edgewater Park.
John St. Clair (OT, Bears): Pure backup for depth once a real starter is found. If one isn't found, look for considerable dropoffs in the effectiveness of the running and passing games. And we all remember just how effective they were last year, right? My, does 2007 seem so long ago …
Floyd Womack (OG, Seahawks): See above.
With luck, the team will land at least one impact free agent -- my horse and kingdom for a wide receiver that can catch, remain healthy and behave -- before camp begins.
Until this team wins, and shows that its off-season contortions and weirdness was merely the sign of geniuses performing their brilliant alchemy in the kitchen, the Browns appear to be floundering and taking on the worst trappings of Belichick-Parcells with none of the good. Only winning will make me believe Mangini isn't a fat punk ripoff of B&B who convinced Randy Lerner, worth $1.3 billion, to make cosmetic changes to the team's Berea headquarters while a bunch of front office staffers were laid off due to "the economy" from a team Forbes estimates to be worth $1 billion and growing (up from $557 million in 1999).
But I've been around this game long enough to know I can be surprised and be wrong. With luck, I will be on both in the case of Mangini, but all signs point to another 4-12 season. And right now I'm smelling the faintest whiff of Testaverde-Kosar circa 1993, and I don't like it. Mangini and Kokinis (hopefully) have a plan on what to do with the quarterback situation and it will unfold in coming months. Let us pray it doesn't involve jettisoning the starting quarterback while the other is injured and all we have on the shelf is the 2009 version of Brad Goebel.
Bill Shea is the OBR's Detroit bureau chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org