I would love to trash the Cleveland Browns for trading their best offensive weapon this week and raising a white flag on the season. I can’t.
The Browns’ management is digging out of a pile of rubble left for them by former owner Randy Lerner and former team president Mike Holmgren. They need a quarterback, and they need to fill a slew of holes.
Trading running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, for the Indianapolis Colts’ first round pick next year gives the Browns the flexibility to add a player or two who can be true cornerstones of the franchise.
The No. 1 personnel problem for Cleveland, of course, is quarterback. It’s well documented that new Browns general manager Mike Lombardi never liked Brandon Weeden.
Picking Weeden 22nd overall in the 2012 draft was the biggest of a bunch of bad gambles by Holmgren. Weeden is early in his second season and he’s going to be 30 in two weeks. If you’re going to draft a quarterback that old, he better be a once-in-a-generation guy. Peyton Manning. Robert Griffin III. Coming out of college, the most wildly optimistic view was Weeden could be Carson Palmer. But there was also a chance he could be Chris Weinke, the big-armed pocket passer who flopped for Carolina a decade ago. Weeden hasn’t looked special enough so far, and he’s a guy who will take a lot of hits in the pocket.
This was a compounded mistake by Holmgren. The Browns had the fourth pick in 2012. They wanted Griffin. They tried to move up to No. 2 by offering the fourth pick and their second-rounder, No. 37 overall. The Redskins outbid them, moving up to No. 2 in return for Nos. 6 and 39 overall and first-rounders in 2013 and 2014. It was a huge sacrifice but Redskins coach Mike Shanahan must be smiling about the Browns’ moves today. It’s going to wind up costing them at least two No. 1s, plus the middle-round picks they used to move up to get Richardson, to get a guy in 2014 who probably won’t be as highly regarded as Griffin.
But this move wasn’t just about giving up on Weeden. Lombardi doesn’t view Richardson as valuable as an All-Pro back like Adrian Peterson. Richardson is not a game-breaker. He doesn’t strike fear into defenses like Peterson – or C.J. Spiller. And he’s going to take a lot of hits, given his rugged running style. He probably won’t have a long shelf life. Remember the reaction of Browns legend Jim Brown after the draft: “I’m not overwhelmed with it. The problem is that he’s ordinary.”
That assessment is harsh. Richardson may be ordinary compared with Brown (who isn’t?), but Richardson is a high-quality back. Because he’s not a game-breaker, he’s not the key to your offense in today’s NFL. He’s perfect for the Colts, because he complements “the franchise,” Andrew Luck.
So Richardson became a bullet Lombardi had to bite in starting over.
The challenge for the Browns will be to make the right call on QB in next year’s draft. It’s hard to forecast today because we don’t know the assessment of the QB Class of 2014.
It looks like the clear No. 1 QB will be Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, presuming he leaves college early. But Jacksonville is the favorite to be the worst team in the league.
The Browns figure to be drafting somewhere between Nos. 2 and 6. So Cleveland will be in the running for whoever ranks after Bridgewater. The candidates include UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and maybe Oregon’s Marcus Mariotta. (Are any of them “safer” picks than EJ Manuel? Not as of today. We’ll see how it looks next May.)
One could argue the Browns could have kept Richardson, still drafted fifth or sixth, and wound up with one of those QBs anyway. But getting the Colts’ pick, which could turn out to be 20th to 25th overall, gives them flexibility to move up a few spots, if necessary.
Furthermore, this wasn’t just about the QB. It gives them a bevy of picks they need to get – they hope – more than one difference-maker. Cleveland now has two firsts, two thirds and two fourths in 2014.
Holmgren’s era will go down in Cleveland as a bigger disaster than Marv Levy’s two-year GM tenure in Buffalo. Levy gave the Bills Dick Jauron, Derrick Dockery, Langston Walker and Donte Whitner, moves that set the franchise back four years. My guess is the Bills paid Levy $2 million total.
The Browns paid Holmgren a reported $40 million on a five-year contract. He only served three of it, and he didn’t even live in Cleveland full-time. Lerner, a weak leader, allowed it. Lerner wasn’t even good at making money. Joe Banner, the new chief executive officer, already is doing better at maximizing revenues. Fortunately for Browns fans, Lerner sold the team last fall.
The Browns need to go back to making sound, responsible picks. That’s what they didn’t do under Holmgren. Weeden was one example. Another was using a 2010 second-round pick on running back Montario Hardesty, who a lot of teams didn’t even consider due to red flags on his knee. The Browns moved up to get him. He has barely played. Another example was using a second-round supplemental pick on talented wideout Josh Gordon. He had character red-flags in college and was suspended the first two games this year for violating the drug policy. He might pan out, but he was an unneeded gamble. Holmgren’s pick as coach, Pat Shurmur, flopped as well.
Woe is the Dawg Pound. Browns fans can only hope Lombardi makes the right call on QB in May.
Protecting a three-point lead last week, Carolina faced fourth-and-1 from the Buffalo 21 with 1:42 left last week. I’ll bet $1,000 Panthers coach Ron Rivera did not realize quarterback Cam Newton has successfully run for a first down on 16 of 18 third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 situations in his career. Rivera kicked a field goal to go up six and lost by one.
According to Advanced NFL Stats, the Panthers’ probability to win was 12 percent better if they went for it (94 percent) than if they kicked the field goal (82 percent), regardless of the QB. But that doesn’t consider Newton’s unique ability. I’d bet $100 Doug Marrone would have known if his QB was 16 of 18.
Chris Clark, LT, Denver: The big injury of the week was suffered by Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady, who suffered a major foot tear that required surgery and put him out for the year. That leaves Manning without his star blindside protector. The man on the spot is Clark, who entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie out of Southern Mississippi in 2008. Clark spent two years on practice squads and three years riding the bench. He was used as an extra tight end for the Broncos in the run-first offense run by Tim Tebow in 2011. He played about half of one game at tackle last season. That’s it.
Clark did see a lot of practice time in the spring and summer due to Clady’s holdout under a franchise tag. Clark signed a low-cost, two-year contract extension on Friday, two days before Clady’s injury.
On Monday night Clark goes up against Oakland’s Lamarr Houston, a speed rusher who’s off to a great start this season.
Manning has made a lot of mediocre offensive linemen look good over the years, including Charlie Johnson, who played left tackle for the Colts in 2009 and 2010 after star Tarik Glenn retired. Johnson now is doing a mediocre job as a guard for Minnesota. Manning will have to do it again.
• When Minnesota’s Peterson ran 80 yards for a touchdown on the Vikings’ first play in Week One, it reminded many Bills’ fans of O.J. Simpson’s 80-yard TD in the season opener at New England in 1973. Peterson’s run was the longest on a player’s first carry of the season since 1970. Numerous Bills watchers, myself included, thought the Juice’s TD was on his first carry. It wasn’t. It came on the Bills’ third possession, with 2:24 left in the first quarter.