Jason La Canfora, first with the Lombardi-to-Cleveland rumor, is out with a grotesquely biased assessment of the talent pool Tom Heckert bequeathed to his boy. It reads like Mike Lombardi submitted an article to CBS which Jason La Canfora posted under his name. Worse, Lombardi wrote it such that it reads petty and small and brimming with axe-grinding. It’s also just factually wrong.
Here’s the key takeaway:
Just be sure to delineate what is the result of the men now calling the shots there, and how much they are paying for the misdeeds of those who came before them.
Grotesquely biased? Pre-emptive bar-lowering? Lazy, sloppy, corrupt?
Yes, yes, yes.
Here’s the translation: listen you reactionary Browns fans, be indefinitely patient and less inquisitive about the new guys’ activities. You should applaud the coaching hires and FA pickups on defense. You should blame the other guys if the offense sucks. (But if the offense happens to be good, you should credit the new coaches.)
Sorry Jason, that’s too big an ask. There’s too much to question with the new guys. The old regime’s misdeeds don’t seem especially heinous.
Even Grossi can see through what JLC’s piece is:
There’s so much to work with that I’m loading the whole piece and rebutting it paragraph by paragraph. La Canfora’s text is in grey; my takes are in black.
The Cleveland Browns haven’t exactly been rich with offensive talent since re-entering the NFL as an expansion team. And then this offseason happened.
You mean the off-season where Mike Lombardi had holes at OG, TE, and FB drafted one offensive player… a seventh round
guard tackle from Chadron State? That off-season? Yes, we agree. It’s talent acquisition malfeasance.
If we weren’t already convinced that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner had a major undertaking ahead, well, one look around now closes that case. Make no mistake, none of this has anything to do with the Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi/Rob Chudzinski regime now in place, but after this spring it’s increasingly clear just how little they inherited from preceding drafts. And Turner — maybe the NFL’s best offensive play-caller — will need all of his creativity to overcome a dramatic lack in talent on that side of the ball.
Banner/Lombardi/Chud eschew draft picks in the 4th and 5th rounds and sit on the most cap space in the NFL but yet a lack of talent on offense this year means “none of this has anything to do with the Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi/Rob Chudzinski.” Sorry Jason… that’s just wrong.
To review, 2011 top pick Trent Richardson, a running back who seems highly over-drafted given modern offenses, has done little this offseason as concerns about his durability grew. (Good news on this topic to come; it’s not quite as bleak as has been painted.) Incumbent starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, another 2012 first-round selection, hasn’t exactly put a stranglehold on the job. Another quarterback, Brian Hoyer, was recently signed. And receiver Josh Gordon, the closest thing the Browns have to a No. 1 receiver, got himself suspended for two games next season by testing positive for codeine. And he didn’t exactly put together the kind of excuse that will appease skeptics.
Joe Banner wants full marks for Josh Gordon in this year’s draft:
We think of our draft as the five players we drafted plus Gordon plus Bess plus two quality future draft picks. When you look, before the (Colt) McCoy trade we have six draft picks. What value did we turn that into? It’s Gordon, Bess, plus the players we picked, plus the two future assets that we have acquired and hopefully some good decisions with the undrafted guys.
So which is it? Joe Banner wants us to include Josh Gordon in the draft eval. Sounds like a guy poised to have Gordon accrue to his draft, not a Heckert draft.
So, while the previous brain trust in Cleveland — president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert — received praise (some in the local media took Heckert’s departure particularly personally), the reality is this: Aside from center Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas, the new regime didn’t inherit one above-average offensive talent. No one has proven he is, as training camp looms, a standout skill player.
Heckert’s picks have had two years so how ‘proven’ would one realistically expect them to be? And that rarity on the Browns offense, above-average Alex Mack, is a UFA at the end of the year yet has not been approached for an extension in spite of the team sitting on more cap space than any other team. The game plan apparently is: if Mack plays great this year, we’ll sign him on the cheap. Unfortunately Mack is a Berkeley grad and probably equipped with a better grasp of market economics than Lombardi/Banner have demonstrated thus far.
As for Richardson, Little, Gordon, Schwartz, Greco being average-to-below-average… time will tell. I suspect all of these Heckert acquisitions will prove to be above average.
Yes, from a personnel standpoint, it really is that bleak. The buzzword within the front office is “evaluation,” as in the team needs to spend more time figuring out its own roster — who can play, and who can’t — above all else. They’re taking self-scouting very seriously, trying not to fall prey to preconceived notions and knowing that there are precious few building blocks.
Bleak? Gordon, Little, Thomas, Mack, Schwartz, Greco, Richardson… bleak? No. There are actually very few teams with a talent nucleus on offense which is that strong. (Have you seen the Steelers offense?)
As far as the challenges of ‘evaluation,’ NFL TV costs $20. All the Browns games are available. So this ‘evaluation’ thing… how long is this supposed to take exactly? Hell, if you can’t spring for an NFL TV subscription, I’ll save you the research time. Here are the positions that are problems on offense: OG, TE, FB. In fact, here’s the ‘eval’ of the holes the 2012 Browns had coming into the off-season:
- Cornerback is manned by Buster Skrine and his size limits his abilities.
- Free safety was handled ineffectively by Usama Young.
- Guards include competent Jason Pinkston whose health is still questionable and below average Sean Lauvao. 2014 UFA, journeyman John Greco shapes up as the top guard.
- Tight end has unproven Jordan Cameron.
- Fullback has no starter.
- And the [needless] adoption of Horton’s 3-4 created a need at ILB, now covered by undrafted FA Craig Robertson.
The new guys addressed these needs with a 7th round OG, the Panthers’ backup TE, and an undersized 3rd round CB. In other words, the new regime did not tend to any easily-identified off-season needs. But you want us to blame Heckert for these holes. Sorry, that’s a no-go.
It also explains why the team still has ample reserves for 2014 when it comes to cap space and draft selections, because the chore of finally getting the Browns to be a big-boy, explosive offensive outfit will be a lengthy process. Turner can overcome some of it with his mind and preparation, and he has a history of getting the deep passing game going and developing receivers and tight ends. Banner and Lombardi are banking on more of the same, but with each passing week the knocks on the recent draft picks they inherited have grown.
But it doesn’t explain your original premise that Lombardi was handed a sack of shit for offensive talent and there was nothing they could do about it. OG? Louis Vasquez went cheap to Denver. TE? Dustin Keller signed a one-year contract with Miami. FB? The Ravens liked the Medina kid from Harvard well enough to draft in him in the fourth round and waive perennial all-pro Vonta Leach. Browns did nothing, nothing, and traded out of the 4th round. Those inactions were not Tom Heckert’s. The holes in the offense this year are products of neglect in this off-season.
The good news with Richardson is that, despite reports he would miss all of August recovering from injuries, I’m told there is every expectation that he will be taking reps when camp opens. Will he appear to be more of a plodder? Will his yards-per-carry be where it needs to be? Will the wear and tear from his use at Alabama continue to manifest itself? And will he remain susceptible to nagging injuries? Well, those are certainly valid questions to ask after his rookie season. And there is a reason the Browns have stockpiled running backs this offseason as well.
A running back stockpile? You mean the signing of undrafted Eagles’ waivee, Stony Brook’s own, Miguel Maysonnet? You mean the blockbuster trade of our 6th round LB Emmanuel Acho for the Eagles’ 5th round RB Dion Lewis? You’re suggesting that there’s a problem at RB and that Lombardi’s Maysonnet and Lewis moves sufficiently address it? Sketchy logic.
Weeden may not quite be in an “open” quarterback competition in the truest sense of the word. He enters camp as the starter, and it’s his job to lose. But no one I’ve talked to would be stunned if his spot on the depth chart grows increasingly tenuous. He just may lose it. Hoyer’s intellect and enthusiasm already has impressed the staff; he quickly absorbed Turner’s playbook and concepts upon his late arrival to town after his release by the Cardinals. And Hoyer has many of the assets Banner and Lombardi look for in a quarterback. And journeyman Jason Campbell has enough quality play and big throws in this league that he also poses a real threat to Weeden.
Ahh, QB talk. Let the record show that the QBs who started for Philly in the Lombardi years: Ty Detmer (7), Hoying (13), Peete (7), Koy Detmer (5). You want to say Rich Gannon was a good pick-up when Lombardi was in Oakland? I’ll see your Gannon and raise you ‘signing Kerry Collins’ in the Rivers/Roethlisberger/Manning draft of 2004. As always, QBs are a product of their system and their surrounding teammates as much as they are their own talents.
The reality is the quarterback of the future for the Browns probably isn’t on this roster and the quarterback of the present may not even be the guy drafted in the first round a year ago.
The reality is … probably. Is it reality or is it probable and thus, not reality? Your J-school professor would dock you five to ten points for that sentence. No, he would.
Gordon clearly has talent and showed flashes as a rookie after the Browns surprised many by taking him in the second round of the 2011 supplemental draft, but there were always serious off-field concerns, as manifested with this suspension. Blaming the positive test on medicine he took for strep throat raised some eyebrows inside and outside the organization, and Gordon will have to avoid any such missteps in the future to avoid concerns he may have a bigger problem in regards to Purple Drank.
The concerns about the circumstances behind Gordon’s suspension have been covered in depth here. But yet, here’s Josh Gordon’s first year. His first year, mind you, playing with a rookie QB in the Pat Shurmur offense:
That’s third among rookies in yardage and yards/catch. That’s better than two first rounders. And he’s younger than all of them. This does not square up with your ‘sack of shit’ assessment of the Browns’ offensive talent. Seems pretty above-average talent from here… but hey you’re the expert.
His failed drug test came before this group took over, and the Browns are trying to give Gordon as much support as they can, monitoring him and hoping he associates with the right kind of people with NFL vacation now in full swing. But this was hardly the kind of first impression he needed to make.
This paragraph reads as code that Banner/Lombardi would never have considered Gordon. But the reality with WRs in the NFL is this: good luck finding an unaffected individual who is an all-world athlete (e.g., 6’4″/215/4.5-40/Texas-all-state) in his adolescence. You know who never failed a drug test? Brian Robiskie.
On the bright side, inconsistent but talented receiver Greg Little has showed [sic] well in OTAs, but, as staffers there note, this team can’t afford to make too much of anything accomplished in shorts and no contact. And the Browns clearly have some pieces on defense, but in a division where the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals can put up big offensive numbers, this roster is just not equipped to hang with them for several years.
Note: Greg Little is entering his third year -ever- playing WR. Started as running back at UNC and played only one year there as WR. There’s no other WR in the NFL who is 6’3″ with a 40+ vert who benched 28 reps.
This is a team that, in 2012, ranked 26th in yards per play, 29th in ball control (five-minute drives), 29th in overall passing, 29th in red-zone scoring, 24th in rushing yards, 30th in time of possession. The Raiders and Jaguars also come to mind when you think of AFC teams with dreadful offenses, and this staff certainly will improve the Browns. But how much? And how soon?
All mention of the 2012 Browns offense must be preceded by “whose HC/OC also delivered this game plan.” But since you’re spewing 2012 numbers, here’s some more numbers. The 2009 Rams (OC, Pat Shurmur) were 31st in net pass yds/att; 25th in pass yds; 27th in rush yds; 31 in rush TDs; 29th in total offense; 31st in points. Pat Shurmur is and has always been Pat Shurmur. One could make the argument that the 2012 must have more talent than the Sam Bradford/Steven Jackson 2009 Rams.
Browns fans hate to hear about patience and taking time, and especially with the issues new owner Jimmy Haslam is facing with his other business interests. So being told to focus on the future is certainly not what they want to hear. But that’s exactly what they must do, because only so much can be accomplished in one offseason and — in hindsight — the trade down with Atlanta in the 2010 draft that seemed brimming with potential, could end up being a massive mistake. Having a difference-maker like Julio Jones or Robert Griffin III on this roster sure would change the complexion of this offense.
Or. Or the JuJones trade could end up being a massive steal if Taylor, Weeden, Little turn into all-pros. It could be sunny tomorrow or it could rain. Great stuff JLC.
The front office would love to get an extension done with Mack as he enters the final year of his deal and will assess his market value and test those waters. They hope Mitchell Schwartz, a 2012 second-round pick, can be a decent right tackle. They’re short on guards but hope 2010 pick Jason Pinkston finally gets healthy in the short term.
The Browns would love to get an extension done with Mack by…. not negotiating with him and ‘evaluating’ him this season? If they’d love to get an extension done, pick up the damn phone. Unless he blows an ACL, Mack won’t get cheaper at the end of the year.
There’s a lot of hope and crossed fingers when it comes to the Browns’ offense, and expect significant change in the years to come. Just be sure to delineate what is the result of the men now calling the shots there, and how much they are paying for the misdeeds of those who came before them. Let the credit and blame fall accordingly, and give the new guys in town sufficient time to finally get this franchise turned around.
Heckert left the cap structure in the best shape of any team in the league and did so in the first year of the new salary structure. Heckert left the team in position to fill in gaps through free agency and draft THIS YEAR. Heckert didn’t decide to address the six holes on the team by adding 3 OLBs and a DT. i.e., Heckert didn’t ignore the team’s holes at FS, CB, ILB, OG, TE, and FB. Your boy Lombardi owns that.
Weak sauce JLC. Time to take stock: are you a reporter or a repeater?
For more on the JLC article, see Titus’ post here.
For a reminder on the depths Lombardi’s friends are willing to plumb, see my Nantz post from several months ago here.