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Is Rubin the new Vickers?

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You can’t have too many good d-linemen.

The news yesterday was that Star Lotulelei is coming in for a private workout in Berea.  He joins Ansah, Floyd, D. Jones, Jordan, Mingo, and Richardson.  In other words, every top rated d-lineman in the draft will have visited Berea.  It’s hard to see this list of visitors without concluding that the Browns aren’t done ‘fixing’ the defensive line.

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Close your eyes.  Picture the 2012 Browns.

Who did you piss off in your 50 starts where you played hard for the NFL’s most anemic offense?

Assess the weak links in need of immediate improvement.

Did you come up Ahtyba Rubin or Jabaal Sheard?

No, me neither.

So what in the wide wide world of sports is going on here with this defensive line obsession?

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Kanick is having a hard time reconciling this.

With the Bryant signing coupled with these d-lineman visits, we’ve been hearing a lot of conventional wisdom in the last month telling us we can’t have too many good defensive linemen.  Hearing it from reporters we respect (Sobo), radio talk show guys (Adam Gerstenhaber), and Jimmy Haslam.

After awhile you turn into Ralphie on Santa’s lap because it has that same patronizing feel:

Santa:  How about a nice… football?  

Ralphie:  [Nods.]  Football.

Santa:  Ok, get him out of here…

ME:  NO, NO.  I WANT A STARTING CORNERBACK WHO IS FAST AND TALL AND AN INSIDE LINEBACKER WHO CAN CRUSH AND COVER AND A GUARD WHO IS NOT SEAN LAUVAO AND A TIGHT END THAT CREATES PROBLEMS IN THE SEAM AND AN INTIMIDATING FREE SAFETY!

You’ll shoot your eye out kid.

But even with one eye, I can see that with Taylor, Rubin, Bryant, Hughes, Winn, Sheard we’re good on the d-line.

I can also see that with salary cap and roster size limits one can, IN FACT, have too many defensive linemen.

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Kerry Rhodes, s.v.p.

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Time for the next Darden or Turner.
Kerry Rhodes: you game?

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Usama Young is gone.  Good.  Our free safety currently is Eric Hagg.  Not good.  Time to get us a free safety.

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a strong FS:

Steve Atwater is on Kanick’s HOF ballot.

Young, Adams,  Elam, Pool, Russell, Little, Bush, Ellsworth, Fuller, Turner+, Newsome, Gash, Wright, Rockins, Rogers, Whitwell, Scott, Darden*, Sumner, Howell.

That’s all the Browns starting free safeties going back to 1970.  One all-pro, one pro-bowler at FS in 42 years.  Cripes, I didn’t realize it was that bad.

Tell you one thing though:  Thom Darden and Eric Turner were great.  The trait they shared?  Big and a presence.  Darden was listed 6’2″/195; Turner 6’1″/208.

SO.

Let’s get us a big FS.  Let’s not stop at Darden sized either.

Let’s get us a Steve Atwater (6’3″/218).

Where might we find one of those….

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17 D-backs taken at #6 or higher; seven safeties (41%).

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Not crazy to look high in the draft for a safety.

This post began with a curiosity about the conventional wisdom that says safeties aren’t taken high in the first round.  When one looks at drafts going back to 1985, it turns out that’s not entirely true (see right).  But yet it could also be said that in the last five years, Eric Berry is the only safety taken at #6 or higher.

It’s a useful data point if you think Kenny Vaccaro is an impact player.

Me, I’m meh on Vaccaro.  Let’s say X. Rhodes and Milliner are gone at #6.  I would be looking at Jonathan Cooper or Tyler Eifert.  For me, CB is the priority and after that,,, it feels like it’s time to invest in the offense.

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Getting back to our free safety search, it turns out there IS an Atwater-sized FS on the FA market.

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Kerry Rhodes, 6’3″/209.  — 4.56/40; 42″ vertical.

Abandon all hope, Michael Crabtree.

When I wrote my Dustin Keller piece, I included some observations on how the Jets managed to transform from a line-owning intimidation machine in 2009 to the courtside-sitting, backpage-getting, nightclub-line-cutting team of high ankle sprains that it is today.  I noted as turning points the release of Thomas Jones, the aging of Alan Faneca, the mystery that is Jim Leonhard.

I failed to note that the Jets dumped Kerry Rhodes at the end of 2009 for a 4th and 7th round pick.  He was replaced ineffectively by Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, LaRon Landry.  It was yet another step in the needless dismantling of what was shaping up as a special Jets era.  But it also speaks to the impact Kerry Rhodes can bring to a defense when he’s on. (more…)

Cap rollover provisions and the Browns.

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This is a clarification post.  It stops short of a retraction on the Smaug’s Cave post from the weekend.  But I do wish to soften that critique with today’s piece.  I’ve gained a new and key understanding on NFL salary cap and it needs to be shared because it affects how we view the Browns’ activity in this FA season.

Let me explain.

I’ve been hammering the Browns for whiffing on a CB acquisition in free agency.  Ditto tight end, safety, guard.  I’ve made note –in an unkind way– of the Browns’ position in cap spend being last or tied with the Bengals for last.

Yowch. What a stare.

And I was all set to tee off on Jimmy Haslam’s statement yesterday that the Browns are saving half their cap space to use next year (go to 4:50 of link).  I did not think teams could spend over the cap so I thought it was an incorrect statement.

But it turns out, this:

Can a team carry excess/unused cap space into the next year?
Yes. Unused cap space from a team’s previous year cap can be added to the following year. The team must notify the league of their intent to rollover cap money at least 14 days prior to the start of the next season’s league year.

Does it continue to rollover like cellphone minutes?
No. Rollover money from 2012 into 2013 is treated as “adjusted cap”. Any unused “adjusted” money in 2013 cannot be rolled over again into 2014.

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Smaug’s Cave found.

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Smaug’s Cave inside Lonely Mountain?  Or Berea, March 2013?

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Thank goodness for (Bengals owner) Mike Brown?

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Well this is awkward.  Pretty quiet out there.  Nobody wants to say it?  Ok, I will:

The Browns’ execution of this free agency period has been ‘disappointing.’

Unrelated to Smaug the dragon, this magazine can be found in Berea lobby.

Browns currently sit with the most or second most cap space of any team; just as they started the FA season.  Their cap space –left to Banner/Lombardi by Heckert– provided a rare opportunity to maneuver and acquire the TOP free agents.  At worst, one would think, short contracts could be used to exhaust this year’s cap room without handcuffing future years.

But here we are with $15MM remaining available to spend this on FAs this year, but all the best FAs are gone.  The opportunity, the advantage, has been squandered.

This is the GM equivalent taking three timeouts into the locker room at half time.

No cornerbacks signed.  One of the two big players signed plays the strongest position on the team and joins Rubin, Taylor, Hughes, Winn, Kitchen on the preeminent of defensive tackle corps in the league.  No free safety.  No guard.  An efficient tight end who played for Chud.  A speedy edge linebacker about whom Banner was quick to say:  Jabaal Sheard will play the new guy’s position.  Both key signings were made to address the needs of a ‘new defensive system’ put in place for reasons that can only be called arrogant; the change surely was not borne out of a sober evaluation of the talent on the current roster.

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22 FA CBs signed; 16 are over 6’0″.

Recap:

1. Signed a good OLB;
2. Signed a DT to add to the three excellent ones on the roster;
3. Signed a fast OLB who used to play for Horton and will not start;
4. Signed a cheap TE who used to play for Chud, and;
5. Did not sign a CB, though 22 were signed.

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Let’s play: BEST CASE SCENARIO!!

Rhodes, CB at #12.

Eifert, TE at #41.

Jones, OG/C at #82.

Rambo, FS at #101.

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As of Friday AM, it’s looking like a whiff in free agency concerning the number one need for the Browns:  cornerback.  We’re also missing a free safety, a tight end ‘threat,’ and guard depth.

It could be Aqib Talib has been the target all along and that he’ll be signed today.  It could be that Kerry Rhodes makes a nice fit at safety.  The Fred Davis battle continues today and as for me, I’d welcome Dustin Keller (Dead; Keller to Dolphins.) as a consolation prize.  We see no guards on the horizon.

Regardless, one takeaway here is that the confidence displayed with the initial moves of Kruger and Bryant shows all the hopeful signs of a plan being executed.  Based on that, I will assume that the plan for cornerback, tight end, safety, and guard centers on the draft.

Sooo.. let’s play:  BEST CASE SCENARIO!!

Go.

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First step:  trade back.

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Football Outsiders says Jets o-line sucks.

The usual fan call for ‘trade-back’ tends not to address the ‘with whom shall we trade?’ question.  And as of a couple weeks ago, that was very much an open question.  But several events have created an environment where this becomes do-able.

  • Geno Smith looked good in his pro-day.
  • Bills cut Ryan Fitzpatrick and now have Tarvaris Jackson as their #1 QB.  While it *could* be with an eye toward reuniting HC Marrone with his QB Nassib in the second round, it could also reflect an interest in Geno.
  • Dolphins get nutty acquiring ‘playmakers’ and lose their best o-lineman.  They would seem to be targeting Joeckel/Fisher/Johnson as a replacement; after all that’s a top 10 QB they’ve got there and need to keep upright.  Add in that the back-loaded trickery employed to stock the 2013 roster still leaves them short on money to the point where signing draft picks might become a problem. 
  • Cardinals display every indication of having lost faith in Kevin Kolb.
  • Jets now rumored to be interested in Geno Smith.  (Of course, this report also says that the Jags, Raiders, Eagles are also interested.  But we’re playing best-case scenario and so dismissing these reports.)  The Jets line is horrible.

I’ll sprinkle in just a touch of reality and acknowledge that Geno could well be gone before the Browns’ 6th pick which would remove Bills, Cards from mix.  But the Dolphins could easily believe in a drop-off after the big three OTs.  The Jets could get squirrelly of it looks like Warmack and Cooper won’t last to #9.

We’re just playing here, right?

Ok then:

Browns trade back from #6 to #12 with Miami.  Complete deal sends Browns’ #6 and #68 (3rd) for Dolphins’ #12, #42 (2nd), and #82 (3rd).*

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Looking good.

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Next?

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We’re pretty happy with how the first day of free agency has shaken out.

While it’s not the direction suggested here, it’s most encouraging that there seems to be a plan.

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Here’s a more flattering jpeg for Desmond Bryant. Click to enlarge.

No quibbling here over Kruger vs. Avril.

No problem grabbing a DE in free agency versus draft.  Especially DEs who rate out like this (see at left).

Didn’t like the move to a 3-4 but have to say the personnel assemblage has been impressive.

4.43, 6’1″, 40″ vert, 34″ arms.
Why haven’t you heard of Xavier Rhodes?

In fact, we’re ecstatic that the holes we saw are being plugged and that the jibber jabber about ‘needing two starting WRs‘ was just so much crap from the PD’s lead Browns reporter.

Back later with an update to this post and some comments on how these signings change the draft priorities and will explore a couple scenarios.

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Spoiler:  Xavier Rhodes is a name to get familiar with.

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PS:  how about a round of applause for Tom Heckert for the way he managed this cap?

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PPS:  Conversely, and as was pointed out a month ago:  Ozzie Newsome is an idiot.  A lucky idiot.  But an idiot.

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FA target #4: Dustin Keller

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I admit to struggling with these google images for Dustin Keller.

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Editor’s note:  I wrote this three weeks ago and didn’t publish because of possible ‘diva’ signs and because I expected the Jets to franchise him rendering the discussion moot.  It turns out the Browns are sniffing around Jared Cook of the Titans and Brandon Myers of the Raiders.  IMO, neither are in Keller’s class.  Also, there’s been surprising little ‘buzz’ on Keller, probably due to his hammy/ankle-restricted poor year last year.  

If we’re going to sign a tight end, I think Keller is the best receiving tight end in the class, the best ‘vertical’ tight end in the class, and shaping up to be somewhat of a bargain.  

Dustin Keller is shaping up to be a steal.

Thus, I say let’s bring him in.

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When I dated a Jets fan a couple years ago, I watched a lot of Jets and grew to like that team.  Dustin Keller got on my radar during that time.  Call it bias or call it informed:  I like him.  A lot.  He’s good.  He can be great.  I’ll circle back to Keller, but I need to write a quick editorial on the cautionary tale that is the dismantling of the 2009 Jets.

TJ + Faneca + Mangold = tough football.
(Not to start a Mangini thing, but: tough Mangini-style football.)

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Splash over substance:  the NY Jets’ cautionary tale.

The turning point of that team’s direction can be traced to one transaction two simultaneous transactions:  releasing Thomas Jones and signing LaDainian Tomlinson.

In the three years TJ was with the Jets he never missed a start.  He averaged ~1300 yds/year.  But what’s more:  he ran tough.  He moved piles.  He was quiet and did his business and behind a great offensive line, the Jets had built a punishing, physical, line-of-scrimmage dominating offense purpose-built to win in December/January which it did.  The 2009 Jets were 9-7.  They won their last two games behind 202 and 257 yards to get the wild card.  They rushed for 171 and 169 in winning two playoff games before losing the championship to the Manning Colts.

You could say, ‘What the hell Kanick:  TJ was 31 and didn’t do much after he left.  LDT was in his 30s too, but hell, the 2010 Jets were 11-5 and won two playoff games.’ (more…)

Plan B: Alec Ogletree at #6?

It’s Monday before Free Agency and it looks like the dynamics for getting the Browns an edge rusher are changing.

or, in other words:

“What do we do if/when Ansah and Jordan are off the board at #6?”
“Whom do we take at #6 if/when Avril or Kruger is signed as a free agent?”
“Who will play ILB if/when we fail to sign Ellerbe?”

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Face of an angel. We reject all character issue rumors.

Let’s assume our edge-rushers of choice, Ansah and Jordan, are gone.

Let’s assume CB is filled in free-agency, take Milliner out of the mix.

Let’s assume Andy Levitre is signed by Tennessee; 10x all-pro, HOF OG, Mike Munchak knows something about OGs and his interest in Levitre both confirms our impression of him and makes it unlikely we’ll sign him.

Let’s assume the Ravens pull out all the stops and re-sign Dannell Ellerbe.  This was predictable.  Losing out on Ellerbe does not diminish the need the Browns have at ILB.  DQ has never been the ‘impact’ player we’ve hoped for.  James-Michael Johnson might turn out to be a stud but we don’t know.  I assigned Tank Carder a ‘baller’ rating from his play at TCU and still hold hope for him.  But the fact that he didn’t see the field last year says a lot.

Who is left?

Under this scenario, we project to still have need for an ILB, OG, FS, and a TE.   None of these positions usually get filled at #6 in the draft.

This is fine, because the way the draft is shaking out the two best players on the board, for me, at #6 look like

  • Alec Ogletree, ILB from UGA, and;
  • Jonathan Cooper, OG from UNC.

Jonathan Cooper, fair consolation prize.

Do we take an OG at #6?  It’d be safe; Cooper looks like a decade-worth of all-pro to me.  And you know how I feel about a good o-line.

But my want of a defense-defining linebacker trumps it.

Great defenses usually have a linebacker associated with them.  Nitschke, Butkus, Lambert, Taylor.  When I think of the Browns and dominating, defense-defining linebacker, the closest I come is Chip Banks.  We’re way overdue for our killer linebacker.

I think Ogletree can be that sort of player and so let’s look a little closer.  If he measures up, I take him over Cooper.  If he doesn’t, Cooper will be a fine pick.

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Click to enlarge.

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Ogletree at #6?

I’m a little embarrassed that it took some Todd McShay air cover to prompt me to write this post.  (See his tweets, left.)  But whatever:  I don’t claim to be omniscient and I don’t watch every game or every player.  All I know is this:

Out of all the college football I watched this year, Alec Ogletree was the most ‘baller’ player I saw.

[Datone Jones from UCLA is on that list too, but a runs a bit behind Ogletree in my gut feel.  I must ask, with all the Ziggy Ansah love going around, why Jones isn’t on our radar?  He sure looks like a nice alternate to fill the 5-tech DE role.]

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Jack or Sam or Will backer?

Where would Ogletree play?

I admit to not being highly knowledgable about the responsibilities of the four backers in a 3-4.  So I’ll just copy paste what I see from Kirwan and online.  I welcome any input from guys who have suggestions on where Ogletree would play in a 3-4.

Mike (prototype, Ray Lewis):  The mike linebacker is assigned as primarily a gap destroyer and a run stopper. He will take on any lead blocks and spill the back to his teammates if need be. In the case of a pass, he will drop to his appropriate responsibility, depending on the coverage called. For example, in cover 3 zone, he will drop, read the quarterback’s eyes and break on the football. There are also times where the mike linebacker is assigned to cover the running back out of the backfield on either side.  A mike linebacker has to be big, strong, and able to be a physical tackler play after play. This is not someone who shies away from contact. The average NFL linebacker is over 6 feet 2 inches, and weighs over 230 pounds. Overall athleticism is important, as the mike linebacker will be required to drop in pass coverage, and move laterally with the passing game. But, overall, mike has to be a guy that likes to hit, and can bring down the best running backs out there. (more…)

Too much to ask?

Keenan Lewis.

Ziggy Ansah.

Andy Levitre.

Bacarri Rambo.

Dannell Ellerbe.

Dustin Keller.

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Someone’s been reading Kanick. Well-done Mr. Grossi.

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You know where I’m at on this year’s free agent season:

Free-agency is where it’s at this year.  Browns have the cap space to go after someone and, in my opinion, they’re close enough to being playoff caliber where such outlays make sense. … FA done right lets you transform positions of weakness into strength literally over night.  FA done right can move an ‘ok’ team into playoff range.  That’s where I think the Browns are; that’s why I think this FA season is crucial.”
–Kanick, 2/13/2013.

Are we getting fired up yet?

This weekend, next week, is this year’s version of last year’s three-picks-in-the-top-37 draft weekend.  Next week will either turn the Browns into a playoff team or leave us looking at another top-10 draft pick in 2014.

Given that the Browns enjoy more cap room than most other teams and given only one draft pick in the first 67 and given the number of teams struggling with cap space… the Browns are in great shape to address several holes with top notch talent.

I’m as big a ‘build-through-the-draft’ guy as you’ll find and this year’s draft offers a good deal of hope in that at #6 overall, elite talent will be available.

But this is a unique year in free-agency and here’s hoping the Banner-Lombardi team recognize it as such.  This is the year where three top-end starters in positions of need should be the goal for free agency.

Blah, blah, blah, enough… here’s my take on all this.

Here’s how I’d use FA and draft to plug the Browns holes.

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[editor’s note:  reduce your audio volume before clicking on the video clips.  there’s no way on my side to adjust the sound and they seem to come out blaring.]

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The needs (in order):

1.  Cornerback.

23 passes-defended. No missed tackles.
Bigger, faster than Haden.
Accept no substitute.

This seems so clearly to be the number one need that I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it.

Buster Skrine is currently the #2 CB.  I thought his coverage was energetic and actually decent.  His problem in coverage centered on his being under 5’10”.  When I made the Usama vs Giants clip below, I noticed a lot of Skrine being there, but Victor Cruz just getting the ball… like Cruz would just effortlessly reach out over Skrine’s flailing little arms.. ah well.  His other problem is that he’s not known as a tackler as was noted in his combine profile.  In fact, pretty much everything in Skrine’s draft profile has been on target:

Undersized and will be out-muscled by stronger receivers at the next level. Tight hips limit his ability to chance direction quickly. Over aggressive at times and can be fooled by play action. Boxed out by bigger receivers in jump ball situations. Does not have the strength to shed blocks and is a poor tackler.

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The move:  Keenan Lewis in FA.  We had him as our pick three weeks ago.  We liked his no missed tackles.  That no WRs got over 100 yds on him.  That he did well against other teams’ #1 when Ike Taylor was out.  But we keep finding more and more things to like.  For example, his 23 pass defended last year was second only to Richard Sherman.  And it quite a bit more than Haden’s best year (19).  The video we’ve watched has done nothing but make us more jazzed to get him.

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Alternate move:  None.  Even though the free agent CB crop looks deep — Cox, S. Smth, Toler, Grimes, Williams, Talib, DRC — I don’t see anyone in the draft or FA who is in Lewis’ class.  This is the must-have signing.

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Clearing the decks.

Sorry to be dark the last couple days.  It was not from writer’s block.  It was worse..

What do you do when your research does not fit your narrative?

I’ve got two posts on the shelf that I can’t get 100% behind after writing them.

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Dustin Keller: too pretty.

Margus Hunt: Y U NO HAVE BETTER STATS?

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Excerpt from ‘Dustin Keller, FA target #4.’

Morin: all the glam you want.

“… First round pick from Purdue, 28, he’s got the athletic chops to be a top five tight end. 6-2/240, 4.53 40, 41in vertical, 26 225 bench reps. His numbers are good when you factor in the Jets lethargic offensive system. He led the team in receptions in 2010 and 2011. Even in his injury marred 2012, he put up the 2nd best DVOA, behind only Gronkowski.”

But I the more I dug, the more I see the Jets franchising him.  The tight end tag is the cheapest, under $6MM.  Keller is their most popular player and not that that should be a factor… but with the Jets… it’s a factor.

The other thing that bugged me was the number of glam shots when I was looking for a primary picture for the post.  In the screencap above, that’s 13 photos, one helmet:  NOT a ratio for a Browns tight end.

I still think Keller would be a nice pick-up, but I think it’s unrealistic.

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Excerpt from ‘What to make of Margus Hunt?’ (more…)