By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Setting the agenda: Don’t try to call Joe Banner today. Or Mike Lombardi. Or Rob Chudzinski. They’re meeting with the boss, Jimmy Haslam. All day.
Today is the day the Browns set their football agenda for the coming season.
Banner, Lombardi and Chudzinski have now been together for a full month. Separately and together, they have been evaluating the 5-11 team they inherited from the Mike Holmgren-Tom Heckert-Pat Shurmur regime.
“I can assure you there’s nobody working harder than those guys,” Haslam said last week.
They have graded all the players and projected them into what coordinator Norv Turner wants to do on offense and coordinator Ray Horton wants to do on defense.
Now it’s time to report their findings to Haslam.
Today is the day the Browns finalize decisions on which of their players don’t return in 2013 and which players they pursue in free agency and/or trade.
They will talk about Brandon Weeden’s future and who they will bring in to compete with – or replace – him.
The big question there: If Chudzinski and Turner like what they see in Weeden, will they bang on the table and argue that they can win with him, or will they let Banner and Lombardi dictate a quarterback change?
They will talk about Turner’s plans for Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon and whether they need to find a fullback and some tight ends. And how comfortable are they with their receiver situation.
They will talk about Horton’s needs on defense and whether Phil Taylor can play defensive end and Jabaal Sheard can play linebacker, and at what weight. They will discuss whether they can count on Chris Gocong returning to an even more prominent role in Horton’s 3-4 and whether any of the light linebackers Heckert collected can survive in the new defense.
Where will Horton’s pass rushers come from? And should a starting cornerback be a prime target in free agency or in the draft?
And what about Phil Dawson and Josh Cribbs? Has Banner written them off? Will Chris Tabor, special teams coordinator, have a voice in those decisions?
On to Indy: After today’s all-day personnel meeting, the entire football operations department – not including Haslam – departs for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
This will be the coming-out party of Banner and Lombardi, the long-time friends now in charge of Cleveland’s football fortunes.
The combine is the first of two offseason NFL conventions – the other being the NFL owners meetings next month. At the combine, seeds for future trades and future player deals are planted, often after hours in the back rooms of St. Elmo Steak House or other establishments.
Banner will be the Browns’ front man working his longstanding relationships with player agents and team executives. He may give Lombardi specific assignments based on Lombardi’s relationships. For instance, if the Browns decide on pursuing New England QB Ryan Mallett in a trade, it may be Lombardi who initiates the conversation with Bill Belichick – if that hasn’t already taken place.
These conversations then pick up at NFL meetings in Arizona beginning on March 17.
The sad facts of the 2013 draft: NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock painted a fairly grim picture of the coming draft for a team holding a pick in the top 10. The Browns own the sixth pick in the first round.
On a conference call on Monday, Mayock said this draft has good depth but that it lacks impact players in the top 10. There are no quarterbacks worthy of taking above the 20th pick, Mayock said.
His top four players for the No. 1 overall pick are Alabama guard Chance Warmack, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper, Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher. That’s a fairly unglamorous No. 1 overall pick, no matter the choice the Kansas City Chiefs ultimately make.
“I wouldn’t want a top 10 pick this year,” Mayock said. “I think the fifth pick in the draft and the 25th pick in this draft are very similar.”
For the record, Mayock tabs Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones as the best fit for the Browns at No. 6.
“I’m not as big on (Florida State defensive end) Bjoern Werner at six, or (Texas A&M linebacker) Damontre Moore at six,” Mayock said. “Other people will be, but I’m not. I think Jarvis Jones is the guy as long as he checks out medically.”
Jones will be examined for a condition known as spinal stenosis, which is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal. The results of his exam will be distributed to teams at a later date.
So that’s another issue the Browns have to resolve. Would they take a chance on a player with a medical condition or do they turn to another pass rusher with question marks, such as LSU’s Barkevious Mingo, or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner?
Haslam has expressed supreme confidence in Banner and Lombardi. It’s time for them to show if it is justified.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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