Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
All quiet on the quarterback front: At the Super Bowl, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam vowed to bring in competition for quarterback Brandon Weeden.
At the NFL combine in Indianapolis, coach Rob Chudzinski and CEO Joe Banner reiterated that pledge.
Given previous non-commitals to Weeden, it sounded like the franchise’s No. 1 offseason goal. Or No. 1 mandate from Haslam. Get a quarterback to push Weeden to bigger and better things, if not wipe him entirely from the starting job.
And yet … crickets.
The following quarterback transactions have taken place in the past week:
* Joe Flacco re-signed with Baltimore.
* Alex Smith was traded from San Francisco to Kansas City.
* Matt Moore re-signed with Miami.
* Ryan Fitzpatrick was released by Buffalo.
* Brian Hoyer was given a second-round tender by Arizona.
* David Garrard signed with the Jets.
* Chase Daniel signed with Kansas City.
* Drew Stanton signed with Arizona.
* Derek Anderson re-signed with Carolina.
* Bruce Gradkowski signed with Pittsburgh.
* Caleb Hanie was released by Denver.
The Browns have not made a move at the most crucial position. Will they?
Calm before the storm: I have this convoluted theory that the two most important names in a possible Browns quarterback switch are Desmond Bryant and Matt Cassel. Whah?
Let’s start with Cassel. The Chiefs reportedly are trying to trade their defrocked starter, but are resigned to having to release him. There are varying reports on the league-wide interest in Cassel. He has directed 10-5 seasons with two different teams and owns a career ratio of 82 touchdowns v. 57 interceptions. Tampa Bay and Minnesota supposedly may have some interest.
But if no team bites on giving Cassel a legitimate shot at a starting job – I’m not feeling the Browns make a run at him -- many expect Cassel to return to New England as Tom Brady’s permanent backup.
Why would that happen? Brady’s recent contract extension makes him Patriots quarterback for life. That means young, untested Ryan Mallett would not receive the opportunity to succeed Brady because Mallett can be an unrestricted free agent after 2014. Speculation is that rather than lose Mallett for nothing, coach Bill Belichick would be proactive and trade Mallett and replace him with Cassel.
Which brings us to Bryant and the Browns.
Connecting the dots: Belichick used a third-round pick on Mallett in 2011 and would want to at least replace that pick in a trade of Mallett. The Browns surrendered their second-round pick by using it to select Josh Gordon in the July supplemental draft. Thus, they would be reluctant to part with their third-rounder, too.
But by signing Bryant in free agency, the Browns created a surplus of big, young defensive linemen. Bryant joins Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn, John Hughes and Ishmaa’ly Kitchen as interior linemen on a team planning to field a 3-4 defense.
Belichick, reportedly, was interested in pursuing Bryant, but the Browns beat him to the punch. Still, the need is there for a defensive tackle to line up next to Vince Wilfork in Belichick’s 4-3 scheme. Belichick loves defensive linemen.
Browns GM Mike Lombardi’s fondness for Mallett is legendary. In his former life as NFL Network insider, Lombardi called Mallett the best quarterback in the 2011 draft, which included Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick.
Lombardi’s friendly relationship with Belichick is also legendary. I can see the two men discussing Taylor or Rubin in a possible package deal for Mallett. Rubin is older and more expensive after receiving a $26 million, four-year contract extension last year from the old Browns regime. Banner has probably run a complete computer analytics program on Rubin and determined he is grossly overpaid.
On Wednesday, Banner was asked if the team intended to keep all its defensive linemen.
“There are three interior spots and we have six players from those spots who will probably make the team,” Banner said. “It’s early to know that. We will see how the roster evolves. There’s no reason to think we have an abundance at this point. It’s a crucial area as we look at the team. We feel good about where we are at, numbers-wise.”
That’s fine. Then there’s this.
The NFL Network assigned reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala to Browns headquarters for the first two days of the network’s round-the-clock coverage of free agency. At about noon on Wednesday, Kinkhabwala wrote the following on her Twitter account:
“So this Mallett-to-Browns story won’t go away. Asked Lombardi abt it straight up yest. He laughed. If it happens, don’t think till April.”
|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.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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