By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
With the Browns’ draft complete, the Hey Tony mailbag had a welcome diversity of topics. At the top are questions about the ongoing FBI investigation of owner Jimmy Haslam’s company.
Hey Tony: Just a couple of lines to credit you on a nice piece of analysis on Jimmy Haslam’s legal issues and how it bears on the team’s immediate future as well as the region’s. It’s a connection I suspect most Browns fans don’t make, other than it being yet another embarrassment. But embarrassment is something we’re used to. The more significant thing is the potential distraction to the team as well as to the guy we all thought was going to be The Leader we could all rally around, and who would finally set the tone and establish that elusive “Browns way” or personality, or continuity or whatever else you want to call it, that long-term successful sports franchises have. Then there’s the financial aspect. While you didn’t mention the debt that the Haslam family somewhat inexplicably saddled their company with; that, plus the ongoing financial concerns that are linked to the legal problems could turn out to be really significant as well. As you mention, the one thing the NFL is focused on, are the dollar signs.
-- David, Vista, CA
Hey David: I must say I am very concerned about how this FBI investigation story ends.
Hey Tony: I find it interesting that Mr. Haslam surprisingly announced earlier this year that he was returning as CEO of PFJ. Could it be that Mr. Haslam had some advanced word or inside information about the potential for legal troubles or an FBI probe? The short duration and timing of his resignation and then quick return as CEO of PFJ is very curious. I know the lockdown of his HQ was unexpected, but do you think the timing of his return is coincidental or possibly a calculated return to defend his baby?
-- Brian, Springboro, OH
Hey Brian: I said all along that Haslam’s return to CEO at PFJ had something to do with a problem with the company. I had no idea the extent of that problem.
|Rob Chudzinski Photo/Getty|
Hey Tony: It has always been my belief that the NFL is a coaches game. That a good coach can make an immediate difference is wins and losses for his team. When Belichick came to the Browns, they were immediately more competitive that first year. When Mike Shanahan coaches a new team, they are better that first year. When Chuck Noll took over the Steelers, they immediately became better. Chuck Knox coached the Rams, the Bills and the Seahawks and all those teams were better, with better records his first year. I truly believe that Rob Chudzinski, with Norv Turner and Ray Horton, are a vast improvement over the coaches we had last year and I expect the Browns to be better this year than last. That means at least 8-8 (we gave away three games last year) and possibly competing for a playoff spot, this year. What do you think about football as a coaches medium and the Browns chances to be better on the field this year, despite what Banner and Lombardi say about building for the future?
-- Nick, Tucson, AZ
Hey Nick: Oftentimes a new coach has a huge impact on his new team in the very first year. In some cases, there is a relapse in the second season. So I believe it takes two years to get a good read on a head coach. I think the coaching staff is the single biggest reason for optimism in the Browns 2013 season.
Hey Tony: In reading the Grantland piece about the draft, the author mentions that there is a statue of Al Lerner in front of the Browns complex in Berea.
How in the world can there be a statue of Al Lerner there (the man with just as much blame for the team moving as Art Modell) and no statue of Jim Brown in front of First Energy Stadium? The greatest player not only in the history of the Browns, but also arguably the greatest player in NFL history, and there is no statue of him welcoming fans to the games. For that matter, they should have not only Jim Brown, also but Paul Brown statues at the stadium and/or training complex. Do you see either statue happening as the Browns explore improvements at the stadium?
— Mike, Cincinnati, OH
Hey Mike: The statue of Al Lerner was commissioned by the Lerner family as a tribute to the deceased former owner of the Browns. I believe retaining the statue outside the team’s headquarters was a special request of the Lerner family to new owner Jimmy Haslam when he bought the team. As for any future statues displayed at FirstEnergy Stadium, I believe there is one candidate and only one candidate. That would be Paul Brown, the founding coach of the franchise. He is the one man responsible for creating an organization whose utter dominance in the 1940s and ‘50s spawned fan loyalty to the Browns that has been passed down for two generations. No disrespect to Jim Brown, but the Browns were established as the premier organization in pro football long before he was drafted in 1957.
Hey Tony: Any chance the Browns are interested in Charles Woodson? I know he's far past his prime but he could come cheap, provide depth, and could be an excellent mentor for a young secondary. Why not try to bring him in on a moderately priced 2-year deal?
-- Jeff, Canton, OH
Hey Jeff: There is no sign whatsoever that the Browns are interested in Woodson, a Fremont, OH, native who is 36. If Woodson’s age is the only hang-up, I would agree with the Browns that they probably are better off using that position to groom a long-term solution at free safety.
Hey Tony: The last time we had a defensive minded coach that talked about having an "attack" style defense that got after the QB was Bud Carson, and the last time we had an offensive minded coach that talked about having a "vertical" passing game that stretched the field was Chris Palmer. Please tell me Ray Horton and your boy Norv Turner won't have the same disastrous results as the aforementioned coaches. Talk me off the ledge Tony.
-- Devin, Concord, OH
Hey Devin: Carson was one of the best assistant coaches in NFL history. He was miscast as a head coach, however. Palmer was the first coach of an expansion team. From what I recall, only Paul Brown (Bengals), Tom Coughlin (Jaguars) and Dom Capers (Panthers) had early success as expansion team coaches. The comparisons you make are simply not valid to the current Browns situation.
Hey Tony: If Brandon Weeden has a solid season next year, do you feel Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi will look to replace him? I think Weeden will have to be exceptional to keep them from drafting a quarterback high in the draft next year. If Weeden leads this team for years to come, it will be Tom Heckert's pick that was the difference. I may be wrong, but Banner seems to have a monster ego that won't allow this to happen.
-- Rick, Shreveport, LA
Hey Rick: Like the national media, you are making the mistake of discounting the influence of coaches Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner on the process. I promise you this: If Weeden is at the throttle of a winning season in 2013, he will not be replaced in 2014. That doesn’t mean the Browns won’t draft a quarterback – Weeden will be 30, after all – but Banner is not going to replace him simply out of ego. Also, I believe Lombardi’s influence on the QB position is greatly exaggerated. Banner is calling the shots, not Lombardi.
Hey Tony: I have real issues with the Browns, and their lack of use of their current scouts. I’m sure they knew well before the draft that they would not use them, so why waste this year to keep them. This is the same as Holmgren keeping Mangini an extra year. Time wasted is time lost. Now if only the Browns stay with the 4-3, make Kruger a DE which would be his best position, Bryant is a 4-3 DT which is what he was in Oakland. We could see a very good defense for years to come.
-- Jim, Cave Junction OR
Hey Jim: It is common practice in the NFL to carry lame duck scouts through the draft even though their voices are ignored. Contracts for scouts run through May 1, so the hiring pool doesn’t open up until after the draft. Your point about Kruger and Bryant fitting in a 4-3 speaks to my contention that the Browns should have retained the defensive system in place. As time goes on, I’m feeling that owner Jimmy Haslam had as much to do with the change as anyone. His comments last week that Ray Horton “plays defense the way I like to play defense” was telling.
Hey Tony: When are the Browns going to sign Clay Matthews to a contract so he can retire a Brown? The man should have never been let go in the first place and it would only seem right to do so. With the PR nightmare that is the Browns as of late -- Haslam, Groves and Bryant -- it would be nice to see something positive in the news about the Browns.
-- Dan, San Diego, CA
Hey Dan: It’s a little late to have Matthews formally retire as a Cleveland Brown. Your point about creating positive news is well made. It will be interesting to see if the Browns do something soon in that regard. When in doubt, there’s always the Browns’ tradition to fall back on.
Hey Tony: I keep hearing that this year’s draft day trades “give the Browns ammo” to move up next year to draft their QB of the future in the first round. Huh? If team A knows that team B is looking to trade up for their franchise QB, wouldn’t team A ask for more than 3rd and 4th round picks? Look at the Rams who got consecutive 1st round picks from the Redskins. Even Mangini got 2nd round picks (and some Jets role players) for allowing the Jets to trade up for their franchise QB. Am I missing something?
-- Brad, Westlake, OH
Hey Brad: The extra third- and fourth-round picks are not necessarily the sole collateral for a trade up for a quarterback in the 2014 draft. But creating a surplus of picks does help in formulating a trade offer if the Browns choose to move up – depending on draft position and need.
Hey Tony: With Armonty Bryant’s arrest, how much could the Browns reduce his contract? Could this be down to the NFL minimum? Would you expect his agent to make him a hold out?
-- Alan, Manassas, VA
Hey Alan: The arrest will have minimal impact on Bryant’s contract. He will sign for four years at the NFL minimum salaries. The only impact will be on his signing bonus, which might be lowered some. Holding out is out of the question.
Hey Tony: Coming from Columbus, I have long heard former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's belief that the punt is the most important play of the game. Do the Browns really plan to enter the regular season with an unproven punter at league minimum salary?
-- Rich, Columbus, OH
Hey Rich: Yes.
Hey Tony: Does it look like part of the Browns draft/undrafted free agent strategy was to target guys who have talent but medical setbacks, risking small investments in hopes of bigger returns? Players like Jamoris Slaughter and Chris Faulk.
-- Keith, Cleveland, OH
Hey Keith: Yes. Very similar to when Bill Belichick was coach and Lombardi was his chief personnel assistant in the early 1990s.
Hey Tony: To what extent do you think that the Browns new analytics team headed by Alec Scheiner swayed the decision to punt in the 3rd and 4th rounds this year? Is Joe Banner using the term "value" instead of broaching the subject of how the team is using analytics/sabermetrics? Do you think that the fan will see any effects of the analytics movement similar to what was seen in baseball (specifically the movement away from individual stars and towards groups of players that bring certain statistical attributes)?
-- Greg, Shaker Heights, OH
Hey Greg: I asked the same questions to Scheiner for the purpose of writing a story on the impact of analytics on the controversial moves. Scheiner’s response – after consulting with Banner – was that the team desired to keep its methods secret.
Hey Tony: Some players are coming out of retirement to help the Browns on their Super Bowl push in 2013. They're all in their prime, but you can choose only one: Darrell Green, Jack Tatum, Jerry Rice, Tom Dempsey or Dick Butkus. Who would it be?
-- Michael, Ravenswood, WV
Hey Michael: An interesting fivesome. I have no idea how you chose these five players for your question. I would rank their impact on the 2013 Browns this way: 1. Butkus, 2. Rice, 3. Tatum, 4. Green, 5. Dempsey. This is not necessarily the way I would rank these players over the length of their careers, but rather how each player in his prime would impact the current Browns.
|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 email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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