By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Updated at 9:00 a.m.
The Morning Kickoff …
The new NFL model: Yes, it’s a copycat league with few original thinkers. So NFL franchises in the doldrums will rush to Seattle to emulate the newest league champions, the Seahawks, 43-8 winners over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48.
Since we live in the moment, especially in professional sports, the Seahawks have been christened as the only team in the NFL that does everything right. The Broncos, 49ers and Patriots? Ancient history. The Ravens? What have they won in the last 365 days?
As a result, these are the trends to watch: 1. Defense is back in vogue, with a twist – towering cornerbacks who can run and hit. 2. Running the ball officially is OK again. 3. It’s not the size of the quarterback that matters, it’s the size of his heart.
Follow these trends as the Browns pick themselves off the ground and try to reinvent themselves again. While other teams may take a closer look at how the Seahawks do their thing, the Browns have been studying them for over a year.
What did the Seahawks’ dominating Super Bowl performance mean to Browns’ fans? In my opinion, it convinced the Browns they are doing the right things and their plan is on track.
Say what?: The knee-jerk reaction will be that the Browns blew it by not waiting to hire Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who dominated co-offensive geniuses Peyton Manning and Adam Gase, as their new head coach.
I can’t explain that one other than by repeating what Mike Pettine said after getting the Browns’ job. If the Browns wanted to wait for the Super Bowl to pick their guy, Pettine would have dropped out. I’m not saying the Browns panicked, but they definitely felt pressure. I’m putting the Pettine hire on Jimmy Haslam because the owner is the one who will write the severance checks if it doesn’t work out.
In settling for Pettine, the Browns still were able to follow the Seahawks’ blueprint. They chose a defensive-minded coach with people skills and relentless energy who can fuel the entire organization. Pete Carroll sets the tone with the Seahawks. Pettine has to do that with the Browns.
Even before the Browns’ coaching change, the front office led by CEO Joe Banner had chosen the Seahawks’ organization as a model.
The Browns are awed by Seattle’s “12th man” concept and the serious impact the team’s fans have on home games. Partly because of that they hired Kevin Griffin, formerly of the Seahawks, and appointed him vice president of fan experience – a unique title.
Griffin’s job essentially is to coalesce the long-suffering Browns fan base, and stroke it and stoke it – through interaction via the team’s Website, broadcast network and “game-day experience” -- to keep the faith until the team starts winning.
As for player acquisitions, Banner already has copied the Seahawks’ blueprint. In the early stages of the Seahawks’ reincarnation, GM John Schneider and Carroll led the league in player transactions. They wiped out virtually all the players who came before them.
The Seahawks constantly turned over the bottom of their roster. They created a built-in practice squad on the active roster whereby they could audition players, constantly looking for diamonds-in-the-rough. The Browns did the same in 2013.
The Seahawks built through the draft, but were not averse to free agency, trades, waiver pickups, whatever means possible to bring in players with talent. They always favored younger, hungrier and, yes, inexpensive players.
The end result is the Seahawks wound up with the fifth-youngest team to win a Super Bowl. The three championship teams younger than them – the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1981 San Francisco 49ers and 1971 Miami Dolphins – each won multiple Super Bowls. Hence the phrase, “sustainable success.”
The magic man: The key piece of this puzzle, of course, is the quarterback. Specifically, a young quarterback with a low salary cap number. That is gold because it frees the club to spend more liberally on other positions of need.
Carroll and Schneider inherited 35-year-old Matt Hasselbeck when they took over in 2010. They proceeded to throw darts at a board in search of a replacement – Charlie Whitehurst, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn – until they hit a bulls-eye with Russell Wilson. The story at the Super Bowl was that Schneider wanted to take Wilson in the second round of the 2012 draft, but he sweated it out until the third round and chose him with the 75th overall selection.
The fact that Wilson is 5-11 is not relevant to what the Seahawks achieved. The Seahawks’ blueprint did not call for a quarterback six foot or under.
What’s relevant is that Wilson possesses the extraordinary qualities to lead and achieve that allow him to overcome his height. Not only is Wilson mobile, he is thick and strong, with a great arm, uncommon work ethic, and a maniacal and infectious determination to win.
It is going to be very easy, now, for everybody to look at 2014 draft buzz-feeder Johnny Manziel, who is a shade over six feet, and project him as “the next Russell Wilson.”
What the Browns have to realize is that Wilson is unique – a once-in-a-generation player. He was a fit in the Seahawks’ situation.
The Browns play in a different geography and in a different division. They can follow the Seahawks’ model all they want. But ultimately it comes down to choosing the right quarterback. What’s right for the Seahawks is different from what may be right for them.
|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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