By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Fasten your seat beats: On Dec. 30, Jimmy Haslam declared, without much prodding, “This is THE crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns.”
Haslam didn’t glance to his right, where CEO Joe Banner was sitting on a seat getting hotter by the minute, but he might have as a point of emphasis.
Banner and GM Mike Lombardi have all the means necessary at their disposal to stem the tide of the franchise’s losing ways. They wiped the board clean by firing Rob Chudzinski and hiring a new head coach, Mike Pettine, to be their “strong winner.” And now they head into the player transaction season armed with $30 million-plus in salary cap space and 10 draft picks, including a pair each in the first and third rounds.
“It’s pretty much inevitable … they will draft a quarterback,” said Brian Hoyer, the incumbent, at the Super Bowl last week.
Given that inevitability, and Pettine’s lack of expertise on the offensive side – although he played quarterback in high school and studies the position for a living -- his choice of offensive coordinator loomed as his first crucial decision. On Monday, Pettine named Kyle Shanahan to the post.
Now, what does it mean?
1. On paper, this was a good hire – the best Pettine could hope for at this late date.
Shanahan, 34, spent the past four years as offensive coordinator under his father, Mike Shanahan, with the Washington Redskins. In three of those four years, the Redskins lost 10, 11 and 13 games.
In 2012, quarterback Robert Griffin 3’s rookie year, the Shanahans won 10 games and made the playoffs. But their fate was sealed when Griffin ran into a torn ACL in a wild-card game, and then was allowed to continue to play. Griffin’s second season was a nightmare of politics and dysfunction resulting in owner Dan Snyder changing coaches for the seventh time since 1999. That equals the Browns’ sorry record over the same period.
Shanahan perhaps did his finest work away from his dad. He broke in on the ground floor under Jon Gruden with Tampa Bay and then worked his way through the ranks in Houston under former coach Gary Kubiak, the last two years, 2008-09, as Texans’ offensive coordinator.
The fired Kubiak and Shanahan both interviewed for the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator vacancy. Kubiak won that job and quarterback Joe Flacco. Shanahan settled for Cleveland and a lot of questions at the position.
2. Almost immediately, ESPN insider Adam Schefter raised the possibility of the Browns pairing Shanahan with Washington backup quarterback Kirk Cousins, who might ask for a trade.
Schefter’s rumor seemed to be rooted in a Lombardi opinion piece on NFL.com, dated Dec. 21, 2012, while Lombardi was waiting for Banner to fire GM Tom Heckert. These NFL.com columns by Lombardi are priceless relics -- his last known comments of substance on record -- as he remains sequestered from media availability.
Lombardi’s opinion back then extolled the virtues of some unsuspecting owner hiring Kyle Shanahan as head coach and trading for Cousins as his starting quarterback. The column appeared five days after Cousins, filling in for RG3, shredded the Browns for 329 yards – many coming on the same, predictable bootleg pass play – and two TDs in a 38-21 Washington victory.
Since that heroic debut, Cousins has started and lost three games, looking more pedestrian with each new piece of video for study by opposing coaches.
Cousins, a fourth-round pick in the same draft in which the Redskins mortgaged their future by trading up for RG3, is the only bait Washington has to recover a draft pick.
But Cousins is no Hoyer, who was a starting senior at Michigan State in 2008 when Cousins was his backup as a redshirt freshman. Hoyer’s valuable time as Tom Brady’s understudy has made him a much better quarterback than his scant record shows.
The thought of the Browns replacing Hoyer, the local product who went 2-0 before tearing his ACL in October, is hard to fathom.
3. A more logical addition to the Browns’ ever-changing quarterback roster would be Rex Grossman, who is a free agent and wouldn’t cost a draft pick.
Grossman, 33, has been exposed to Shanahan’s offense for five years – one in Houston and four in Washington. Grossman is 6-10 in 16 emergency starts under Shanahan. He has settled into a comfort zone as a veteran No. 3 QB to mentor a young quarterback in Shanahan’s offense.
Why would Shanahan need that?
Usually, an offensive coordinator is able to assemble a few of the pieces on the assistant coaching staff. But Shanahan is walking into a weird situation in Cleveland.
Pettine already has hired – according to various reports – Andy Moeller of the Ravens to coach offensive line, Brian Angelichio of the Buccaneers to coach tight ends, and Dowell Loggains of the Titans presumably to coach quarterbacks.
Could Shanahan secretly have contributed to those selections? Possibly.
4. Shanahan’s arrival enhances widespread speculation that the Browns will make a big play for Johnny Manziel in the May 8 draft.
The elder Shanahan generally favored a mobile quarterback who could execute the bootleg passing game. John Elway and Jake Plummer in Denver, Steve Young in San Francisco, RG3 in Washington. Jay Cutler was a notable exception.
Although Kyle Shanahan had success with Matt Schaub, a lesser mobile quarterback, in Houston, he became enamored with the multi-dimensions RG3’s physical abilities brought to the offense.
Shanahan instantly capitalized on RG3 with zone-read option plays that chewed up big yards on the ground – for him and running back Alfred Morris. Problems arose when RG3 resorted to undisciplined scrambling when under duress and Shanahan could not cure him.
All evidence is the Browns are enamored with Manziel. If the Browns do, in fact, acquire him, Shanahan would seem the best available coach to try to harness his college magic and mold him closer to the model of Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who mostly avoids the middle of the field when running.
And if Manziel can’t be obtained, Shanahan has proved he can put up big numbers with a less mobile quarterback, too.
|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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