By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
The business season: For six days, the Browns’ new football minds dabbled in Fantasy Football, ogling all those fast new draft prospects on display in Indianapolis.
Soon as they returned to cold Cleveland, the reality of the team they inherited hit them and it was back to work. The first major transaction of the Ray Farmer-Mike Pettine regime was to release inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson – the team’s one true leader.
An untenable financial obligation ($4 million roster bonus due on March 16) was the convenient excuse for the move. Other factors included Jackson’s age (31 in September), his lack of foot speed and the desire of Pettine to break in an inside linebacker in his defensive system that can be disruptive, not just reactive.
Jackson’s release surely won’t be the last exodus as the Browns transition to their third head coach and third general manager in three years.
Here’s a look at possible moves among the familiar names on their roster.
WR Josh Gordon, LT Joe Thomas, CB Joe Haden, TE Jordan Cameron, LB Jabaal Sheard, NT Phil Taylor, DE Desmond Bryant, LB Paul Kruger, LB Barkevious Mingo.
Analysis: Haden, Cameron, Sheard and Taylor all are entering the final year of their contracts and should be in line for new deals. Haden’s is imminent. Gordon is signed through 2015. Still one drug policy violation away from a permanent league suspension, Gordon could warrant a mega-deal if he stays clean in 2014 and even improves on his record-breaking 2013 season. Bryant, Kruger and Mingo are entering just the second year of their contracts. Pettine has to see how they fit and produce in his defensive system.
Should be back
C Alex Mack, S Tashaun Gipson, OG John Greco, LB Quentin Groves, RB Dion Lewis.
Analysis: Mack wants to meet with the new coaches before proceeding with contract negotiations. I’m betting that Pettine et al. will win over Mack and the Browns will arrive at a deal to keep him off the free agent market. Gipson could drop down to strong safety if Pettine opts to pursue Buffalo Bills free agent free safety Jairus Byrd. Greco, who signed a new deal last year, appears to have the agility to fit in the zone-blocking scheme of new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Groves, whose 2013 season was ruined by a high ankle sprain, has the quickness and speed to appeal to Pettine. Lewis had a bright future in the previous regime. It’s a little more muddied now, but the running back situation is wide open and Shanahan might carve a role for the scatback.
QB Brian Hoyer, S T.J. Ward, RT Mitchell Schwartz, DE Ahtyba Rubin, LB Craig Robertson, CB Leon McFadden.
Analysis: It would be a shocker if Hoyer did not return. But what if Houston coach and former New England coordinator Bill O’Brien came calling with a trade offer to land Hoyer as Houston’s veteran mentor to its young quarterback in the draft? Ward probably did not benefit from the coaching change and could be allowed to leave via free agency. Schwartz was under fire of the old regime; his status with the new one is uncertain. Rubin truly is a treasure – a big man with a non-stop motor. His $8.175 million cap figure now is fourth on the team. Robertson had a tough year in the Ray Horton system. He is an exclusive rights free agent, which means the Browns could elect to let him go by not extending a routine qualifying offer. McFadden did not win over many in his rookie season. Pettine probably would want to see him compete in training camp before making a final decision.
Going, going …
QB Brandon Weeden, QB Jason Campbell, OG Shawn Lauvao, WR Greg Little, WR Davone Bess.
Analysis: Weeden’s $2 million contract guarantee might make him untradeable, but Browns surely will eat it rather than bring him back. Campbell is twice as expensive in his second season ($3 million) and could be replaced by Washington free agent Rex Grossman, who could help teach Shanahan’s system. Lauvao is a free agent who appears too lead-footed for Shanahan’s liking. Little’s 2013 production suffered, but he’s still very affordable and his size is intoxicating to any unsuspecting new coach. Bess’ $3.067 million 2014 base salary is guaranteed, but the Browns reportedly will challenge a contract breach because of Bess’ obvious personal issues.
|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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