By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
The Belichick connection: I’d laugh at the Ryan Mallett-to-Cleveland rumor, but I’m afraid it is a harbinger of what we should expect if Mike Lombardi is made Browns lead personnel director, or arrives in any lesser capacity.
Any players that Bill Belichick doesn’t want, the Patriots coach will foist on Lombardi. Just like Belichick did to Scott Pioli with Matt Cassel, and others.
Belichick doesn’t do his protégés any favors. He isn’t trying to build their teams. He uses them to dump players in exchange for draft choices.
In one of his first moves as Kansas City general manager upon leaving the Belichick Nest, Pioli traded the 34th overall pick in 2009 for washed-up linebacker Mike Vrabel and Cassel, a quarterback whose claim to fame is being the first known quarterback to start in the NFL who never made a single start for his college team (USC).
Cassel received a $14 million one-year franchise tag from Belichick after filling in when Tom Brady tore his ACL. After Brady recovered, Belichick unloaded Cassel on Pioli, who then rewarded him with a franchise-killer, six-year contract for $62 million. Cassel responded with a decent first year, and then flamed out, bringing down Pioli and possibly two head coaches.
The point is that Belichick’s track record on evaluating quarterbacks is fairly poor. Other than Brady, whom Belichick liked so much that he took in the sixth round, Belichick’s choices at quarterback have been largely pedestrian. This blind spot is what separates Belichick from his mentor, Bill Parcells, who was absolutely brilliant at identifying, developing and managing quarterbacks.
The scratch my back syndrome: In the five years Lombardi has been out of the NFL, Belichick has declined to throw him a lifesaver with a job. But Belichick takes care of him in other ways, such as granting him privileged media access and exclusive sit-down interviews. At the same time, Belichick uses Lombardi to talk up players on his myriad media platforms to help sway other teams to overpay for them. An NFL source who knows both men explained it this way, “Mike is more valuable to Bill on TV than inside his organization.”
A prime example this year was when Lombardi advanced the merits of New England backup QB Brian Hoyer, of St. Ignatius High School fame, whom Belichick tried hard to trade before cutting him.
If the Browns even are considering replacing Brandon Weeden with Mallett, who is big and has a big arm, like Weeden, but without his one year of NFL experience, it speaks poorly for the future of the football team. It means the Browns don't have an independent thinker in football ops.
Evaluating Weeden: Particurlarly at quarterback, you can use statistics to make any point you want. To wit:
You don’t like Weeden’s 17 interceptions? Drew Brees and Andrew Luck each has 18. Weeden’s mediocre 72.4 passer rating? Luck’s is 75.5. Weeden is too inaccurate, with a 57.2 completion percentage? Luck’s is 54.6. And yet, watch Luck play and you see a special quarterback, a throwback “field general.”
Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions and won three games his rookie year in 1998. Statistically, Weeden's first year is much better. So toss out statistics when evaluating Weeden.
What I like about Weeden is his great stature and great arm. Those are essentials to win big in the AFC North in the Cleveland climate. The days of soft-tossing Brian Sipe and sidearming Bernie Kosar winnning in this division are long gone.
Weeden can spin the ball through the wind, which is an absolute must up here. He can take a hit and jump right up. He is not a blockhead, like Derek Anderson. He can make the touch throws as well as the deep sideline outs. He can hit the home run. I don’t want a singles hitter in football’s clean-up spot.
Weeden’s shortcomings in his rookie season are obvious. He too often locks on receivers and has no apparent talent to look off defenders. He gets far too many passes batted at the line of scrimmage. He has had a few brain locks, such as a throwing the ball away on fourth down.
I attribute his shortcomings to two things.
One, he is stumbling around like most rookie quarterbacks do. He suffers in comparison to Robert Griffin III, Luck, and Russell Wilson – who have had extraordinary rookie seasons in leading their teams to the brink of the playoffs. They are exceptions, not the rule.
Two, I think Weeden is uncomfortably miscast in the West Coast offense. He flourished in a much faster-paced offense at Oklahoma State, exclusively out of the shotgun. Bogging Weeden down with play-calls longer than the Pledge of Allegiance and constant personnel substitutions is absurd. The Browns have not done a great job of shepherding Weeden into his NFL career.
Rather than replacing Weeden with another Belichick castoff or similar project, the Browns should focus on re-evaluating Weeden’s assets, rather than his deficiencies, and go about exploiting them.
Every Browns regime in the expansion era has failed to develop its hand-picked quarterback. Weeden has the tools. Casting him aside after one year is insane.
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