By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
As the agonizing wait for an announcement on Josh Gordon proceeds, Browns fans turned their focus to other matters in this week’s column.
Hey Tony: Jordan Cameron has turned down not one, but two contract extensions from the Browns. How concerned are you the Browns will be staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, a la Jimmy Graham with the Saints? No need to convince me how large a year Jordan is going to have. Thanks.
-- Michael, Cincinnati, OH
Hey Michael: Cameron changed agents, so that should bring a new dynamic to negotiations with the Browns for a long-term contract. This is going to be interesting. By all accounts, Cameron should benefit more than anybody from the Shanahan offense and the potential loss of Gordon. Given good health, he could reasonably expect to have a bigger season statistically than last year. The risk of turning down offers now, of course, is the possibility of an injury disrupting his season. Also, if he doesn’t agree to a deal, the Browns can “franchise” or “transition” him. Those designations would result in a much higher one-year guaranteed salary for 2015. But, as Alex Mack could attest, the stress of going through the transition process might not be worth it. Meanwhile, Graham’s grievance with the Saints over whether he should receive the franchise value for filling the position of receiver ($12.312 million) rather than tight end ($7.035 million) will be heard by an arbitrator on June 17-18. A possible compromise would be for the Saints and Graham to split the difference and Graham receive a franchise value of $9.7 million. In any case, surely the Browns and Cameron don’t want to engage in a similar legal faceoff next year.
Hey Tony: There has been plenty of press on the rookies, their talents, backgrounds and how each would fill a need on the depth chart. The possible exception has been Chris Kirksey, an outside guy, who has been drafted to fill an inside linebacker need, or so we read. Can you shed some light on Kirksey? There were other "pure" inside linebacker candidates available when he was selected, and he seems to be "undersized" for the targeted position. How is he shaping up?
-- Mark, Branford, CT
Hey Mark: Kirksey appealed to the Browns because of his ability to run and cover backs and tight ends. Every addition the Browns have made on defense is geared to contribute on third downs -- the money down. Kirksey last week became the second rookie draft pick to agree to contract terms. He will compete against Craig Robertson for a starting spot beside Karlos Dansby.
Hey Tony: Maybe I am a blind optimist but I am actually feeling OK about the Browns right now. The loss of Gordon hurts and was tough to take right in the middle of the good feelings during an otherwise solid draft. However Farmer and Pettine seem to have a unified vision for team that Banner/Lombardi/Chud never were able to manage. Their vision sounds awfully similar to the Seahawks, a very strong defense with excellent corners and an offense centered around the run game with strong leadership from the QB spot. How does this year compare to last in regard to your expectations? I know it is very early so I am not asking for a win/lose prediction but do you expect improvement this season vs. last?
-- Este, San Francisco, CA
Hey Este: Last year at this time, the Browns were coming off a draft that I labeled “A for awful.” Part of that evaluation was due to the fact the Browns seemed to write off the 2013 draft and rolled a few picks into 2014. That facet of their ’13 draft strategy benefitted the new regime. This year I have ranked the Browns’ draft in the top five of the entire league. Two of the future picks acquired in ’13 resulted in the drafting of Johnny Manziel. Yes, the new group is unified in the personnel department. There are no hidden agendas driven by ego. At least none detected, so far. The quarterback position appears to be solidified and competitive. The running back situation has been upgraded and there is a commitment from the coaches to run the ball. So, yes, I am expecting major improvement in the coming season.
Hey Tony: Is it possible Johnny Manziel was signing autographs somewhere in the stadium after 9:30 p.m. during the Indians Game rather than skipping out? I attended game 5 of the Washington Wizards-Indiana Pacers game in which RG3 and his mother were honored and sat courtside. After the 1st quarter, RG3 left his seat and never returned, despite a close game with a tight finish. At first people thought he had abandoned his mother, who remained in her seat, but later we found him in the hallway outside his section signing autographs for free. Maybe Johnny was being equally selfless?
-- Tony, Washington, DC
Hey Tony: I don’t know of anyone who believes Manziel purposely skipped out during the Indians’ rain delay on the night Manziel and Justin Gilbert were slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. I believe it was the Indians’ call to not have Manziel and Gilbert throw out the first pitch in a rain delay. Manziel and Gilbert were part of the total Browns’ rookie contingent at the game, and they did have an early wake-up call for OTA practice and meetings the next morning.
Hey Tony: I read your piece this week on the current state of the Browns WR position & agree how glaringly suspect this group seems. I'm curious if you could now think outside the box with me here to address our team's sudden deficiency on offense and avoid this humiliating tradition of parading out feeble pass catchers in orange helmets. Instead of just being content with our current pro-bowler TE, how about complementing Jordan Cameron with another athletic Tight End? Belichick showed us a few years ago how quickly to get vertical on offense by pairing Rob Gronkowski with Aaron Hernandez -- so clearly a two tight end set like that can work to move the ball when your squad lacks a true number one Wide Receiver. Obviously these guys don't grow on trees & I am not dreaming of some crazy trade for overpriced guys like Jimmy Graham, but I must imagine Farmer can fill that spot with a Ben Watson type of serviceable pro from either the deep pool of undrafted or (reasonably priced) veteran Free Agents. Simply put, would you concede that Gordon's absence from the offense makes it suddenly clear that you can never have too many pass-catching Tight Ends?
-- Dan, New York, NY
Hey Dan: Yes, I agree that we will see more multiple tight end looks in Kyle Shanahan’s offense as a result of the potential Gordon suspension and the general state of the wide receiver position. Simply throwing tight ends at this lineup deficiency, however, doesn’t automatically correct it. They have to make plays, too. I would suggest that after Cameron, the tight end roster is just as suspect as the wide receiver roster is beyond Gordon.
Hey Tony: Looking back to the ESPN report regarding Josh Gordon’s failing the drug test, do you think there is any chance that the report was not accurate? I would think in this scenario the Browns are the only ones that know the true severity of the findings. Obviously I am trying to be optimistic here but if I remember the league announced Gordon’s 2-game suspension right away last year plus Daryl Washington who was already given his suspension for 2014 for the same offense. Do you know if Gordon is gone for sure? Or do you know any inside information from the Browns that may have you wondering the same thing?
-- John, Tampa, FL
Hey John: The timetable of NFL action on Gordon is similar to last season. In 2013, Gordon failed a drug test in February and the announcement of his two-game suspension was made in June. That is why I believe an announcement from the NFL will come any day now regarding the newest failed test. Could the ESPN report be inaccurate? Sure. We don’t know what we don’t know. But I believe the Browns’ actions of stocking up on veteran receivers were a tipoff that a suspension of some length is coming.
Hey Tony: I would expect Jabaal Sheard to be the best LB for Pettine's hybrid defense. Pettine doesn't like to label his defense as a 3-4 or 4-3 and Sheard has excelled in both systems. Kruger and Groves seem solid but not spectacular. Mingo is the wildcard. He has that freaky athleticism and speed to be a difference maker. However, his frame may be a liability against the run. I'm a little surprised that Mingo didn't put on weight. Tony, have you heard If Pettine wanted Mingo to get bigger or did he want him lean and fast? The problem with a situational LB is the no huddle offense can keep them off the field.
-- Rick, Shreveport, LA
Hey Rick: Pettine has said he is OK with Mingo’s current weight and that he preferred Mingo add bulk over time – not just in one offseason. Mingo has sort of a weird build. He may be comparatively thin in his upper body but not so below his waist. His legs are powerfully-built – not skinny. Mingo has said that pass rushing is all about leverage and his lower body gives him that ability to win the leverage game. I’m not ready to count him out as a key contributor. But he will have to work his way up from a situational player at present.
Hey Tony: Just a question about QB depth chart. Does it make sense to keep Connor Shaw as the 3rd QB. I would imagine that the game plan for Manziel and Shaw would be fairly alike due to their similarities. Does this give him an edge?
-- Gerard, Cork, Ireland
Hey Gerard: It makes sense to make Shaw the No. 3 quarterback if he proves better than Tyler Thigpen. Thigpen has the same physical skills – mobility being the most obvious. From what little I have seen of both Shaw and Thigpen, however, their arm strength is questionable.
Hey Tony: I really enjoy reading your articles and listening to your podcasts. I just read that former Giants safety Will Hill was suspended for six weeks for a third violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy. Do you see this as a possible precedent for Josh Gordon? I really hope this is a wake-up call for him to get his act together and also hope to see him play at least some of the season (especially in the latter half).
-- Chris, Bochum, Germany
Hey Chris: It’s hard to say whether Hill’s penalty is a precedent for Gordon because we don’t know the specific facts of either case.
Hey Tony: I would consider myself a decently knowledgeable and relatively "plugged-in" football fan, particularly when it comes to the Browns, but I just can't seem to wrap my head around the whole "Johnny Football" phenomenon. I understand that he was an electric college football player, the first freshman in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy, and the proverbial dragon slayer who toppled Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa in 2012, but what exactly is it about Johnny's persona that transcends his play on the field? Is it his swagger? His lifestyle/image? When I look at him, I just see a regular old 5'11'' 21 year old guy, so the whole Johnny Football Mantra just doesn't register with me. I didn't get the Tebow-Mania thing a few years ago either, so maybe I am just the kind of fan who puts more stock into a player's ability to perform on the field, than their perceived celebrity status.
-- Matt, Columbus, OH
Hey Matt: All I can say is keep an open mind until you see Manziel perform on the field. On film study, Manziel may not grade out as anything special with people who put no added value on the intangibles that Manziel brings. I am of the opinion that a player with limited physical skills has to be extraordinary in other facets to compensate. And sometimes those extraordinary intangibles lift the player to great deeds. We will all learn together about Manziel as the preseason unfolds.
|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. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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