By Tony Grossi
Our three-part conversation with new Browns CEO Joe Banner brought a lot of response and continued the debate on free agency, the draft, the future of Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert, and Banner’s self-assuredness.
Hey Tony: Any chance the Browns make a run for WR Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh? He will be a free agent after this season. AdamSchefter listed the Browns as the one of the teams that can make a run for him. I feel like the Browns are not an attractive team for free agents and rookies because of the lack of continuity of previous regimes. Now with a new owner in Jimmy Haslam, do you see that changing? Where free agents and rookies would love to play for the Browns? I believe signing Mike Wallace will ignite that feeling. I sure hope we make a run for him.
-- Mike, Fairview Park, OH
Hey Mike: New CEO Joe Banner told me the Browns will not be “allergic” to free agency. Whether they pursue Wallace hinges on who are the GM and coach, of course. I do believe Haslam will be more active in free agency than was Randy Lerner in the past two years. But Banner told me, “We will never lead the league in free agency.”
Hey Tony: I'll preface this comment by saying in all earnestness that I am not trying to be political here. I'm simply comparing expectations. I find it ironic that fans expect a rookie QB, drafted to play for a losing team with a lack of talent, to instantly make everyone better around him, while at the same time they don't seem to have any problem saying that the President inherited such a mess that he could not make things better over the course of four years. Shouldn't we be showing a little more patience with rookie QBs as well?
-- Ed, Vancouver, BC
Hey Ed: I don’t think I’ve ever heard an NFL quarterback compared to the President of the United States. But your point is well-made. The biggest problem I’ve seen with the Browns since 1999 is they don’t develop quarterbacks; rather, they expect them to come in as finished products and make everything and everyone around them instantly better.
Hey Tony: There is a lot of talk of Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Chip Kelly and Andy Reid as possible coaches for the Browns next year. There is another former coach who has just as many Super Bowl victories as Dungy and Gruden. Brian Billick was a great offensive coordinator in Minnesota then went to Baltimore and was the head coach of one of the greatest defenses in the modern era. He was the 1st choice of the 1999 Browns but he went to Baltimore and we ended up with Chris Palmer. Why isn't he talked about? Is he not interested in getting back to coaching? What are the chances he's the Browns’ next coach?
-- Greg, Chardon, OH
Hey Greg: The one word I always hear to describe Billick is “arrogant.” I don’t know if that’s the reason he hasn’t received a lot of interest since Baltimore fired him. I believe he is interested in returning to the sideline. The chances he is the Browns’ next coach are zero, however.
Hey Tony: Pat Shurmur is delusional to think that Mohamed Massaquoi or Josh Cribbs can provide the veteran presence that is needed for the wideouts. Neither player would make any serious talent evaluator's list of receivers who can take a younger teammate under their wing and provide quality mentoring. Heckert never seemed to be interested in obtaining a seasoned vet to help the youngsters. Do you think that Pat ever lobbied Tom for such a veteran or did his recent comment reflect his feelings for the need for some veteran help?
-- D. A., Centreville, VA
Hey D.A.: The Browns undeniably dropped the ball in not adding the right veteran wideout to mentor the young receivers. If there wasn’t the “right one” in free agency, they should have traded for one. This might be what Banner was referring to in my interview with him when he seemed to question Heckert’s performance in building the team, as opposed to just evaluating players.
Hey Tony: I'm not usually the guy that looks at next season, but with this week off I got to thinking about the eventual change at coach. My question is during your time covering the NFL have you seen successful NFL coaches as guys that are masters at game planning and an offensive/defensive genius or have they been more of a player’s coach and motivator, and surrounded themselves with great coordinators to run each side of the ball. When I look at Mike Tomlin, I have never heard anyone say anything great about his football knowledge, but I always hear how his players love him and play their hearts out for him. I see Mel Tucker as a coach like Tomlin. When he was with the Browns, the players always loved playing for him and he had an exciting personality. Also, is it just me or did Eric Mangini have more personality during his press conferences then what Shurmer is showing right now, Thanks!
-- Ben, Archbold, Ohio
Hey Ben: There is more than one way to skin the cat. Some NFL coaches are expert tacticians (Bill Belichick, Mike McCarthy). Some can leave the Xs and Os to their great staffs (Tomlin). But above all else, I believe the successful NFL head coach absolutely has to be a motivator. The No. 1 misconception among fans is that NFL players get paid a lot of money and should not have to be motivated. Baloney. Every player in the NFL has a ton of talent. The game takes a physical, mental and emotional toll. The NFL game is all about emotion. A fired-up team matters.
Hey Tony: The more I listen to Banner talk about the head coach, the more I'm convinced he will replace Pat Shurmur with an offensive coach/coordinator. He seems to refer to the positive hire of Andy Reid as under the radar. Maybe Jay Gruden from the Bengals would fall into that plan. Ironically, I believe Pat Shurmur would have fit that same model two years ago. I would personally like to see an innovator like Chip Kelly. I know college coaches don't have the best track record but he would sure bring some excitement. I'm sure you won't agree Tony, so tell me where I'm wrong.
-- Rick, Shreveport, LA
Hey Rick: The truth is I have not reached a conclusion on the future Browns coach. I will be writing about this in the coming weeks, obviously. Kelly is intriguing, to be sure. I just don’t know enough about him and his concepts at this time to make a judgment.
Hey Tony: I know that D'Qwell Johnson has been great for the Browns when healthy, but if the Browns do have a top 5 pick and Manti Te'o is on the board do you believe we should draft him? He seems like a Ray Lewis type playmaker and leader our defense needs.
-- Mike, Eastlake, OH
Hey Mike: Again, all questions about the 2013 draft have to be put on hold until we know exactly who will be making those decisions, other than Banner. The prevailing opinion in NFL circles is that picks in the top 10 should not be used on a middle linebacker. Lewis was the No. 26 pick in 1996. Junior Seau, No. 5 in 1990, was an exception.
Hey Tony: Judging by Banner’s comments it sounds like he values Heckert as more of a talent evaluator and top scout than a full GM and decision-maker. He may keep him in a reduced GM role similar to Philly or may move on. Shurmur is pretty much toast. What are your thoughts about Heckert/Shurmur's fate from your interview with him?
-- Alex, Orlando, FL
Hey Alex: My sense from interviewing Banner is that he will make changes at both positions, but your point about Heckert is an interesting option I haven’t considered. I just think if Banner was really gung-ho about keeping Heckert, he would have tipped his hand a little more.
Hey Tony: After the recent interviews with Joe Banner I am becoming a little nervous about the future of the team. Two things that stuck out at me were how much power Haslam is giving Banner, I think everyone thought Haslam was going to be the definitive leader as opposed to this joint partnership with Banner, and the fact that Banner is still not sold on giving Weeden the starting job for at least another year. Is there anything that has been said or is there anything that could be done in the future that will make you believe this thing has the possibility of going south? Anything that might taper your optimism?
-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL
Hey Eliot: I understand Banner has a tendency to come on too strong. But he hasn’t dampened my optimism. We’re heading into a new era. I don’t know where it’s taking us, but I know where we’ve been, and it wasn’t fun.
Hey Tony: You have never printed my Hey Tony e-mails. Even back at the PD…When I was 19 and 20 back in the 80’s I thought the Browns would always be good… Fast forward to now I have an 8 yr old that has never seen the Browns win. He likes the Falcons. A few questions: 1. Did Art try to get you fired at the Plain Dealer? 2. Did Bernie hit Belichick in the tunnel? 3. Did you dislike Belichick when he was here? 4. What is the true story about the Kokinis thing? Rizzo won’t tell anyone.. really want to know…. 5. Did Randy Lerner call the PD after your tweet? 6. AND most important…. Who is going to be our next head coach in your opinion? Love your work…See ya…
-- Dan, North Olmsted, OH
Hey Dan: Geez, you’re really getting your money’s worth here. 1. Fired? No. 2. No. 3. A lot of times, yes. But not all the time. 4. No names, please. 5. No comment. 6. I don’t know.
Hey Tony: How strong of a team leader is Brandon Weeden? Rarely on shots during the game do you see him interfacing with any of his teammates on the sidelines. There's been communication issue between the bench and Weeden during the game. Are there any problems between players and Weeden?
-- Steve, Geneva, IL
Hey Steve: I don’t detect any problems between Weeden and teammates. I think the problem is there are four rookie starters on offense and one of them is the quarterback. Everybody wants him to be a 5-year veteran and it can’t happen in one season.
Hey Tony: Hello Mr Grossi, I really enjoy reading your news every day. I have a question about switching back to a 3-4 defense if that is what the new coach desires. If so, do we have the personnel to do so? We do have a few good D linemen and some young athletic linebackers. What are your thoughts?
-- Nick, Erie, PA
Hey Nick: Heckert has been collecting defensive linemen for two years to fit the 4-3 scheme. Linebackers have not been a priority. So to revert to a 3-4 would be a setback, in my opinion, and would take another two years to collect the right personnel. For instance, in a 3-4, either Ahtyba Rubin or Phil Taylor would fit as the nose tackle, but neither translates to defensive end. So what do you do with the other? There are no outside linebacker/pass rushers on the current roster and those are the foundation players in a 3-4. Jabaal Sheard could not convert to linebacker.
Hey Tony: My question to you is, why do you and everyone else at WKNR harp about "a veteren WR" and Browns not getting one? Look back at 2011 free agent WR. They were all bums as bad or worse than we already had and no one in the 2012 class was coming here as long as they thought noodle-armed Colt was going to be throwing to him. And I still hear how we should have took a run at Brandon Lloyd, are they kidding? Why would you bring a WR that fights with coaches to mentor our young WRs after the problems they already had. Heck he probably would have them thinking being jerk was okay. Thanks.
-- Lamar, Cleveland, OH
Hey Lamar: If a veteran WR with mentoring skills was deemed a high priority – and I believe it should have been, given the position makeup on the roster – then every means available should have been used to locate and obtain one. Free agency was just one route. I agree the pickings were slim for the right type of WR. But they could have traded for one. I think Greg Little is a perfect example of why this type of player was absolutely needed, but also consider that three other wideouts were raw rookies. It was a severe miscalculation to not bring one in, in my opinion.
Hey Tony: By reading the Banner interview and sensing the tone in his responses, it seems that Shurmur is all but gone. Looks like Banner wants either a diamond in the rough that has a list of Banner’s top qualities or a coach that is established and a great leader. If Shurmur is let go after the season, who do you think would be the most realistic candidate to replace him? Do they go after a big name like Andy Reid? Do they stay with their Philly connection and bring in Marty Mornhinweg? How about any assistants around the league that are connected? Any college coaches generating some buzz?
-- Doug, Fayetteville, NC
Hey Doug: I think you’ve sized up the situation correctly. Eliminate Reid – he will not rejoin Banner. Mornhinweg would be an impossible sell to this market. After that, it’s wide open. I’ll have more speculation as the season winds down.
Hey Tony: If I recall, Brandon Weeden had great success with the fade pass into the end zone when he was at Oklahoma State. He and Justin Blackmon were a deadly duo with this play in the Red Zone. I also recall it being said that the Browns didn't do much of it last year because it was not a strength of Colt McCoy. I would think that our bigger receivers, new quaterback and tight end Jordan Cameron could really score some points and spread the defense if we used our talent better in this area. What gives?
-- Ken, Strongsville, OH
Hey Ken: I remember watching Josh Gordon hauling in a fade pass at a training camp practice, just destroying the cornerback covering him. I was so excited that this play would be a staple of the Browns’ red zone package that I devoted a whole analysis to it. So count me among the disappointed that we have not seen a single fade pass attempted through nine games. For the first time this week, offensive coordinator Brad Childress shed some light on the problem. He said teams no longer are playing bump press man-to-man coverage near the end zone and that has taken away the route entirely. Without the cornerback draped on the receiver, a fade pass is a dangerous proposition. The answer, strategically, is to influence the defense to change and return to man coverage. The Browns have attempted to do this by throwing quick slants (many have been deflected at the line of scrimmage) and checking down underneath. Neither has been effective. Another way to beat that coverage is to hammer the running back up the middle, which I haven’t seen enough of, either.
Hey Tony: Are you the same person who wouldn't answer uniform questions? Now going through the locker room asking the players their opinions on the uniform?! With all due respect, Tony, I don't care what the players think. I was a Browns fan before any of them were alive. I say BS to the crap about "we'll play better if we get new uniforms"! The Steelers seem to kick our tail every year in the same old uniforms. If they want one home game a year to come out wearing some sci fi uni's ok but leave them alone the rest of the year. Believe me that I speak for a lot of the old timers that think the current uniforms are a source of pride. Please include in your Sunday article, it's a bigger deal than people think.
-- Craig, Atlanta, GA
Hey Craig: Obviously I’ve changed my tune on the whole uniform issue. I believe a change is due. The franchise is stale. A new look would symbolize the new energy of the ownership change. I wouldn’t touch the helmet or change the colors. New threads would be nice, then bring back the all-whites or brown-on-white for throwback day. I found out this year that change is good. Don’t fear it.
Hey Tony: There seems to be some anger from people that Mike Holmgren may want to coach somewhere else after refusing to do so here. I know he’s a Hall of Fame coach, but would we really want him at this point? We know his work ethic is questionable. His stubbornness and inflexibility would seem to be a huge drawback in succeeding in today’s NFL. His system is outdated and no longer works, and he doesn’t want to adapt to his players’ strengths. Do you think he can still be an effective coach?
-- Scott, Cleveland, OH
Hey Scott: Sure, with a Hall of Fame QB and MVP running back.
|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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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