By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Work to be done: At his first Super Bowl as Browns owner, Jimmy Haslam joked, “The access is a lot better.” So is the view on what it takes to get his team here.
And in a private moment, Haslam acknowledged the Browns have a lot of roster upgrading to do before he expects them to challenge the Super Bowl teams, Baltimore and San Francisco.
That’s the good news. He’s not fooling himself that a 5-11 team takes the next giant step just based on sweeping coaching and management changes.
Now that those changes are in place, the next orders of business in team-building is free agency and the draft. Haslam wears his high-strung focus all over his face.
“The coaches, Mike (Lombardi, VP/personnel), Joe (Banner, CEO) and our entire team are looking over the current crop of free agents,” Haslam said. “They’re studying. We have a pretty good feel for what our needs are. They’re going to look at free agency and we’re gonna look at the draft.”
Haslam spoke after attending the press conference introducing left tackle Joe Thomas as one of three finalists for the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
“I think we’ll be selective in what we do in free agency,” Haslam continued, “but if there’s some talent out there and it matches our needs at the right dollar level, then we’ll probably make some moves. I don’t think you’ll see us making any big, splashy, high-priced moves because I think we said all along we’re going to build through the draft.”
I pressed Haslam on two points. The Browns reportedly are second in the league with over $40 million in salary cap space available and the previous regime already laid a foundation of young players. So why isn’t it time to plunge into free agency for some big-impact players?
“I think it’s probably premature for me to say anything,” he hedged. “Our new group’s been in place, what, 2-3 weeks? And they’re going through it. It’s been two weeks ago today that we announced Mike, and Mike’s been working 24/7, studying, watching a lot of tape. I think we’ll have a meeting in a couple weeks, and have our second meeting on free agency and they’ll give us their ideas on who’s out there at what position.”
More QB talk: I said that a quarterback change would be a ‘splashy’ move. I asked Haslam, “Are the Browns considering a new quarterback?”
He didn’t say no.
“You know, I think Norv (Turner) and Chud (Rob Chudzinski) have been very open that they like a lot about what Brandon (Weeden) does, but we’re gonna have competition at that position,” Haslam said. “I think competition makes us all better. We’ll see where that competition comes from.”
National media reports have linked Michael Vick to the Browns, speculation that is either the result of purposeful planting by “sources” or assumptions based on Banner’s former association with the Philadelphia Eagles. When Vick was coming out of the draft, Turner was coordinator in San Diego and, according to a source, told the Chargers he didn’t want Vick running his offense.
Later in his career, Turner was coordinator in San Francisco for Alex Smith’s second NFL season. The two have a mutual admiration. Smith talked up Turner in media interviews this week. At this point, Smith is a far more likely target to be pursued by the Browns than Vick.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen at quarterback,” Thomas said. “I know we’ve got a couple guys with a lot of starting experience and we’ve got one guy who’s got to start. So I don’t know what angle they’re gonna take at quarterback but I imagine there’ll be a competition and I’m excited to see who’s going to win.”
Thomas was a rookie when Chudzinski was Browns offensive coordinator in 2007 and turned the Browns into a high-wire, vertical pass offense that season, with Jamal Lewis pounding the ball on the ground. Chudzinski later played off Cam Newton’s athleticism in Carolina as coordinator and ran a lot of the zone read option that is currently the wave in the NFL.
“We haven’t talked specifics about offensive scheme,” Thomas said. “I know Chud’s a smart guy and he’s gonna maximize the abilities of the players we have. So if we have a guy back there who’s athletic like Cam Newton, he’ll probably incorporate some of the zone read stuff. But if we’ve got a guy like Derek Anderson, what he was the first couple years, we don’t want him running anywhere. So I think it’s gonna be more of a traditional offense. I’m sure he’ll tailor his offense to the personnel.”
Thomas takes note: Thomas is a finalist for Man of the Year, which honors exemplary community service along with achievements on the field, with Dallas tight end Jason Witten and Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The winner is announced Saturday evening.
Thomas just arrived here from Hawaii, where he extended his stay following last week’s Pro Bowl. He said he was struck by the Super Bowl atmosphere he found when he got here.
“It was really fun just walking the streets last night and seeing all the people with Ravens gear and just thinking some day having those be Browns fans,” Thomas said. “It kind of took me over a little bit.”
|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.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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