Jets @ Browns – Baker Mayfield’s Debut (Enjoy it Again)

For most fans of most teams, Thursday’s game would be considered and good first look at what a team hopes is their future and the first good win in a long time.  For the Cleveland Browns fans, it was much much more than that. More to come on the official TNF reaction article yet to come. There are some things to consider when reflecting on what this means to a Browns fan.  The director of the documentary “Believeland” made one remarkable yet obvious observation that will ring true in the VAST majority of Browns fans. I’m paraphrazing but it was something to the effect of,

“If you meet a Cleveland sports fan know that they were born into it.  No one is born into another fandom and then chooses to be a Cleveland sports fan.  You’re either one of us or you’re not.  And if you’re not, you’ll never understand.”

From really Belichick discarding Bernie Kosar, Browns fans have been suffering since 1993. Now the obvious woe is us take would be to say Browns fans have been suffering since 1986.  Its not that I don’t categorize the Drive and the Fumble as anything other than agony and suffering, its just that when compared to the teams of 1999-2017, its just not the same to me.  Whether fans want to accept it or not they would have loved to have 1986 and 1987 to replace 2000 and 2015 (for example).  And that’s not even considering what they just lived through from 2016-September 16th 2018.  Now sure you’re going to have fans of say the Lions, Dolphins, and other long suffering teams and suggest its the same.  Differnece is those cities also had the Detroit Lions, Red Wings, Pistons, Heat, Marlins respectively.  Let that sink in.  Its not that the Browns haven’t won a championship in 54 years. Its not that the Browns haven’t had a double digit win season since 2007.  And its not that the Browns seem to be snakebitten as a returning franchise.  Its not completely about the Browns at all. Its that the city of Cleveland hasn’t won anything of consequence for any team at any point in 52 years. Make no mistake about it, some of us suffocated ourselves in the 2016 Cavaliers Championship almost as if it were therapy for the Browns. I covered Lebron for the first 4 years of v1.0.  Basketball was the sport I excelled in.  Yet, as a Cleveland sports fan, everything perils in comparison to the Browns exceeding at the highest level.

That TNF game was much more that how the media saw it.  The only thing that comes close is the imagery of Joe Thomas working the game for NFL Network and seeing him ‘experience’ the win.  Joe Thomas’ reactions in that game deserve an article of his own. One show captured in the video above suggests that maybe we as a football watching audience (Browns fan or not) might be making too much of this win. Again, I submit those people just don’t understand and no number of words in any order you choose can convey what it really was. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t great.  It wasn’t incredible.  It was euphoric.  I’m not joking in the slightest. Euphoric by the literal definition. People have watched for 18 seasons plus 2 games of watch a revolving door of players (short of Joe Thomas, everyone has come and gone), seeing the same mistakes over and over, going for 5 yards when the first down mark is 8 yards, settling for field goals, and of course getting screwed and finding new creative ways to lose. As a fan it begins to feel like you’re the innocent kid getting beat up and trying to hide in the corner crying out, “please stop hitting me”.  Check any message boards or social media forums, there will be no shortage of conditioned Browns fans talking the same doom and gloom as if its a self preservation defense mechanism.

This game was so much more than just a much deserved win for team in desperate need of a win.  This was not that and to reduce it to that is disrespectful to everyone involved from the owners to the fans. The first half proceeded as we’ve become accustomed to.  A good play surrounded by bad ones. Big Hyde run followed by Callaway needing a chair to sit on while he waits for Tyrod’s pass to get there.  A Garrett sack followed by two sacks given up.  Then regrettably Tyrod to two shots to the head, one looking rather intentional involving a defenders forearm. The buzz began after realizing Tyrod had been taken to the lockerroom. Then naturally, you’re brain says, “who’s the next man up”. BAKER FRIGGING MAYFIELD. The stadium lifted a few inches off the ground the moment he ran onto the field. But we’d been here before. Many times.  Sure, the anticipation for Couch, Garcia, Quinn, Manziel were all more intense that seeing Frye, Anderson, Hoyer, or Kizer.  But we’ve been here before. I’d be lying if I said my excitement didn’t grow beyond that threshold just watching Baker approach the line.  There was a body language and intent that was different.  It wasn’t “let’s see how this goes” it was more “oh I came here to do only one thing, strap in boys”.  So to all the long suffering Browns fans out there, enjoy it again.  Enjoy it as often as you’d like. Everyone else will think it was just a good win.  The rest of us know better.

Posted in Cleveland Browns, GRIDIRON AND HARDWOOD, NFL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tie Is Not A Win and The Sky Is Not Falling

Photo Credit: ClevelandBrowns.com

Winning cures all. So what exactly does a tie do? Leaves one unsatisfied at the very least. With over 200 losses since 1999, one learns to see things in ‘degrees of failure’.  Often searching for a silver lining, something one can find optimism and hope the team will build on. In the old days, that meant if a large number of things went a different way, they’d be in a position to maybe win.  Yesterday was not a large number things. It was one thing. One thing goes a little different and we are talking about a very different situation.  As often as a fan can qualify, make excuses or speculate of what could have been, they must also know when to call it what it is.  It is not a win and it is not a loss.  There is some sense that this was the first time in about 20 games where a Cleveland Browns team did not lose.  I am by no means suggesting fans should revel in a ‘moral victory’.  Treat this as what it was.  It was not a loss. Nothing more nothing less.

Everything about this offseason was building to a single thing.  Pittsburgh on 9/9. Whether we like it or not, Pittsburgh is still a top team in the NFL. With every new addition, every removal of a subpar player, additions in coaching and the obvious moves that kept Cleveland at the forefront of any offseason sports show all seemed to point to one hopeful truth.  Pittsburgh is not unbeatable. This game might just mean that a Cleveland Browns team could face off against a top NFL team and the overwhelming opinion seemed to be, “Either team has just as much a chance to win this game.”  That is a sentiment the Browns and their fans have not experienced in a long time.  For me, the closest thing I can remember is watching the pregame broadcast of the 1986 AFC Divisional Playoff game between Cleveland and Indianapolis. The last time I felt like the overall opinion was that Cleveland was in a position to win a meaningful game.  I’m sure it was the same 1987 with a hopeful Super Bowl run, I just don’t remember the tone of things that year.  I was like 10.

I’m not going to sugar coat this.  There was a real opportunity for a 1-31 team to hold serve and beat an otherwise sure fire playoff team and according to any Browns fan, the most important opponent on the schedule.  Any schedule. Any year.  There are some that would call a 2-14 season where both wins came against Pittsburgh as a good season.  I no longer subscribe to that notion.  So while the game against Pittsburgh was a monumental opportunity, I personally won’t care if the Browns are still in the mix and not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs some November.   I’d rather lose to Pittsburgh twice and still be a playoff team than go 6-10 and beat Pittsburgh twice.

There is no shortage of Browns fans enraged over this ‘tie’.  I get it, believe me, expectation vs result can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow.  Everything about this offseason went a certain way.  For most onlookers, every move was a good one (short of cutting Cajuste apparently), everyone was focused on the Steeler game. As far as fans go, one must learn to temper expectations. Even with everything seemingly pointing to a win over the Steelers this result is not damning in the least. Landry talking about being a Super Bowl team this year if all goes well didn’t help.   Fans want to believe that a team can go from 0-16 to 14-2 and favorites to win the Super Bowl in one season and that’s just illogical.  There just isn’t much in the way of previous evidence for any team to do that.  I remember in my early broadcast days hearing a grizzled old vet talking about the Cavaliers in year two with Lebron.  There was an overwhelming number of callers suggesting the Cavaliers could go from 17 wins to playoff favorite inside of 2 seasons.  I remember thinking it didn’t seem like such a huge leap.  Until I did the research.  Steelers was winnable and they will spend a week stewing over that fact, but fans need to temper their expectations.

The problem originates from the sense that this game 1 of a regular season was treated like a Super Bowl for Browns fans.  Now had they actually been in the Super Bowl and found a creative way to lose or a Super Bowl actually ended in a tie, then I’d completely understand.  In this case, like it or not, it was one game…in a season where anything north of 5 wins is marked improvement, in a season where 5 is not even half of the total.  It was one game.  One game where there was a ton to be happy about or proud of.

  • The Steelers-Browns rivalry has been as one sided as a Bruce Lee fighting an 10 year old. And in that rivalry game, not only did the Browns not lose in spectacular fashion, they made a top team and first ballot hall of famer look like unimaginable shells of their former themselves.
  • The Bully Effect is no longer in Effect. The days of hoping that the Browns will not look like the Bad News Bears when they play the Steelers is over. Last game of last season was the beginning of standing up the big bad bully. With Garrett constantly in the backfield, their corners not able to stop the Browns receivers, and a number of other factors, that bully shit is over.
  • The organization has hardened on how much they are willing to see the good in. I fully expected to tune into the post-game press conferences to find coaches and players searching for the good among the bad.  Hue Jackson lead the charge of thinking about this tie as a loss.  There was nothing to hang their hats on and the tone of the press conference bore that out.
  • Everything about this season, preseason, or regular season seems to be about the work. One preseason game the run sucked. Next preseason game, the running game was as stellar as it could be for a preseason game.  One would have to assume that protecting the QB from the tackle positions and getting the ball out faster and in maybe less than ideal situations would have to be a priority.
  • Gregg Williams and Todd Haley. You may not like Hue Jackson. You may want him to be fired. (I would argue that’s because you have a weak approach to analyzing the situation but one fight at a time) Hue Jackson is essentially the overseer. A figure head with veto control.  By and large though, focusing change for particular position groups falls on Gregg Williams and Todd Haley and I cannot imagine a fan with a brain stem that shouldn’t love the idea of change and adjustments (in practice and meeting rooms in particular) coming from Williams and Haley.
  • Use Pittsburgh as a barometer. In no uncertain terms, one can make the argument that Pittsburgh is in the top 5 of teams regardless of circumstance. This is not different from this Browns team tying the Patriots, Packers, Eagles, etc. Did you want the win? Of course you did, but now that a win was not achieved where does this performance rank.  If the team that tied the Steelers played the Jets, Titans, Lions, etc? Consequently, those are 3 teams they lost to in 2017 by a combined margin of defeat of -6.6 pts. Would any of the 1, 2, 3, 4 win Browns teams ever have even come close to tie a team like this? The simple answer is no.
  • The team is changing its culture, its time the fans change theirs. Find a way to find the objective but fair positives. There are far too many fans right now screaming for people to be fired, players to be benched, and all because of a tie instead of a win.  Not considering they spent time trying to establish the run early which didn’t seem to work until it did.  Higgins and Calloway were not big factors. Duke Johnson wasn’t the factor one would expect.  Gordon didn’t make a huge impact until the end of the game. Njoku had some clear drops and nuanced issues.  Penalties killed offensive drives and kept the defense on the field longer than it should have. Tyrod seemed to hesitate throwing on almost every throw. And with that said, THEY STILL ALMOST BEAT THE F***ING STEELERS
  • I’ve learned over the decades both pre broadcasting career and post, the easiest way for a fan to keep their sanity is to analyze more and emote less after the game is over. During the game? Scream your head off. Live and die with every single play.  But afterwards, find a away to see things objectively. Its what allows me to watch this game, see the good, see the bad, evaluate the two against themselves and leave with the sense that a tie against the Steelers is definitely not a bad thing and by seasons end should prove to be a good thing.

A tie is not a win and should be viewed that way.  Of all the factors that made the offseason a very optimistic time, very few of those things played themselves out in this game and the result was one kick away from being what everyone wanted. The important part of all of this and the one thing the fans can do is temper expectation.  Everyone wants to win every time, but the other team gets paid to play too.  This one didn’t go the way the fans wanted, but make no mistake about it, this game will prove to be valuable to almost everyone on the team.  Better that this happened now and not in week 15 when a win is needed to secure a playoff spot.

Posted in Cleveland Browns, GRIDIRON AND HARDWOOD, NFL | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

G&H’s 2018 Cleveland Browns Hype Video…enjoy

Courtesy of ClevelandBrowns.com

As a life long football fan, I have become accustomed to a certain level of anticipation for the upcoming season in mid August.  As a Browns fan, that’s even stronger than most as the beginning of the season has always been the most hopeful (at least post 1999). So like many fans, I seek out whatever content I can find. Press conferences, interviews, highlight videos and even on occasion a hype video.  The first one we found this year was the one posted on Jarvis Landry’s Instagram page.  If you haven’t seen it, take a moment and check it out.  As I scoured the internet, I became a little frustrated with what was out there. Mostly just highlight videos over a hip hop track.  Not to knock that process, but for an editor it lacks something for my personal taste as a fan, broadcaster and editor.  I felt what was out there only dealt with the immediate highlight action and didn’t pay tribute to where we’ve been and why 2018 feels so exciting. A video that encompasses the pain and torment, the big changes in this offseason, and the reasons we have to be optimistic. A hype video that hopefully grabs the die hard Browns fan in the heart and really ramps up the intensity and optimism.  If you’re a Browns fan and watch this, I hope the ‘hype’ is inserted into you.  With that said, here it is…The Gridiron and Hardwood 2018 Cleveland Browns Hype Video. Enjoy.

 

Posted in NBA | Leave a comment

Baker Mayfield Impersonates GM John Dorsey

 

Let it never be said that Baker Mayfield’s talents are restricted to spinning a football. In a light news day, Baker Mayfield standing shirtless with a tiger was countered and ‘one upped’ by this impression of Personnel boss John Dorsey. Athletes doing impressions is nothing new.  Doing good ones is.  The chewing gum and ‘buddy boy’ reference is what takes this from silly humor to art. Well played Baker, well played.

Posted in Cleveland Browns, NFL | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hard Knocks with the Cleveland Browns Episode 2 Teaser

Make sure to set your DVRs to record the next episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cleveland Browns. Preseason Game 1 action, Corey Coleman gets traded, and I assume, much more.

Posted in NBA | Leave a comment

Despite Mayfield’s Success, Browns Need To Stay The Course

The 2018 NFL offseason continues to feel like a collection of firsts for the current era Browns. I say current because for our older fandom brethren, it probably just feels like a very, very long time. Top 20 Starting QB in the NFL currently (Tyrod Taylor), an elite offensive weapon not only pleased to come to Cleveland but continues to embody everything any fan would ever want from a top flight talent wearing your teams colors (Jarvis Landry). An entire position group (DBs) completely revamped in one offseason. A defensive identity, if not a complete team identity taking shape. Oh, and I cannot forget one of the top 5 WRs in the game when he’s playing, Josh Gordon (don’t start with me on Josh Gordon, I defend him stronger than most people defend their own children).  Who all with credibility believe will rejoin the team very soon and have zero playing status implications. All in one offseason. So, it really should come as no surprise that John Dorsey’s shiny new golden boy, Baker Mayfield, went out and had maybe the best QB debut in a Browns uniform this analyst can remember in some time. Definitely the best in this ‘current era’.

Let’s recap this QB fiasco going back to 1999. Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Peterson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Austin Davis, Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan.

Of this list, you can count on one hand the number of quarterbacks that were even good enough at their respective times with the Browns where any other team would have had any interest much less coveted said player. At the time, like it or not, Tim Couch was a top prospect.  Had Cleveland not taken him at 1, someone would’ve in the top 10. There was some interest surrounding Weeden entering the draft but with understandable reservations. Jeff Garcia and Trent Dilfer were notable names way past their prime (assuming Dilfer ever had a prime). Most of the rest were retreads or complete pipe dreams. Don’t kid yourselves, fan hopefuls like Kelly Holcomb, Charlie Frye, Colt McCoy, Derek Anderson, and Brian Hoyer were the best of bad options.  No Defensive Coordinator lost any sleep game-planning against most in not all of these quarterbacks. Naturally, when the next “golden boy” steps on the practice field, does everything right, says everything right, and looks like an NFL starter in his first game action, it is understandable that fans would be excited to see him start in the regular season sooner rather than later. However, we’ve been down this road before.

Video Courtesy of NFL.com

The most important factor to consider is need.  Does Mayfield ‘need’ to play?  In 1999, in the face of poor roster building, the team had no choice but to play Tim Couch. Refer to the list above and you’ll see a pattern.  Except for forcing Quinn to sit in favor of Derek Anderson (a move I was very much against and voiced my displeasure with at the facility in Berea with Anderson’s wife within earshot-a story for another day), any time this team has had a high pick, high-profile QB they have pushed him before he was ready. Baker Mayfield may just be the exception to the rule. He might actually be ready right now, but why risk it?  This team is finally in a position to not NEED to push their young future franchise QB.  It is a luxury this team needs to take advantage of.

Consider the Aaron Rodgers path.  And no, I’m not saying Baker Mayfield is Aaron Rodgers.  Once Rodgers took over in Green Bay, after sitting behind Favre for 3 years, it was obvious that he was far more ready to start than most of us thought. He hit the ground running (so to speak) and there were no shortage of opinions that he was likely ready long before he got his shot. The same very well could be true here.  There is a possibility that Baker Mayfield could start the 2018 season and be fine. Win a few games, invigorate the fan base, and begin the turnaround as the face of the franchise.  That is possible, but we know what the other side of the coin looks like.  What if he’s not as ready as he can be?

There is value for a prospect who can do the physical part of playing QB to sit back and learn the non physical stuff from the position of a backup. Tyrod may not be Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning, but there absolutely is value in learning the ‘how’ from a guy like Tyrod.  How to approach meetings, how to prepare, how much time to put in, how to engage teammates, what buttons to push to get the most out of his teammates. There is more to playing the NFL QB position that simply knowing how to spin it. If the overwhelming consensus is that Baker is ready to play now, that’s only part of the equation.  And while this Cleveland Browns organization/regime has a top 20 starting QB in the NFL right now, there is literally no reason to force the Baker issue. It literally comes down to one basic notion, “Why start him if you don’t have to?”  The answer is simple.  You don’t.

Tyrod Taylor is set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season. He along with Jarvis Landry seem to be the leaders spearheading the actual change in culture with this team.  Understand that about 1/3 of the NFL teams are likely paying close attention to what Tyrod is doing, saying and most importantly how he fairs in the win/loss column. Tyrod’s attention is with this team, but he has to know that he’s also auditioning for what will likely be his biggest and last contract with another team elsewhere in 2019.  As fans we should all but welcome him as the starter and hope that things go exactly the way they seem they might.  This would open up a beautiful transition into 2019.  If all goes well in my opinion, Baker Mayfield would only play due to injury, garbage time, or gadget play scenarios in 2018.

There’s a saying that playing football is a job but playing QB is a lifestyle.  To be the QB the fans will want Baker to be, he will have to learn what its like to be one of those elite guys. First in last out, eat/sleep/breathe football, know your assignments and everyone else’s, etc. There was a moment in last week’s Hard Knocks when Hue asked Baker what time he comes in to start his day.  He apparently comes in somewhat early, but nowhere near the 5 am that Tyrod does.  Hue took that opportunity to hint at the idea that there is more to playing QB than just doing what is expected.  Just another example of something he can learn from Tyrod. If done right, Baker sits 2018 and starts 2019 as the starter, getting all of the first team reps, leading the team on the field and off, and would likely have the presence of a 5+ year vet in year 2.  Or as originally stated, follow a similar path to that of Aaron Rodgers. Waiting one year instead of 3.

Video Courtesy of FOX Sports

The fact of the matter is quite simply that there is no data, no stats, no analysis that would suggest that Baker gives the team a better chance to win than Tyrod Taylor. There just isn’t. If anything, there is data to suggest that the 8 year vet who has seen a thing or two is much more likely to adjust properly to the changing nuances from week to week over the rookie.  And that is something that Baker can learn from Tyrod along the way as opposed to Baker learning those things the hard way and possibly losing winnable games when he could just learn that stuff from the sidelines and in meeting rooms.

When time comes where Baker is just flat-out better than Tyrod across the board, the team will have no choice but to make a change, but that time is not the 2018 training camp/preseason.  There is no reason to force Baker.  I love the kid, I’m on board with him as the franchise QB going forward, but this team has a unique opportunity where ability to start and need to start have not intersected yet.  Let this play out.  If Baker sits even most of the season, I assure you, he will be the better for it.  Fans, let’s be honest, in your most objective thinking possible, do you actually believe the decision on who starts at QB will make or break a Super Bowl season THIS YEAR?  If you said yes, you either aren’t paying attention or struggle with the concept of objectivity. 0 wins to 2 is progress. 0 to 4 is great progress. 0 to 7 through 9 wins is incredible. 10-12 wins is unprecedented. Going from 0 wins to Super Bowl Champion is delusional.  I love the enthusiasm from the players, but its delusional.  So let the kid sit.  Let Tyrod do what he does.  Maybe they win 5 games, maybe they win 9, but if they stay the course, hold Baker back…then, unleash him on the 2019 offseason after he’s had time to learn how to be an NFL starter, then year 2 (2019) becomes a very realistic possibility for playoffs and beyond.  Remember, the goal is to build for long running sustained success, not just a great 2018.

Posted in Cleveland Browns, NFL | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jarvis Landry, the Hero That Was Promised


Sports teams are like our children. You cheer their successes harder than most would. You feel more despair in their failures than they do. You scold their poor behavior or performance.  You will always see them as better than most normal observers ever would. You are more likely to forgive or look past certain things. Believe in their potential harder than anyone else.  But sometimes, your team isn’t doing everything it can.  Sometimes your team (top to bottom) isn’t a good representation of the city it represents. Sometimes your team needs a stern kick in the ass. Sometimes your team needs to be reminded of what causes lost games and lost seasons. And in those situations, you hope you have someone on that team that will identify that and get in his teammates face about it.

-That shit is over with here
-Because you don’t want to practice, because you’re a bitch
-That shit ain’t happenin’ here
-I can’t take a day off because I can’t get great that way
-All that weak shit don’t live here no more
-That shit is weakness and it’s contagious as fuck

Words of a leader.  The kind of words that pull a bad franchise out of the darkness

Posted in Cleveland Browns, NFL | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Like It Or Not: Browns Are The Story of the 2018 Season

Not since the 1980s has the Cleveland Browns been this much in the forefront of the NFL’s national media, and for good reason. While I am a card carrying member of the Cleveland Browns fandom, I can objectively state that for the better part of 30 years with few exceptions, the Cleveland Browns have been the NFL’s Bad News Bears. As someone who lived through most of the heartache, its not at all surprising. I can still remember a time when having one Pro Bowler or finishing with at least 7 wins was considered a successful season. During those years, I remember thinking that all it would take to move from cellar dweller to contender was one person of significance to say yes to Cleveland. Not a retread. Not a has been.  An active real player within NFL circles. One guy to turn the tide that says, yes coming to Cleveland is a good idea. Once one comes, the rest will follow.

Enter John Dorsey. On the heels of an attempt to adapt analytics as a core criteria for player acquisition, Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslem did a complete 180 and brought in a GM that is an old school football guy to make football decisions. It didn’t take long for John to endear himself to the Cleveland faithful.  On a day when he didn’t need to ‘do’ anything, John Dorsey was introduced to the team, made his rounds and decided to release Kenny Britt before ending his first day of employment with the Browns. Kenny Britt was brought in by the analytics group after losing Terrelle Pryor to Washington.  The idea being that analytics wise, Britt was almost as productive as Pryor was the year before. Analytics are also to blame for not retaining Pryor as their production model deemed Pryor not worth the additional million he was looking for contract wise.  With one look at the situation, the real football guy-John Dorsey concluded, that Britt wasn’t worth the paper his contract was printed on and promptly released him. A move that more than 90% of Browns fans would say they agreed with. Trimming the fat for local Browns fans is one thing, but on one remarkable day, John Dorsey would change the mindset in and around the building if not the entire league…with two individual moves.

Now if this was any other year, what I’m saying would sound familiar. If the repetitive nature of a broken record could be familiar. If I told you six months ago that the Browns made a big move, your likely retort would be something about them signing some has been.  Name chasing.  Insert Jeff Garcia, Jake Delhomme reference here. Instead, John Dorsey not only checked off boxes of need but did so with established, respected, producers in the NFL during their perceived prime.  In a matter of hours, John Dorsey traded for Tyrod Taylor, an efficient QB with a winning record that just last season took the similarly inept Bills to the playoffs. A couple hours later, as if Tyrod Taylor wasn’t enough, John Dorsey inked another deal.  Dorsey traded (essentially) a 4th rd pick to the Dolphins for Jarvis Landry.  The most productive WR not named Antonio Brown in recent memory. 4 years in, well over 400 receptions. Jarvis brings an attitude, a swagger that had been missing since the days of the original Dawg Pound. Following that big day, Dorsey also secured Carlos Hyde, a name very familiar to football fans of Ohio. The former Ohio St Buckeye brings the ability to run north and south and get tough yards that seemed to elude RBs on this team not named Duke Johnson. Within a couple weeks Jarvis Landry had organized an off the books workout session with 6 players that expected to be major contributors to the 2018 Browns season.

John Dorsey on the same day as pulling in the future Starting QB and future WR2, he was also able to convince Green Bay to take on DeShone Kizer and his league leading 22 interceptions (a staggering 1:2 TD:INT ratio, not the more acceptable 2:1 ratio you hope for with a rookie) for Damarius Randle, a productive DB who Green Bay admittedly had playing out of position. Now all of a sudden going into the draft, the holes begin to look smaller or at least less in total number. The position the entire world assumed Cleveland would HAVE TO take at 1 seemed less and less necessary with Tyrod Taylor in the mix. Until now, everyone simply assumed that they would need to draft a QB and he very likely would need to play sooner rather than later. This was no longer the case. They still would need to draft a QB they deemed to be their future, but he no longer had the added pressure of playing.  Anyone familiar with this team, I’m speaking specifically of their fans, knows that anytime this team rushes a QB they fail miserably. Looking at the draft, they would need to add a QB.  They should add a RB, possibly a compliment to Hyde with the potential to be a lone featured back in time.  Receiver was a need but not as urgent as it was in February. With Joe Thomas retiring, the big ‘woe is me’ take was that they had to address the LT position in the first 50 picks.  I was never sold on that because you can’t replace arguably the greatest LT of all time in the very next draft which by the way, might end up being the worst OT draft in recent memory. If you aren’t improving the position, don’t make the pick.  Now all of a sudden, the landscape of need had changed. People were talking about Saquon Barkley at 1?  Bradley Chubb at 4? Trade back scenarios that would have rendered 3 or 4 first round picks but none in the top 5.  The options seemed limitless.  In the end John Dorsey did what he thought was best at the top.

To be completely forthright with you, I was absolutely pissed by the time Denver was on the clock at pick 5.  Couple things in my defense. 1) Most Cleveland fans want one thing from their QB at this point.  To be productive and thus, not be a bust.  So like many others across the country I fell in love with Sam Darnold’s high ceiling high floor talk. I still see a lot in Darnold I like.  I think at the very minimum, I think he could end up being the best QB the Jets have drafted since Chad Pennington, for whatever that’s worth. My thought on QB was to pick Darnold or Mayfield (to not pick Rosen unless he slid into the 20s and to not to take Lamar Jackson at either top 5 picks) and to hope that Bradley Chubb fell to 5. Like so many, I accepted that they were going to go QB at 1 whether I thought it was necessary or not, then take the best player available regardless of position at 4. I had Baker Mayfield as my #2 QB entering the draft but had my reservations. My dream would’ve been for Saquon Barkley to fall to 4. Darnold/Barkley.  I wanted two corners out of this draft but not with either of the first 2 picks. Whether it was from the success of the Legion of Boom or just the fear of getting burned, I wanted no part of a short corner. My definition of ‘short corner’ being anyone under 6’0. So when the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield I was a little miffed, but ok with it. When Barkley went off the board at 2, I was reeling.  What are they going to do now? Well fingers and toes crossed that the Jets don’t take Chubb. Jets take Darnold predictably.  Now we can breathe easy.  Chubb is the best player available, this is a no brainer.  I was hosting an NFL Draft show live when the Commissioner approached the podium for the 4th time that day. When he read the card and the first name started with “D”, I was at a complete loss.  In that split second I thought, the only D name I have any interest in first round wise was Derwin James and this is WAY TOO early for him. Denzel Ward?!?!  He wasn’t even on my radar because I said no to short corners. When the name clicked in my brain, I didn’t say a word, stood up and walked the f out of the studio.  I literally stranded my own show, because like most people these picks were not anything I had fleshed out as a real possibility.

I called a colleague and friend of the brand, Rick Morris basically just to bitch. Now I am a 4th generation Browns fan, 3rd generation Ohio St Buckeye fan.  Yet, here I am speaking to another Ohio St fan about just how pissed I was that they did exactly what I didn’t want them to. Alas, let your routines calm you.  I’m not afflicted with OCD or anything, but I do have very OCD like compulsions during the draft.  After round one no matter what I inundate myself with press conferences and national media coverage post round. By the end of the night, I had begun to understand the Denzel Ward pick. As a glutton of exposure that I am, I also started watching “Behind Baker” a documentary crew follows Baker Mayfield throughout the draft process.  Fox is currently running a show that uses a lot of that documentary’s video footage called “All the Way Up”.  If you have any interest from die hard fan to train wreck intrigue, I urge you to watch either one.  I was sold on Baker the man within the first episode.  And if you’re familiar with Baker the man, you know that Baker the player is not likely to fail.

Now here’s the irony (I hope to not invoke the irony police, i.e. Mr. Teeple), the next four rounds of the draft was almost a greatest hits of guys I was very intrigued by throughout the process. I though Corbitt was a bit of a reach but the Browns had success with guys from Nevada (J. Bitonio). Nick Chubb (the RB not the DE) was an absolute dream.  I butted heads with my fellow draftniks and analysts who were singing the praises of Sony Michel and Derrius Guice. As far as I was concerned, the RB position went Saquon Barkley 1, Nick Chubb 2.  Chad Thomas was a guy not many looked at.  Maybe he felt like a tweener (too light to play 4-3 DT not an elite pass rusher to play DE) or maybe some were scared off by the fact that he was an accomplished producer in the Hip Hop world.  Either way, I saw a young very poor man’s Fletcher Cox that just needs to be developed. Then John Dorsey did something that in hindsight was as predictable as the sweatshirt he wears.  What is common in most if not all Dorsey drafts? He waits until the round value and the upside of a certain player with questionable background merged.  At the top of the 4th round, Dorsey sent in a card with a name most people took off their board completely.  Antonio Calloway. Like Tyreek Hill and Marcus Peters before him, Dorsey took a calculated risk drafting Calloway. Without the off the field issues, most in NFL circles believe that Calloway would have been the consensus #1 WR in this draft. Considering Dorsey’s track record drafting troubled players, I was over the moon for that pick. This leaves us with Genard Avery.  A smaller LB that most never saw play out of Memphis. My favorite game I watched of him was against UCLA and the media darling Josh Rosen. Avery flies around and seems to find a way to disrupt virtually every play. By the waning minutes of that game, Rosen looked physically and mentally spent. The draft didn’t go exactly as I had hoped, but once  I came around to the understanding behind Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward I began touting this draft as a complete success.

Before the draft even began, Dorsey had quietly cut and signed a large number of players. Trimming the fat and countering it with better football players. Donald Stevenson being the only one I was expressly  against as I watched a lot of Broncos games last year.  So much movement in fact that we started the draft with even more picks than we initially knew of.  All in all, there are 3 practical phases of this roster.  Established NFL producer, nice young prospect with upside, and a developmental tier.  In previous years the Browns were almost always missing that first one. This 0-16 team that started the season starting DeShone Kizer, Isaiah Crowell, Corey Coleman, a decent offensive line and would play most of the season without most of their best players, now can claim a roster that has Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Nick Chubb, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Calloway, a re-arranged offensive line (sans Joe Thomas), Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert (lead the league in tackles), Christian Kirksey and a completely revamped secondary.   Yeah, I’m feeling pretty confident about ’18.  This time of year everyone has an opinion on predictions, up to and including most improved.  Now normally MIT is designated for a 2-4 win team that doubles their win total. I am not bashful about saying that on paper, this Browns team looks like a 7+ win team.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. I mentioned him in passing earlier.  Josh Motherfing Gordon.  Put simply, I believe in talent. Josh Gordon, when right and active is at WORST, a top 5 WR in the NFL.  PERIOD.  And here’s the kicker…! It was revealed that Josh Gordon has played every game of football in his entire life short of 2017 ‘not sober’.  So there is a notion that we’ve never seen Josh Gordon truly ‘right’.  We have no idea how good he actually could be until we see him ball out while not only sober, but been sober for some time. In 5 games, catching balls from the most inaccurate QB in the NFL last year, Gordon pulled in 18 receptions for 335 yds for an 18 yds/catch average. Not to mention that whole ‘talent’ thing.  In 14 games in, catching passes from Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and Jason Campbell (seriously, that’s like saying the NFL equivelent of saying he caught passes from Huey, Dewey, and Louis) to the tune of 87 receptions, 1600 yds, 9 tds for an average of 19 yds/reception.  You can literally count on one hand the number of receivers who have ever done that in the history of football, and I’m not even counting the 498 yds combined in two games back to back. While Gordon has not been that good since, once a player shows they can do it once, the talent dictates that it can happen again.  Combine that idea with the pictures on Flash’ Instagram account.  He has spent this offseason becoming the football gods’ inspiration when they invented the Wide Receiver. 6’3, pushing 240, 4.4 speed and improving hands. Josh Gordon has the talent.  And as he revealed early in 2017 he did all of that ‘not sober’.  What do you think the outcome will be when he’s been sober for some time, had the time to sculpt his body into the most perfectly created receiver frame, has the complete support of his organization and has a top 20 starting QB in the NFL for the first time in his career?  I hate to be so matter of fact about it, but…do not talk to me about his track record, number of violations, addict history, or that he has lost your trust.  Memo to fans specifically Browns fans, do not bring that s up around me.  This is a completely different situation and if you can’t see that then you’re not paying attention. If you’re not paying attention, I have no time for your negativity. I would challenge anyone not related to Josh Gordon to go toe to toe with me on where their devotion and support of Gordon ranks.  I would call myself the unofficial Josh Gordon fan club President if that wouldn’t seem overtly arrogant. I support him unconditionally unlike most fans who only support him while he’s active and in camp.  So memo to most fans/readers.  Don’t f*** with me on Josh Gordon.  When he starts the season week 1 and gets to week 8 while being productive, I fully expect the team to sign him to a top 5 WR extension (somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 mil per) and hopefully before the Giants extend Beckham, just the thought of Beckham’s extension scares me.

As we work through week 1 of training camp and enter week 2, I reiterate that like it or not, the Cleveland Browns will be the story of the 2018 season.  Not because they will be yet again the laughing stock of the NFL, but because 2018 will be the year most fans of most team will remember as the year the Cleveland Browns stood up and said “no more”.  The apathy and losing traditions stop today.  The league has been put on notice. Before you start freaking out that I’m putting the cart before the horse, there are some nuanced differences.  Browns fans have always said this was our year.  Ever since Byner’s fumble and Elway’s drive, Browns fans have always gone into every season claiming that this is the year we turn it around. Except in most cases, we are talking about pinning all of our hopes on names like Dennis Northcutt, Charlie Frye, Lee Suggs and a stable of names that now aren’t even footnotes in the annuls of the NFL timeline . Now this team has real talent.  And while they are preseason 28-30 out of 32 teams, every intelligent football fan knows that there aren’t 27 teams with better talent on the roster.

Now in the second week in August, we Browns fans, we NFL fans turn our sites to HBO’s Hard Knocks. There is no open QB competition.  No Josh Gordon (for what seem like obvious non substance abuse reasons) for the start of camp, but make no mistake about it.  This team is not your Daddy’s Browns and Hard Knocks should be required viewing for anyone who considers themselves a football fan.  The quiet before the storm.  Times, they are uh changin’.  Will you be one of the surprised fans or one of the ones that ‘saw this coming’.  The offseason, the draft, free agency, training camp have all been about the Browns. Do you really think the rest of the season isn’t going to follow suit? Just remember you saw it here first, if you didn’t already see it somewhere else previously.  The Browns will be the story of the 2018 NFL season. Unlike Jarvis Landry, I’m not willing to proclaim playoffs, but I do expect this team to still be in the playoff hunt in the latter third of the season.  A remarkable spot from where they were when Corey Coleman drops a sure fire first down and likely go ahead scoring opportunity in the final minutes against Pittsburgh in the last game of the season.  Good luck to your team (unless you are a fan of the Steelers, Ravens, or Patriots), but make no mistake about it, The Browns are coming. Like it or not.

 

Posted in Cleveland Browns, NFL | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GRIDIRON AND HARDWOOD Take Center Stage


Did You Miss Us While We Were Gone?

After a well deserved four-year hiatus, PRO HOOPS CENTRAL, is coming back with an expanded and exciting new format. Under my old friend and colleague Jason Jones’ guidance, we introduce to you the debut of GRIDIRON AND HARDWOOD POWERED BY PRO HOOPS CENTRAL. In the coming weeks and months G&H, will become your one-stop-shop, for all your NFL and NBA information.

Jason and company will keep you up to date with all the latest comings and goings on the field and the floor, but will also delve into hard-hitting issues that take place behind the scenes. Jason, has been a diehard fan of the NBA and NFL, since childhood, and has reported on both sports for over 15-years, on the radio and in print. Never shy about expressing his opinion, Jason will share his unique perspective on the games he loves.

As every true sports fan realizes, the results on the field and the floor are just one aspect of the NFL and NBA universes. These pages will be filled with commentary on hiring’s and firings, trades and free agent acquisitions. We have seen players from both the Association and the NFL, taking on social issues for the first time in decades, pleasing some fans and outraging others. You will see these issues taken on by a variety of writers, each with their own thoughts on the issues of the day, spanning the spectrum of opinion.

Readers will also recognize some familiar names in the coming weeks, including yours truly. We might even be able to talk Our Old Pal New York Vinnie, out of retirement, to the delight of some and consternation of others. Love him or hate him, New York Vinnie always leaves a mark and courts controversy on a regular basis.

We will also be asking for feedback from our readers, let us know the issues that truly matter to you. Although this site’s main target audience will consist of hard-core fans of football and basketball, we also hope to appeal to the more casual sports fans.

As training camps get underway in the NFL, we are anxiously anticipating the start of the 2018 campaign, and the stories that unfold between now and February. The Association will feature an Eastern Conference lacking LeBron James, for the first time since the 2003-2004 season.

Are the Eagles and Patriots be the teams to beat in the upcoming season, or will some young hungry franchise capture the nation’s imagination? Can teams such as the Cleveland Browns, finally find their way out of the primordial ooze they’ve been mired in, since the city acquired an expansion team in 1999? Optimism abounds in late summer each year in Cleveland, will the best fans in the NFL finally get rewarded for their loyalty?

LBJ taking his services to the Staples Center, will radically alter the dynamic in the East, with Boston and Philadelphia, leading the charge to become the new kings of the mountain. Can the Golden State Warriors, once again make it back to “The Show,” for their fifth straight appearance, or will the Houston Rockets get past the team from the Bay Area, and give Chris Paul and James Harden, their chance to grab the brass ring?

What ever happens between right now and late June, 2019, we hope to educate, entertain, and inform our readers. Welcome aboard for the ride!

Posted in GRIDIRON AND HARDWOOD, NBA, NFL | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Silver’s Decision A Total Victory For The Good Guys

Back in 2010, former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said that the team his club shared the arena with the Los Angeles Clippers, had Bad Karma. Jackson whom recently was named team president for the New York Knicks, is most likely pleased for the Association that the source of that Bad Karma had a lifetime ban from the NBA imposed on him this week. With a bold and decisive move NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gave the good guys an unmitigated victory, barring Clippers team owner Donald Sterling from all contact with his team and the Association.

He also asked the NBA Board Of Governors to force Sterling to sell his franchise, which requires three-quarters of the remaining team owners to vote in favor of the measure. Frankly, I would be surprised if any of the other team owners vote to support Sterling, lest they look like they supported the racist filth that emerged from the longtime owner’s mouth.

This was a pure win for good over evil, without any concessions or compromises. The Association has historically been far ahead of the curve on the subject of racial relations in professional sports. It was the NBA, that present the first all Black starting lineup, had a Black head coach back in the sixties as Bill Russell led his team to back to back NBA Championships. Basketball Hall Of Fame member Michael Jordan is the majority owner of the franchise in Charlotte.

The rookie Commissioner, knew that the statements made by Sterling were the complete opposite of the Association’s philosophy and as soon as they verified that it was the Clippers team owner on the leaked audio-tape, he made the right decision without hesitation.

It is highly probable that future generations will hail the move made by Silver on Tuesday  as a landmark decision. There may not have been a total victory of good over evil, since Jackie Robinson broke the color-line in MLB in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

If you still have any doubts over whether Donald Sterling deserved the punishment he received, “ESPN.com” reported on Friday that the Clippers’ owner told a reporter that he wished he had paid off his former mistress V. Stiviano off, so she would not have released the tape. That tells you all you really need to know.

Posted in 2013-2014 NBA Season, Commentary, NBA Analysis, NBA Off The Court Issues, NBA Team Owners | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment