Tag Archives: Cleveland Browns

NFL free agency 2017: As odd and frantic as ever

With the calendar finally turning over to March, NFL fans can celebrate the start of a new season. Well, those that like to watch the fire-sale frenzy that is free agency, at the very least.

As contracts expire and players are allowed to move freely to another team, it’s time for some smooching from GMs and coaches as they try to promise new hopefuls they’ll be big in their city. Most end with heartbreak but sometimes, they can be a match made in heaven.

Here’s a few thoughts on the first few days of free agency.

 

The best just got better

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The New England Patriots didn’t need any help in being good, NFL. You didn’t have to help them strengthen a team that won the whole damn thing last year, y’know?

They’ll never learn.

Bill Belichick is an absolute master of this game and strangely enough, it was two trades that actually impressed the most. Bringing in an exciting young receiver in former New Orleans Saints man Brandin Cooks to be their new number one option out wide for draft picks was a solid move even after picking up the almost-Super Bowl 49 MVP Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers.

Add to that the pickup of Pro Bowl corner Stephon Gilmore, from none other than a divisional rival in the Buffalo Bills, and former Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook to replace Martellus Bennett and that’s a nice little mix.

The focus shifts now to keeping Malcolm Butler and Dont’a Hightower, which would be a frightening thought to the rest of the NFL. Even with all the picks they used up, they could regain almost all of them by sending Jimmy Garapolo to the Cleveland Browns.

 

The poor got a little stronger

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Speaking of the Browns, they made baby steps toward climbing out of the basement.

They started with the offensive line, just in case they finally find someone to stand behind it. Kevin Zeitler weakens an opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals while adding a veteran to the group, J.C. Tretter is another solid addition and extension to Joel Bitonio finally puts this unit back to where they were before they lost Alex Mack last offseason.

Bringing in Kenny Britt was also a solid move, a relatively consistent performer over the last few seasons. Not trying to combine him with Terrell Pryor, especially when the former QB signed a reasonable deal with Washington, does seem a little odd but spend where you need to spend.

Some of that gigantic cap room was used on a blockbuster trade for Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler. While it’s likely they’ll bin the lobster as soon as possible, they bought a second round pick they can add to the pile of 11 selections in each of the next two drafts.

That booty should have enough value in it to tempt the Patriots to move Jimmy G to Ohio. With the champs moving so many picks, surely it’s only a matter of time?

 

There’s money if you’re an offensive lineman

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If you’re a decent lineman this March, you got paid.

Along with the aforementioned dynamic duo in Cleveland, the Los Angeles Chargers slapped a big deal on former Denver Broncos left tackle Russell Okung and the Minnesota Vikings paid a pretty penny to steal Riley Reiff off their fellow NFC North side, the Detroit Lions.

Neither of those played at a particularly high level last year but with needy teams come looser purse strings. Combine that with a draft reportedly thin on the ground at tackle and guard, anyone with experience with a bit of quality was treated like a diamond in the rough.

There’s no doubt some of these players have talent but to be paid $53 million over four years for Okung? That seems a little too steep of a price.

 

But there’s not so much for wide receivers

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Alshon Jeffery is a legitimate number one receiver in the NFL, yet teams looked at him like he’d kissed their wife right in front of them.

Credit to him for taking a prove-it deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, along with a “promise” to stay if he succeeds, but the PED violation hit his value harder than many expected it to. I mean, enhancing your performance is a big sin but players with worse records have earned plenty of bucks otherwise.

As it was mentioned earlier, the market for Pryor was also thinner than some anticipated. He looked a real threat since converting to a wideout but teams still stayed away from a potential one-season wonder.

Even DeSean Jackson settled for a secondary role as a deep threat in Tampa Bay, which shows there just wasn’t that much love for pass catchers this year. In fairness, the talent level was pretty thin too.

 

The quarterback market stay still, for now

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While the players were thin on the ground at quarterback in free agency, we are really still waiting for the big moves to happen, if they will at all.

Mike Glennon joined the Chicago Bears was the only real deal that has gone down so far. That’s not counting some backups signing up but that isn’t going to change a franchise overnight.

Jay Cutler was released into the wild and had a meeting with the New York Jets but there’s been no paperwork as of yet. He may look if anyone else pops their heads up and then decide if it’s even worth lacing up over a cushy retirement.

Jimmy G can’t stop teasing us on Instagram and in fairness, that one will likely rumble on until the draft next month. New England will like to squeeze every last bit of juice from that deal until Cleveland have no option to throw in a sweetner.

The final chip to fall anywhere is Tony Romo. The Dallas Cowboys are hoping someone is willing to trade, everyone is giggling at their poker face and are waiting for him to be released and go on a Peyton Manning-esque tour.

That one could go on and on as well, but whether he ends up staying in Texas with Houston or follows in Manning’s footsteps to Denver, it will be the story of the offseason.

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Is Jay Cutler’s NFL career over?

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Cutler has had a pretty poor career with the Bears. Source: blacksportsonline.com

If there is one thing that is for certain in the offseason in the NFL, Jay Cutler will no longer be playing for the Chicago Bears. Their unhappy marriage that has been in counselling for the past few years looks to finally be heading for divorce as the NFC North team look towards a rebuild.

According to NFL.com’s Ian Rappaport, the Bears are looking as to whether there is any trade interest for desperate teams before cutting the 11-year veteran. Unless someone feels that strongly about the former Denver Bronco draftee that they’d throw a seventh-round pick their way, expect him simply to be kicked to the curb in early March.

However, the story doesn’t end there. After a number of tough seasons and coming off an injury-hit year, Rappaport also mentioned that Cutler is considering retiring from football. At 33 and plenty of money in the bank, he could quite easily walk away from the game if he wanted to.

But should he?

There’s no doubt that the quarterback position is the most important position in the game. You can’t really win the Super Bowl with a serviceable quarterback as a very minimum and with so many teams still needing a signal caller, the question becomes whether there are 32 men better than Cutler.

If you look at his recent stats over his career, you have to say no. Other than this season, where he only played five games, he has always had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio including 21 TDs to 11 INTs in his 15-game season in 2015.

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Yes, even the majestic Brian Hoyer was better than him in spots last season. Source: Sports Illustrated.

Then you look at the statistics against the other two quarterbacks that deputised in his absence and you have to say there could be. Both Bryan Hoyer and Matt Barkley, who faded a little in his final two games, equalled or surpassed his output over the 2016 season, unforgivable against a journeyman and a youngster who has barely played any first-team snaps.

That wayward stance has followed Cutler for what seems like his entire career. There are moments where you think he could lead you to the promised land, others when the only place he’ll lead any coach is to the back of the line at the job centre.

Teams like the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans and the New York Jets will surely take a long, hard look at him. He’s never had the greatest offensive line, which is likely to be the case again in any of those teams and a dearth of weapons to throw to will also impact his inconsistent arm.

He’s not always the most accurate thrower, he’s also not the greatest deep ball shooter so an offence would have to be built around that. Will one of those rebuilding sides see the worth in changing their game to suit that long-term? Probably not but a contending team like the Texans who need just one more push might see it as a solid short-term risk.

The real question for most of those teams will be is there better out there? Not really. That more speaks to the talent level in the NFL and that in the draft, although there are a few interesting prospects but the Bears will be in that fight along with them.

Leaving Cutler in that space will be an interesting topic to watch over the course of the spring. If a team tries to go for him, he should give it a go but if there’s only sporadic interest or backup opportunities, it might be time for him to ride off into the sunset.

He might fall off the horse and frown about that on the way out, but that’s Jay Cutler for you. He’ll at least never be dull.

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NFL teams who won and lost in the first week of free agency

This past week in the NFL has been the classic case of hype and hope. Players are signed on big deals, some rightfully so and some not so deservingly, but we gift big awards on the hope that teams have done something right. However, at least on paper, here are the real winners and losers of free agency.

 

WINNERS

New York Giants

Vernon could be a difference maker.  Source: Fox Sports

Vernon could be a difference maker. Source: Fox Sports

The Giants defence was the definition of a mess last season. Bad at rushing the passer consistently, poor against the run and embarrassing against the pass so with a new look coaching team comes a new look defence to go with it.

They spent big on Olivier Vernon, who has 25.5 sacks in his past three years and should offer pressure opposite the resigned Jason Pierre Paul, who could either be great or absent. Damon Harrison was a solid pick-up from the team across town and Snacks should help shore up their porous run defence.

They also did well to pick up Janoris Jenkins from the LA Rams but there will still be a need to add a lot more to the secondary, which is where they may go in the draft. They spent high but brought in young guys that could hit their prime soon, which they are absolutely banking on.

 

Oakland Raiders

Irvin opposite Mack is a scary prospect.  Source: Bleacher Report

Irvin opposite Mack is a scary prospect. Source: Bleacher Report

With a young core, Oakland would have wanted to fill some holes with experienced veterans before looking ahead to the draft again. What the Black Hole will love is that is exactly what they have tried to do.

Bruce Irvin hasn’t set the world alight with 11.5 sacks in his past two years but adds a solid threat opposite the freakish athlete in Khalil Mack. Grabbing Sean Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs not only gives them a solid corner with playmaking ability, it weakens a divisional opponent.

Getting a great guard in Kelechi Osemele will help both the run and the pass game, especially if he’s not kicked out to tackle and while possibly being overpaid, he could be a foundation for their offensive line. There’s a lot to like despite a few risks, they could be a contender in a very interesting AFC West.

 

San Diego Chargers

Some even said Hayward was the Packers' best corner last year, could be a real steal.  Source: jsonline.com

Some even said Hayward was the Packers’ best corner last year, could be a real steal. Source: jsonline.com

This may be a little biased and ideally I would like to keep it quiet but it’s difficult to ignore that the Chargers made some really solid moves without an enormous amount of outlay or risk than others have.

With Malcolm Floyd retiring, Travis Benjamin looks like a solid replacement as a genuine deep threat to add to the likes of Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson, especially off an almost 1,000 yard season with a 14.1 yard average. Casey Hayward has been good as a slot corner for the Green Bay Packers and will be valuable either there or opposite Jason Verrett for San Diego.

Signing former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane finally fixes a problem position for years and he could be a real force in the run game. If they can shore up their line a little or find another playmaker in the secondary, Mike McCoy’s men could be a real bounceback candidate.

 

LOSERS

Cleveland Browns

Getting rid of Manziel hid a lot of bad moves for Cleveland.  Source: CBS

Getting rid of Manziel hid a lot of bad moves for Cleveland. Source: CBS

It looks like a complete rebuild job in Cleveland for Hue Jackson as he has almost zero talent left on an already thin squad of players.

Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and Travis Benjamin all left town on reasonable deals and with the Browns not shifting on their original offers, it seems like such a strange move. All might have been part of their 3-13 team last season but they were all solid pickups for those that did want them in their talent pool for the 2016 season.

There wasn’t much coming through the door either, other than the speculation that they are in the hunt for Colin Kaepernick. When your biggest news in the month of March is that you cut a player that couldn’t win games and couldn’t stop drinking, you know you’re in a big hole.

 

Denver Broncos

Osweiler must have felt shaded by the team, hence his departure.  Source: CBS

Osweiler must have felt shaded by the team, hence his departure. Source: CBS

The reigning Super Bowl champions were keen for a Hall of Fame quarterback to retire so they could usher in a new era, only for the incumbent player to jump ship for a team he feels give him a better chance to succeed.

Brock Osweiler was supposed to take the keys from Peyton Manning but after they didn’t want to risk too much on an iffy seven-game vet, they let someone else do it. It’s not that decision that’s bad, it’s the fact that they now have Mark Sanchez as their number one quarterback heading into the season.

Malik Jackson was paid heavily to leave, which isn’t too much of a blow but the market for decent-to-good pass rushers should worry them. It’s good DeMarcus Ware cut his base salary but Von Miller is going to be very expensive (yet worth it) and it’s hard to see the defence completely carrying the team next season.

 

Miami Dolphins

I just can't get excited about Miami signing Mario Williams.  Source: CBS

I just can’t get excited about Miami signing Mario Williams. Source: CBS

A team that always like to get involved in American Football’s version of March Madness, the Dolphins brought in plenty only to seem stagnant and older where it mattered.

They allowed Oliver Vernon to walk, signing 31-year-old Mario Williams who has never looked like the superstar he was briefly with the Houston Texans. Then they trade for the Philadelphia Eagles’ bust candidates in Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso in the hope they can rediscover their form, a risk move indeed.

Lamar Miller moved on, giving the team no run game and they didn’t sign any of the capable offensive lineman to shore up a pretty poor unit. They simply only filled holes they had created for themselves, fixing none of their real needs and some would even say downgrading for not much of a discount.

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How did Jeff Fisher hang on to the St Louis Rams job?

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress.  Source: theodysseyonline.com

Fisher has outstayed any welcome without much progress. Source: theodysseyonline.com

The St Louis Rams finished the 2015 regular season with a 7-9 record, their fourth season in a row under .500 with head coach Jeff Fisher at the helm yet there is not a great calling to make a change. In the modern NFL, that seems a little more than strange.

At the start of the year, they again flattered to deceive. They pulled out a gutsy performance against the Seattle Seahawks, fuelled by the young defensive tackle Aaron Donald having a monster game and showed everyone how could they could be this season.

In fact, against the two teams in their division heading to the post-season, they finished 3-1. They beat the Seahawks twice, they beat the Arizona Cardinals in their own back yard and yet again, they showed promise that they could hang with the best in their division.

However, against a relatively soft schedule, they also showed that they lacked the composure to beat the weaker teams of the NFL. Sure, they got wins against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but poor losses against the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens must sting when that would take you to a much more respectable 9-7.

Even against some good teams, they allowed their standards to slip enough just to lose. They lost close games to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings  but were soundly beaten by the likes of the Chicago Bears, who managed to put up 37 points, and they were humbled by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly.  Source: Fox Sports

Nick Foles has been beyond poor and they need a replacement swiftly. Source: Fox Sports

It’s clear that despite the positives coming from the superb rookie season of Todd Gurley, this teams needs a hell of a lot on offence. They finished last in yards on offence and last in passing yards, showing that they don’t just need a steady quarterback, they need wide receivers and tight ends.

No pass catcher went for more than 700 yards, which is poor but when only three made it over 450 yards and the next best gained 250, that’s pretty appalling. Only three wide receivers caught balls for touchdowns this year, only one tight end managed it and no running backs caught it for a score either.

The shoddy play at quarterback was clear for everyone as Nick Foles threw for just 2052 yards for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Case Keenum was slightly better, with 4 TDs to 1 INT in a couple of games but when the offensive line allows a league-best 18 sacks all season and the running back goes for 1100 yards in half of a season, that play is inexcusable and the trade was a huge mistake.

Their defence is exciting but at the same time, they finished 23rd in total yards allowed and were not good against the run or the pass. They got the quarterback a fair number of times, with 41 sacks and forced 20 fumbles, with 13 recovered but they were in the middle of the road on interceptions (13) and points allowed (20.6).

However, I think it’s fair to give their defence the benefit of the doubt. They were out there much more often thanks to poor offensive play and I actually think they have done pretty well considering how tired they must have been by the end of games.

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

Donald is one of the only bright spots this season, he has been sensational, Source: helmet2helmet.com

When you combine all of that together, especially since they haven’t had any success under Fisher, why isn’t his head on the chopping block? He’s fired five assistants, that doesn’t include the offensive co-ordinator or even the quarterback coach but does include the WR assistant, but that doesn’t seem like enough to me.

While other former basement dwellers in his division used their young talent to elevate them to beat the strong teams in their division, the Rams are consistently stuck in the middle ground searching for relevancy.

It could be that the Rams are already in a difficult division, it could be that they have some promising youngsters or it could just be that they do not want to upset the apple cart before a potential move to Los Angeles.

Despite any of that, Fisher’s seat has to be the hottest of all of them heading into 2016. Failure again, especially if they do get their move back to California, and there can be no excuses should he be fired.

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