The Super Bowl is Sunday. It is time to officially start getting excited for free agency and the NFL Draft, and with the Cleveland Browns this is definitely an exciting time. With the new front office power structure, headed by Football Czar Mike Holmgren and talented general manager Tom Heckert working together to rebuild the team from top to bottom, there will without a doubt, be a lot of new faces wearing Browns jerseys this year. Eric Mangini is still the head coach, and there is no doubting his influence on the roster moves, as the two in charge can’t just pick absolutely anyone they want, Mangini would have to approve of guys on some level, and would have to be able to work with them. On top of the list of needs for the Browns is Corner Back and Safety, both sides of the lines and Wide Receiver, or any type of offensive playmaker to help Joshua Cribbs and Jerome Harrison. Of course at this point it is all speculation and hearsay, and us creative sports blogger types running our mouths as if we know something. Yesterday on ESPN’s AFC North Blog run by James Walker, a former Browns writer for the Columbus Dispatch, had a brief article on how Tom Heckert is in charge of retooling the Browns offense.
He cites Heckert’s ability to find very productive offensive play makers, rather low in the draft, such as Eagles Tight End Brent Celek who was a 5th round steal, and Jason Avant who was a 4th rounder. Pro Bowl Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson and a very good running back, LeSean McCoy were both 2nd rounders that Heckert selected. Heckert is equally apt at picking defensive talent, but his focus is definitely more on the offensive side of the ball, which works out well with his teaming with Holmgren as they work towards possibly instilling a West Coast Offense. This will allow Mangini to push the front office duo to draft defensive players that he sees as good fits to the scheme he has in place, as his eyes are far more skilled in evaluating defensive players. That being said, it seems like the team is in good hands moving forward.
The gist of what Walker had to say, and I agree with him, is that the best part of what Heckert was doing in Philly was that he was finding great offensive talent in the later rounds, where the Browns happen to have a large amounts of draft picks this year. While this is not the best draft for the offensive side of the ball, but there is always talent to be had. Holmgren and Heckert are both very good at finding great players, and it seems Mangini is equally good at it for the defensive side of the ball. If you remember, Mangini was the coach of the Jets, who now have one of the best defenses in the NFL. Many of the guys contributing to that defense were brought in originally by Mangini.
Before the draft though, there is free agency. The Browns typically are quite active in this phase of the offseason, which has not always worked out best for the team the past few years. There have been many major free agency miscues and bad luck, to name a few, LeCharles Bentley, Donte Stallworth, Joe Jurivicious, Kevin Schaeffer. I would go on but it gets depressing. These failures have been on both sides of the ball, but hopefully with the new brain trust there will be positive gains through free agency this year. There is a potentially very good crop of free agents set to hit the market, and in a potentially uncapped year, the Browns have money to spend and could make a big splash. It has already been mentioned that the Browns could very well be suitors for Julius Peppers, and this would be one amazing pickup. First off though, the team needs to resign its own free agents to be, Brodney Pool, Jerome Harrison, D’Qwell Jackson, Lawrence Vickers and others. It will be interesting to see what the team does through free agency, and with the ties that the team now has through the front office to Philadelphia, Seattle and even Green Bay, that opens the team up to getting free agents from those organizations.
Everyone is familiar with the offensive struggles of the Cleveland Browns in the past 2 seasons. Statistically the team was the worst in the league this past season, and struggled in every facet of offensive. Towards the end of the season the running game came on strong behind Jerome Harrison and the offensive line’s love of run blocking. The left side of the line was amazing all year, especially in the last 4 weeks. Harrison finally got a chance to run consistently, after 3 season of toiling low on the depth chart, and cemented himself as an NFL runner. Running Back is probably the only position, other then Left Tackle, Left Guard and Center, that does not need to be upgraded. The QB situation is well documented. I won’t touch that right now. The receiving corps really struggled last year, no play makers emerged in the passing game and the Tight Ends were all primarily used for blocking purposes. Mangini’s first draft was not the most successful, but only time will tell how it turns out, but now with Heckert and Holmgren pulling the strings, things will get better quickly. The team will take less chances on talents that do not have a lot of upside, and will pick guys who have been more thoroughly scouted. Problem players, such as Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, should in theory now be a thing of the past, and the team will focus on picking guys who mesh well with the team and the scheme, guys who will thrive in Cleveland.
The team holds the 7th pick in the first round of the NFL draft this season, and holds 10 other picks throughout the draft, multiple picks in each round after the 3rd I think. There is plenty of room to grow through the draft, and free agency. One thing that might be cause for concern is that Heckert has publicly stated his like of Tim Tebow and has publicly praised his play. This might just be him being outwardly nice toward the Florida QB, but it kind of worries me, not that Tebow is worth a 1st round pick, or even a pick on the first day, I would still hate to see the team take a chance on him, unless they were going to make him a Tight End or something like that. But like I said, that could just be the way front office people talk about draft prospects publicly and hold their criticisms for their personal meetings. I hope so. But lets just sit back and enjoy the show, this should be a very big and very good offseason for the Browns as they look to build off a strong finish and move toward a new era.