In the second installment of State of the Franchise, RookieBlitz.com will scout the worst teams in the NFL and find out what they need to get back to the top of the standings. Our second team is the Cleveland Browns of the AFC North. Click here for our review of the St. Louis Rams.
Foundation: Coach Eric Mangini has a lot of holes on his team and it is still up in the air whether or not he will be the one dealing with this issue in 2010. As it stands now “The Mistake by the Lake” at least has a few bright spots. The offense is led by its above average offensive line. Left tackle Joe Thomas is one of the best in the league and is a great building block to start with. Next to Thomas, left guard Eric Steinbach is in the prime of his career and is locked up to a long-term deal. Also, rookie 1st round pick, Alex Mack has helped anchor this line at center. The only playmakers on offense are receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs, but neither are true number one receivers and are too inconsistent. Rookie running back James Davis will be looking for a fresh start in 2010 after being injured in 2009, but he does have the ability to contribute to the running game.
Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers hasn’t played to his potential this year but he does lack a supporting cast. Rogers could be dealt for more picks in 2010 or he could be the anchor of the defense next season, only time will tell. Inside linebacker, D’Qwell Jackson, was one of the leagues best until he got injured in week 6. His contract is up at season’s end, but no matter who is running this team, they will attempt to lock him up long-term. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley is having his best season since his rookie campaign and can contribute to the pass rush. Corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald still have another year under contract with the Browns after 2009. I believe they are decent corners but are overly exposed due to the lack of pressure the Browns put on opposing quarterbacks. I’d still look to upgrade McDonald if I could though. The Browns have to almost start from scratch when it comes to re-building, but they have some key players in a few key positions to start with. The only positions I can guarantee you the Browns won’t draft come April are left tackle, left guard and center. All other positions are up for grabs, but I think the Browns and the Rams are playing for rights to quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
Off-season Needs: QB, RB, WR, TE, RG, RT, DE, DT, OLB, ILB, CB, S
Quarterback: Current Status – Brady Quinn is under contract through 2011 and could receive a huge bonus if he takes 70% of the snaps in 2009. If the Browns allow this to happen it would be a huge mistake. After the next two weeks the Browns will know what they have in Brady Quinn when they play the Chargers and the Steelers. If Quinn plays 70% of the snaps I believe he will be too hard to trade because of his potential contract. So after the next two weeks, if you don’t like what you see, which they won’t, bench him for Anderson and try trading him. Derek Anderson is under contract through 2010 and will make between 7 and 9 million. I’d try and trade him too or simply release him before his roster bonus is due. Anderson is better suited to play with a lot of weapons, the Browns don’t have that. Anderson could be a solid starter in the league but not for the Browns.
Possible Future – As it currently stands now, the Browns would be picking 1st overall in the draft just as the Rams were when I wrote the article about them. This portion is basically the same because the Rams and Browns have a need at the quarterback position. However, the Browns aren’t guaranteed to draft a quarterback as the Rams appear to be. I’d go with Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame with that pick. Clausen appears to still be the most polished of the top quarterbacks coming out. Sam Bradford would be a major risk with the 1st overall pick due to his shoulder injury and because of the fact he doesn’t play under center, but you never know if Mangini is still calling the shots. Jake Locker is another option, but he doesn’t play under center and is not a proven winner. Locker is rising fast on many draft boards but he is still behind Clausen on mine.
The only quarterback currently in the league that could be an option over the guys they currently have is Michael Vick. I’d love to see it only for the idea that Vick would be playing in front of the Dawg Pound. At the very least it would allow the Browns to draft defense in the 1st round and would certainly bring a national buzz to the team. He would most likely put fans in the stands as well because he is an exciting player to watch. Vick has a career winning percent over 57%, so why not bring a winner to a losing franchise?
Other needs: If the Browns decide to cut ties with Quinn and Anderson, or pass on Clausen, Bradford, Locker, or Vick, quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Ryan Mallett, and Jevan Snead might be available in the 2nd round of the draft. Tebow would certainly bring a positive, winning attitude to Cleveland, but doesn’t project to be a good NFL quarterback. Some believe he could change the pro style game though. At the very least he would sell a ton of jersey’s. Mallett has a strong-arm and reminds me of Flacco, but isn’t as ready as Flacco was coming out of college. Snead at one point was a favorite to be the 1st overall pick but he has struggled as of late. Snead reminds me of Eli Manning, not because they both went to Ole Miss, but because at times they look very lost and make poor throws. One more quarterback to throw out there is Tony Pike, who could be available in round 3 or could perhaps rise to the 2nd round. He is from Cincinnati so I’m sure the Browns scouts have got a good look at this kid as he would be an instant hit with the fans. In my opinion, all would be an upgrade over Quinn. Running back Johnathan Dwyer could be a steal in round 2 for the Browns or they could wait on guys like Toby Gerhart, Ryan Mathews, or Evan Royster. They have too many needs I think to grab a receiver early, the only option I feel is if Dez Bryant falls to the 2nd round or if they draft Clausen and feel like re-uniting him with Golden Tate, who I feel is as talented as Percy Harvin. Browns will likely address the offensive line in the later rounds of the draft as they might even be able to lure solid free agents to the right side of their line. Only way they draft line early is if Vick or Tebow is their quarterback.
If the Browns pass on drafting a quarterback in the 1st round, defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy would be solid additions especially if they feel Rogers isn’t part of the re-building process. Both are disruptive and could change the game single-handedly. Solid linebackers that fit their scheme could be had after the 1st round, such players include, Jerry Hughes, Sergio Kindle, George Selvie, Eric Norwood, and Von Miller. I doubt they target a corner early in the draft as it appears to be a weak class in terms of stars and McDonald can get them by if they improve in other areas. They need lots of help at safety and there are options out there. If they fall out of the 1st overall pick, they could very well go for Eric Berry out of Tennessee. He is compared to Ed Reed, I wouldn’t go that far but he is certainly a playmaker. I don’t see any franchise taking a safety 1st overall but if Mangini is the coach, you never know. All in all, “The Mistake by the Lake” appears to be in such bad shape that no matter who they draft or sign, it will help them. If Holmgren or Parcells decide to sign on and take charge over the football operations, that would certainly change everything. Mike Holmgren appears to be the odds on favorite right now for the job.