7 Early Winners and Losers of the Cleveland Browns' Offseason
"...I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could. I'd put off everything else to fill my bus...the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people."— Jim Collins, Good to Great
The Cleveland Browns will fill their bus with some new faces in 2012. In less than two years, the organization managed to turn over 15 out of 22 starting positions inherited by head coach Pat Shurmur, upgrading at every slot.
Media theatrics revolving around the quarterback position monopolized much of the Browns' media coverage approaching and closely following the draft. While in the public eye characters like Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden play out the local sports soap opera, movers-and-shakers like team president Mike Holmgren, head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert will attract considerable attention if the 2012 edition of Extreme Makeover: Cleveland Browns Edition bucks the trend and delivers Cleveland a palatable football season.
With one of the NFL's most difficult schedules heading into the 2012 season, according to ESPN, these new-look Cleveland Browns have their work cut out for them.
In Mike Holmgren's third year at the helm, the former Super Bowl champion head coach's vision has began to matriculate and the front office has played their hand in the form of rookies Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Mitchell Schwartz.
Assigned to assimilate the rookie offensive trio to NFL speed is freshly-hired offensive coordinator Brad Childress, whose experience with Brett Favre wasn't quite as peachy as Holmgren's.
Childress replaces Shurmur as the team's primary play-caller, a role in which the rookie head coach appeared overwhelmed at times during the 2011 campaign.
Defensively, the selection of John Hughes out of the University of Cincinnati turned heads until 2011 rookie sensation Phil Taylor suffered a torn pectoral muscle during offseason training. Hughes projects to break in next to seasoned veteran Ahtyba Rubin at defensive tackle, though the Plain Dealer reports the 2011 first-rounder Taylor could return this year.
The Browns 2012 offseason entered like a lamb with a relatively quiet free agency period, but between injuries, personnel changes and the draft, by the time Cleveland hits the exhibition season the offseason could exit like a lion.
Loser: Colt McCoy
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
I broke into this gig warning everyone that McCoy was a decent quarterback on a God-awful team, and that the Browns would miserably fail to maximize the value of their opportunity if they selected the third player at the position within the top five overall.
Cleveland added the other-worldly Trent Richardson in the backfield first and waited until their 22nd overall, acquired from Atlanta during the 2011 draft, to upgrade the quarterback position as they saw fit.
Obviously Brandon Weeden struck a chord if front office men as experienced as Heckert and Holmgren knowingly stake their tenure in Cleveland on the 28-year-old rookie out of Oklahoma State.
What began as a distant cloud has grown to a wailing thunderstorm over McCoy's proverbial ranch, as the Browns palpably demonstrated their desire to move in a different direction.
Yet, what more could the third rounder out of Texas have achieved behind the sieve-like offensive line with the running game resting in the hands of more-famous-than-reliable Peyton Hillis?
Colt McCoy's QB rating over his first 16 starts: 77.5, 15 points higher than Mark Sanchez and one point higher than Sam Bradford's in his first 16 starts. In fact, McCoy's quarterback rating over his first 16 starts bested Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Tim Tebow, making McCoy the most successful passer of the 2010 draft class in his first 16 starts.
Inauspicious company in terms of passing, to be sure, but McCoy inexplicably played with the shortest rope of all the quarterbacks mentioned, despite playing with half the surrounding talent at his disposal compared to Clausen (Steve Smith) Sanchez or even Bradford.
Weeden could be a clear upgrade, but McCoy's experience in Cleveland is demonstrative of the NFL's cutthroat approach to the quarterback position. The early successes of rookie quarterbacks with division rivals Pittsburgh, Baltimore and now Cincinnati have significantly shortened Cleveland's patience for a work-in-progress under center.
The Akron Beacon Jounral reports that the Browns are shopping McCoy for minimal return, if true, a rash move that could cost the team dearly in production.
Loser: Seneca Wallace
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Seneca Wallace now operates under congressional-like scrutiny as a backup quarterback due $6 million over the next two years.
Unlike his feisty, I'm-going-to-beat-him-out approach to his relationship with McCoy, Wallace appeared to change his tune after Weeden joined the Browns via the draft, stating he would embrace a mentoring role toward the rookie quarterback only three years his junior.
The Plain Dealer reports that Wallace doesn't think there's enough room in Cleveland for himself, Weeden and McCoy (really just Wallace and McCoy, because, well, who are we kidding?), and he's probably right.
While the backup quarterback always enjoys better jersey sales in Cleveland than any other NFL city, a closer examination to metrics like performance, compensation and age quickly point to McCoy as the more sustainable option at backup quarterback.
At first glance, Wallace was a change-of-pace threat to the defense. Wallace was a breath of charismatic fresh air in comparison to the wet-rag McCoy. Yet ascetics aside, their results were startlingly similar.
DraftHistory.com's Chris Malumphy ran the numbers, and the reality is, McCoy is as good as Wallace at worst and still a potential starter with decent players at best.
With the same dreadful Cleveland Browns offense, Wallace was 1-6 and McCoy 6-15 as starters. Neither outcome is desirable, obviously, but McCoy's won as many career games as Wallace in less time than it took Seneca to make his first NFL start.
The writing should be on the wall, and if the Browns retain Wallace, the subjectivity of such a decision will hurt the franchise in the long run.
Loser: Phil Taylor
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Taylor's an obvious tick in the loser column as the result of the torn pectoral he sustained while bench-pressing last month, according to reports from NFL.com.
While the Browns remain optimistic that the second year stud could still return to impose his will on their defensive front this fall, obviously the rehabilitation and games missed are unfortunate for Taylor.
Phil Taylor, along with the Browns' recent string of defensive draft picks, including T.J. Ward, Joe Haden and Jabaal Sheard, have provided Cleveland with some much-needed intensity.
Aside from Joe Thomas, the Browns really could ill-afford to lose any player as much as Taylor. If there's any silver lining to his injury, it's that his absence could provide a rather clear assessment of the former Baylor Bear's real value to the franchise.
Rookies John Hughes out of Cincinnati and Billy Winn out of Boise State will fight to fill Taylor's spot, along with veteran candidates like Brian Schaefering, who has managed to survive both regime and formation changes to secure a spot on the roster for 2012.
Loser: Scott Fujita
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Scott Fujita will soon appeal his three-game suspension under NFL edict for his complicity in the Bounty-gate scandal, which has effectively ended Gregg Williams' career and marred the feel-good Super Bowl story of the 2009-10 New Orleans Saints.
The Plain Dealer reports that the NFLPA will lobby on Fujita's and other Saints players' behalf.
Whether a result of his own incompetence or playing behind the tough-as-thumbtacks Jayme Mitchell, Fujita often looked like the most-blocked linebacker in the NFL last season.
Either way, rookie James-Michael Johnson out of Nevada and youngster Kaluka Maiava have their sights set on the currently open outside linebacker spot.
Winner: Mike Holmgren
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Mike Holmgren arrived in Cleveland with the expectation that the three-time Super Bowl coach could wave his wand on the troubled franchise.
Certainly the Browns organization hired Holmgren with the intention of reversing their recent fortunes at the quarterback position. The Browns have been deficient at the position in all but two or three seasons in the modern era, and Mike Holmgren is one of the last remaining original Bill Walsh acolytes. Pat Shurmur is also an alleged quarterback-whisperer.
Either way, the guy they call "the Big Show," has managed to turn over the roster at an amazing rate, as we mentioned. Additionally, these new faces generally originate from the draft, as opposed to free agency, a far more sustainable operational and financial approach to re-building the once-proud franchise.
Win or lose, the 2012 Cleveland Browns are Mike Holmgren's team. Browns fans, that's a good thing.
Winner: Pat Shurmur
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Coach Shurmur entered the offseason with questions swirling around his team: Would he return as the top play-caller? Would the team trade up for the sensational Robert Griffin III?
Veteran offensive coordinator Brad Childress joins assistant Ray Rhodes, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and Holmgren as the fourth former NFL head coach in the young Pat Shurmur's ear.
With a brand-new quarterback, running back, right tackle and wide receiver from the draft and the affirmation of the brass' confidence, vis-a-vis Shurmur's retention of play-calling authority a la Andy Reid.
Childress easing the time-management burden on Shurmur by filling the OC position clearly indicates the Browns are clearly doing their best to set Shurmur up for success.
Whether Shurmur succeeds or fails over the long haul in Cleveland, the Browns appear determined to give Shurmur a fair shake and the players to win in the long term. This offseason demonstrated those priorities clearly as the Browns continued to build a foundation around Shurmur in terms of personnel and management.
Winner: Brandon Weeden
Jason Miller/Getty Images
NFLDraftScout.com revealed that most draftniks had Weeden in the second round, with some even slipping the OSU Cowboy to the third on their boards, while others predicted his late-first round selection.
Either way, at 28 years old and receiving his second opportunity in professional sports, Brandon Weeden has apparently lucked out again.
Or not, depending on how you view his situation. Weeden's predecessor, as we mentioned, played with under conditions resembling orders to chop down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring.
One need only Google image-search "Browns quarterback jersey," to see the myriad of Internet memesters lampooning the revolving door nature of the position in the wake of the stability of the Bernie Kosare era over a quarter-century ago.
Then again, who better to achieve an insurmountable task—leading the Cleveland Browns to NFL relevance—no one thought could possibly be achieved...than a guy no one thought could possibly achieve it?
You can follow me on Twitter: @StepanekButton