Great stuff from every Browns fan’s favorite mythical uncle, Terry Pluto. I’ve been reading Pluto for years and unlike a lot of other aging print sportswriters, he has demonstrated a wonderful humility in presenting his material.
Pluto’s even-handed approach, genuine appreciation for the game and wonderful sense of history brings a much needed balance to the often cynical beast that is the Cleveland sports media.
Reading Pluto on a Sunday morning is a true highlight, especially in the dark days of July. His take, which is hopefully the last one, on Donte Stallworth strays from being overly judgmental (we get it: Stallworth is a bum and/or has some bad luck), and focuses on bad decisions of another sort, i.e., the Browns’ rationale for signing and then retaining the enigmatic wideout.
What the Browns can learn from the Donte Stallworth mess…
1. When Donte Stallworth was signed in the spring of 2008, they were desperate to add a veteran receiver. Joe Jurevicius had informed the team that his knee was becoming a problem, and he was not sure if he could start.
The roster for receivers suddenly looked thin with Braylon Edwards, then a dropoff to the likes of Syndric Steptoe. They had traded their top three draft choices in 2008 for deals involving Brady Quinn, Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers.
I think both fans and the Phil Savage-led front office were still basking in the glow of the surprise 2007 offensive outbreak before it became apparent that, much like in 2009, the Browns’ receiver corps were dangerously thin.
Although when the Stallworth signing was announced, the popular sentiment was that this was a move that was going to push the Browns over the top. And most of us bought it.
Think of the possibilities that were going through your mind this time last year. Braylon and Donte stretching the defense on the outside, K2 and JJ down the middle. Syndric not playing….
3. When the Browns were considering Stallworth in the spring of 2008, they knew the following: a) He had been on three different teams in the previous three years; b) There were media reports that he was in the NFL substance abuse program; c) While he had appeared in all 16 games in three of the previous four seasons, he was known as somewhat fragile, prone to pulled leg muscles; and d) He was the 13th pick in the 2002 draft, and had not lived up to his potential.
It seems Savage was blinded by his desire to win now, based on the 2007 near-playoff results. I can never fault Savage for wanting to win, and based on his maverick trading record with the organization, it is apparent that he gave a great effort.
But the Stallworth signing is representative of his narrow-mindedness when it came to building a team for the future.
Of course, the Browns were not the only team who fell for Stallworth, or more correctly, his greatest asset—blinding speed.
Much like teams fall in love with a quarterback’s arm strength while ignoring more important intangibles (sound familiar?), Savage essentially had Al Davis-esque visions of DA throwing 60-yard bombs to Stallworth.
Of course, one pulled muscle later, and those dreams were extinguished.
5. It’s hard to know exactly what other teams were bidding for Stallworth, but it seems the Browns at some point were bidding against themselves.
For a guy in the NFL substance abuse program who has looking for a new team—again—they wrote a check for $4.5 million as a signing bonus.
They guaranteed him $10 million on a contract announced as $35 million over seven years. The Browns’ deal is not one to keep a player with a questionable attitude motivated.
There was one team who was certainly not in the bidding—the Patriots. Although Stallworth blossomed in the Patriots’ historic offense of 2007, much of his success was due to New England’s incredibly deep set of weapons surrounding him.
Plugging Stallworth into a system with Randy Moss and Wes Welker helped to inflate his value heading into free agency. Putting Stallworth with Braylon Edwards and not much else brought him back to reality.
6. When the front office and coaching staff was relieved after the 2008 season, the new regime faced their own decision on Stallworth. He was due a $4.5 million roster bonus on March 13.
They didn’t like Stallworth as a player (too soft and injury prone), and they also had doubts about his character. Stallworth caught only 17 passes in 11 games in 2008, averaging 10.0 yards per catch.
Even when healthy, he showed little reason to keep him around. But the new regime also was desperate for receivers, and decided to pay him the $4.5 million bonus.
They also feared cap problems, because even if they cut Stallworth, he still counted for $6.4 million on the salary cap.
Throwing out the unfortunate mess that Stallworth created for himself in March, this has to be considered one of the initial missteps of the new Mangini regime. The team was gutting some of Savage’s additions earlier in the year, and it seemed logical that Stallworth would be the next to go.
However, based on the incredibly thin depth at the position, thanks to Savage and the injury situation of Jurevicius, Mangini couldn’t pull the trigger.
Now, an indefinite suspension, two draft picks and two aging veterans later, the Browns find themselves almost where they started from.
7. Obviously, there was no way to know that Stallworth would end up in this type of legal trouble, suspended indefinitely by the league and destined to be cut by the Browns once they resolve some salary cap issues with this contract.
But both regimes compromised by overpaying for underachieving player with character problems because they hoped to squeeze something out of him — and they thought they had no other alternatives.
I have to wonder if the Browns draft day moves would have looked different if Stallworth had not become entangled in such a tragic situation.
While I’m confident that Mangini would have taken a wideout fairly high in the draft, I’m curious if he would have grabbed a second player, like he did with Mohammed Massaquoi.
It is likely that a second wideout would have been taken, but the pick could have come much later in the draft.
If you buy into the theory that the lack of depth at wide receiver forced the Browns hand on two different occasions, first with his initial signing and then by paying him a roster bonus a few months ago, it is quite remarkable to think that a fairly marginal talent has helped to dictate the team’s direction.
Going a step further, if the Browns’ draft day strategy was also affected by Stallworth’s tenuous status, one has to think that the presence of this player has created one of the most starcrossed situations in recent memory.
All this for a guy who runs fast.
And in other news…speaking of more projections….
The Browns have reported signed sixth-round pick RB James Davis (Clemson) to a four-year deal, according to Pro Football Talk.
According to Aaron Wilson of Ravens Insider and Pro Football Talk, the Cleveland Browns have signed RB James Davis to a four-year contract worth $1.85 million.
Davis has made a favorable impression early on in his rookie season, leading one AFC North front office exec to proclaim that the Browns got a “steal” in drafting him in the sixth round. While Davis struggled in a weak Clemson offense in 2008, he was widely considered to be a first-day pick going into that season.
I have been skeptical of the hype surrounding James Davis for two reasons:
1. Browns fans tend to soar to hyperbolic heights regarding the potential of running backs.
At different times in the past, Madre Hill was a unearthed gem, Ben Gay was the second coming, Lee Suggs was the new Leroy Kelly, William Green was a stable human being, Jerome Harrison is the new Leon Washington, and so it goes…
The arrival of James Davis reaches similar parallels.
2. Davis is a sixth-round draft pick.
However, considering the depth at the position, which has been largely untouched since the arrival of Jamal Lewis in 2007, it is possible that Davis can make the roster as a rookie, and could contribute in 2009.
His only real competition seems to be special teams veteran Noah Herron. As for his future with the team, signing a four-year contract seems to suggest that he has indeed shown some promise during the offseason.
And on an unrelated note, something that struck me as funny….
I learned while perusing Twitter that Bills safety Donte Whitner isn’t happy with us.
“Profootballtalk is a non credible site….me lose my job lol don’t u guys have better things to write about?” Whitner tweeted.
Whitner was responding to an item posted by Gregg Rosenthal regarding the possibility that Whitner could lose his starting job.
But what Whitner didn’t realize is that Gregg was merely citing a report from FOXSports.com.
Instead, then, Whitner should have tweeted is this: “FOXSports.com is a non credible site.”
Let’s see if he rectifies his error.
I’ve always admired the play of Donte Whitner and his recent tweet (I feel so dirty) blasting PFT.com further elevates his worth in my eyes. While I greatly enjoy the gonzo-rumor mongering tendencies of PFT.com, even they have to admit that they are not exactly a beacon of sports journalism.
One of PFT.com’s strategies in “breaking news” is to suggest that something is going to happen (a.k.a., throw it against the wall…), then if it sticks, great. If not, oh well. This strategy can be effective, but PFT’s success rate is eerily similar to a weak hitting shortstop’s batting average.
As for Whitner “rectifying” the situation, perhaps PFT should take the initial step and add a “rumor clarification” section to their fancy new NBC website. This way, no one’s feelings will be hurt.
By Cleveland Reboot, Blogger/SJ Contributing Author
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