In two weeks, the Cleveland Browns have parted ways with two big contracts.
Wide receiver Donte' Stallworth was cut the day after the Super Bowl, and running back Jamal Lewis was given his walking papers on Wednesday.
Neither cut should come as any surprise, as Stallworth’s contract was exorbitant for a guy who could barely make it on the field when he wasn’t suspended for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk, and Lewis is old.
In fact, Lewis should’ve never made the Browns' 2009 roster. His ability to explode through the line noticeably diminished during the 2008 season, and his 2009 preseason only showed he hadn’t gotten any faster during the offseason.
Head coach Eric Mangini made a lot of mistakes last year, but he made two really big ones: the retention of Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator after it became painfully obvious Daboll was in over his head, as well as keeping Lewis on the roster.
Lewis was a veteran, and maybe Mangini thought he would be taking too big a risk in cutting a veteran with so many accomplishments to his name. While Mangini likes to style himself after his mentor, Bill Belichick, the truth is Belichick would’ve jettisoned Lewis last year.
With few exceptions, Belichick doesn’t wait for his guys to break down before cutting them.
But the stats speak for themselves: Lewis had only 500 yards in nine games in 2009 with zero touchdowns. That’s right—Lewis didn’t see the end zone once even though the left side of the line opened holes the size of Mack trucks for him.
The problem was, Lewis' speed had diminished to the point that those holes had closed by the time he got there. His Gene Kelly stutter-step approach to the line didn't help, either.
Lewis’ backup, Jerome Harrison, had 862 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games played, with the bulk of those stats coming in games Lewis was injured.
Lewis fell prey to the curse of age and mileage. Most running backs in the league today aren’t much good past the age of 30, and Lewis, now 31, has reached old-timer status in running back years.
The wear and tear of being an “every down” back and the week-in, week-out punishment steal a running back’s “explosiveness” far earlier than it would an Olympic sprinter. LaDainian Tomlinson also is learning this hard lesson.
Lewis also had become a bit of a locker room cancer, but why beat a dead horse?
Team President Mike Holmgren made it clear on his first day on the job that he learned in Seattle you need to get your guys in place as quick as possible, and Lewis clearly wasn't going to be in the future of this team.
As the roster makeover continues, this inevitably brings up the quarterback position and Brady Quinn.
Considering how Quinn was treated last year, it should be apparent to everybody the quarterback decision no longer is Mangini’s to make. He botched that job last year, and it stands to reason, given Holmgren’s background, that Holmgren will be making the quarterback decisions going forward.
Does this mean Quinn is in?
Too early to say. The arguments for and against Quinn are compelling. His 2009 season was uneven at best, but his sampling still is very small, so there is room for improvement with the right coaches and the right environment.
Quinn, in 2009, didn’t look like the same quarterback the world saw in a few good games in 2008. The quarterback competition rivaled Romeo Crennel’s coin flip approach in its ineptness, and Mangini obviously had no confidence in Quinn, pulling him after 10 quarters.
But you always have to go back to coaching, and in this case, Daboll strikes again.
Free agency begins shortly. The Browns have to approach 2010 as a rebuilding year, but they also have to approach it with the playoffs in mind. To do anything less would be a disservice to the entire organization.
What this means is, you do the math on the playoffs now. The Browns finished 5-11 last year. It may seem a bit of a stretch, but the front office has to set a goal of finishing 9-7 in 2010.
Finishing with a 9-7 record means this team could make the playoffs, depending on what happens around them.
It’s a long shot, and it’s nothing anyone should put a lot of money on, but what Holmgren does with the roster makeover will go a long way to determining whether the Browns finish 7-9 or 9-7 in 2010.
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