Cleveland Browns: Why Mike Holmgren Is Playing with Fire...Sale

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Cleveland Browns: Why Mike Holmgren Is Playing with Fire...Sale
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Now that the Cleveland Browns have traded Brady Quinn to the Denver Broncos for two late-round draft picks and fullback Peyton Hillis, one must wonder about the direction of the Cleveland Browns.

Quinn The Eskimo

It seems that Cleveland's transactions this offseason have been less about the potential of the player and more about starting from scratch. 

The Browns have had plenty of talented players, but most have been lost in the mix of a directionless club with impatient fans.

The trade of Quinn comes after the Browns had acquired quarterback Seneca Wallace from the Seattle Seahawks and released quarterback Derek Anderson.

Nevertheless, it seems strange that the West Coast offense-minded Holmgren would bail on Brady Quinn. If anything, Quinn has the makings of a West Coast offense quarterback.

Either this trade means that Holmgren saw no potential in Quinn, Holmgren has jumped the gun, or Holmgren wants to start from scratch. 

I would think that the Browns would at least allow Quinn to compete in camp, but clearly, Holmgren wants no part of Quinn. 

I highly doubt that Holmgren traded Quinn to get the best return, because surely the Browns could have garnered the same price for Quinn in August as the Browns have just received in March.


Most of the subsequent acquisitions seem like mostly retreads. 

The Browns have also acquired quarterback Jake Delhomme, tight end Ben Watson, right tackle Tony Pashos, and linebacker Scott Fujita.

Delhomme is past his prime, Pashos has been hurt, and while Watson has been a serviceable pass catcher, he likely benefited from the New England system. Of course, Watson will now be in the system of the West Coast offense-minded Mike Holmgren.

In the past year, the Browns have also traded receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Both of whom had plenty of raw talent, but injuries and discontent with the team led the Browns to trade both players for very little in return.

The Browns have recently traded defensive tackle Corey Williams for a 5th round pick, and now the Browns have traded pass-rusher Kamerion Wimbley to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round pick.  Both movies could turn dividends for Cleveland, or the Browns could wind up with a case of seller's remorse.

Reportedly, the Browns will receive the 96th overall pick from the Raiders, a pick acquired by Oakland from New England in exchange for pass-rusher Derrick Burgess.

Trading Wimbley seems odd if you ask me. Holmgren is more familiar with the 4-3 base defense and yet has retained a head coach, Eric Mangini, who uses the 3-4 as the base defense. 

I'm led to believe that the Browns will maintain the 3-4, but wanted to move on from Wimbley.

Fan Paradigm

The Cleveland Browns are an interesting team to me, because I like to study teams that have rabid fan bases. The reason why is that I do believe that fans can be detrimental to the direction of a club.

Of course, without fans, the team would not exist.

And therein lies the rub. A franchise will often act in accordance with fans, regardless of whether you believe that. The club will do so because that club wants to sell tickets. If fans are unhappy—whether rationally or irrationally—the fans are less likely to buy tickets and merchandise. Thus, fan dissatisfaction is bad for business.

Remember what San Diego "home games" once looked like?

NFL fans in general have often been led to think that: "If my team doesn't want him, he must stink," or "If my team stinks, the whole team stinks."

The reality however is that one or two bad players can make otherwise good players look badly, because other players will be forced to pick up the slack made by the below average players. 

Consequently, a player deemed a dud can revive his career elsewhere. For example, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch had been a mega-dud with the Arizona Cardinals before he joined the Tennessee Titans where he has earned Pro Bowl berths and All-Pro honors.

What Do I Know?

With few exceptions, a foundation of players that minimize mistakes can make otherwise ordinary players look like stars.

In order to succeed in the NFL, it is better to have a roster filled with B-list players and a few A-list players, rather than a nucleus of expensive A-list players and a bevy of C-list players, because the NFL is a marathon not a sprint—despite the relatively short season.

Generally, A-list players try too hard for stats in order to cash-in, and that over-exertion can lead to injuries. B-list players are mostly concerned with just staying healthy and minimizing mistakes, because otherwise, they'd lose their job.

Yet, fans are typically more forgiving of a bad quarterback than the fans are of a bad receiver or halfback, even though all three can be reactive play-makers rather than proactive players.

By that I mean: A reactive play-maker will benefit from overlooked players, while a proactive play-maker will make and create plays.

A case in point is the Denver Broncos. 

Quarterback Kyle Orton increased his total number of passing yards by more than 1,000 yards in only one season with the Broncos. Not coincidentally, receiver Brandon Marshall has made over 100 catches per season with two different quarterbacks, and two different head coaches.

Many fans nevertheless will argue something to the effect of: The receiver is always dependent on the quarterback and that all offensive players are dependent on the quarterback.

The truth however is that the quarterback can be just as dependent on proactive play-makers such as Marshall. Just as a receiver, such as Indy's Pierre Garcon, can depend on a proactive play-maker such as Peyton Manning.

The Points

Mike Holmgren is a trusted name in the NFL, but it should be noted that it took a few years of struggling before Holmgren turned Seattle into a contender, while Holmgren had the good fortune of having QB Brett Favre and acquiring DE Reggie White in free agency when Holmgren was head coach in Green Bay.

The primary point of all this is that you can't always blame the players with the spotlight on them. Yet, when fans do that, the club will often react in haste to appease the fans, even though the real problem is systemic and must be dissected, not gilded over with the potential of a new player.

The secondary point of this article was to question whether Cleveland is an inhospitable city for rational moves by a sports franchise. I generally believe that irrational moves by sports clubs "trickles up" from the fan base. That is not to absolve sports executives of bad decisions. That is to say that sometimes a sports team needs to have the boldness to defy fan rancor and just have a "do or die" mentality.

It may be football, but it is still better to go down swinging than to be caught looking.

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