Cleveland Browns: State of the Franchise Heading into The 2011 Offseason
With the Cleveland Browns dropping a 20-10 decision to the hands of AFC North rival Baltimore, the wheels may have been set in motion for a tumultuous off-season overhaul ranging from the entire coaching staff and right down to the players themselves.
Unless the Browns can somehow defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers they would have failed in improving their win total of 5-11 last year.
Depending on which Cleveland Browns fan you talk to some will say that Manigni deserves another year because he and his staff have just finally implemented their players and had a solid draft this past April in taking free safety, T.J. Ward, cornerback, Eric Haden and offensive tackle Shawn Lauvao and want to see some form of stability.
While other fans will point out that while he won four straight games to end 2009, he didn't do enough to get the Browns over the hump this year and that his retaining of offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll is the main reason why the offense has been unable to produce with three different quarterbacks.
Sure it is unfair to be just speculating about Mangini's future like this, but the NFL is a results-driven, what-have-you-done-for-me lately business.
And in business your job is determined by your production. The Browns under Mangini's watch are only 10-21 in his two years as head coach.
So do not be surprised considering the outcome of the Pittsburgh game in Week 17 if Mangini is dismissed.
What this slide-show will cover is potential personnel moves that will be made in the off-season, ranging from a potential new head coach to possible offensive coordinators, free agency moves, to the 2011 NFL Draft. If I were in Mike Holmgren's shoes, these are the moves that I think should be made.
#1) Mike Holmgren Fires Eric Mangini, Brings in Jon Gruden
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This may be the single biggest move the Browns make in the off-season is deciding to give Eric Mangini another year or his walking papers after two years on the job.
For the longest time I have been personally preaching stability and continuity at the head coaching position, But I feel that this move is not only based on Mangini's short-comings but a change in offensive philosophy as Holmgren wants to have a true West Coast offensive-minded coach on the sidelines.
Gruden would be a great fit if Holmgren chooses to go that route and of course, this angle has been beaten to death not only here on B/R, but also in every other Northeast Ohio news outlet for quite sometime.
If you check out my "Eric Mangini: Hot Seat" Bleacher Report article, I stated that Gruden would be the logical choice to help develop the emerging Colt McCoy into another West Coast quarterback.
Do not be surprised by this move in the off-season.
#2) Mike Holmgren Retains Mangini, Brings in Ravens QB Coach, Jim Zorn
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This is purely hypothetical, but suppose that Mangini gets a stay of execution from Holmgren and that Holmgren's decides that Mangini has done enough to warrant another year.
Mike Holmgren decides to fire Brian Daboll and bring in Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach, Jim Zorn to help install the West Coast offense in Cleveland.
Once again this is just speculation at this point, but if Mangini is either fired or retained look for Jim Zorn's name to be thrown around as a possible new addition to the soon-to-be revamped Cleveland Browns coaching staff for 2011.
#3) Mike Holmgren Hires Josh McDaniels to Be The New Offensive Coordinator
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Now this is a major wildcard, but in the realm of Cleveland sports, we have seen more bizarre things happen.
Suppose that a former Canton, Ohio native who is the son of a Ohio high school coaching legend decides to come back home and coach his childhood team.
It could happen.
Think with a open mind for a moment and just picture the Browns overhauled coaching staff with former Denver Broncos head coach and John Caroll alumus, Josh McDaniels coming to Cleveland to join either Eric Mangini or possibly Jon Gruden as the Browns new offensive coordinator.
The offense that he ran in both New England and in Denver has roots in Mike Holmgrten's West Coast system and he did work with both New England quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Matt Cassel, so he has a history of working with developing QB's.
McDaniels was a big reason why Matt Cassel is the QB he is today in Kansas city and why Broncos QB, Kyle Orton is in the top five in passing this year.
Just a thought, so please consider that he can come in and help develop and work with McCoy. And I'm not even a fan of his at all.
#4) Look For Cleveland To Switch Back To a 4-3 Defense
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Before I start, I wish to make a slight retraction in a previous column, In my "Hot Seat" column I stated that Browns President, Mike Holmgren prefers a 3-4 defense, that is actually incorrect and for that I do apologize for the error.
Moving forward, I strongly feel that Cleveland will try to move back to it's traditional 4-3 defensive front, as quite plainly, they do not have the talent or linebackers to properly run a 3-4 defense.
Personally, I have always felt that you need s strong pass-rushing defensive line to get pressure on a QB, but the while the Browns have that in defensive end/nose tackle, Shaun Rogers, defensive end, Robaire Smith, nose tackle, Ahtyba Rubin and linebacker, Marcus Benard, they do not have the line-backing talent or personnel to run a 3-4 defense.
Just try and name one decent consistent Browns linebacker for me who can tackle properly and provide good run support, or drop back in coverage? That's what I thought,
When Holmgren decides to inevitably clean house, do not be surprised to hear the names of prominent 4-3 defensive coordinators mentioned in the off-season.
#5) Look For Cleveland To Target a No. 1 Receiver in Free Agency
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It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to logically deduce that the Browns have no talent at the wide receiver position and I have been one of the vocal and out-spoken critics of the clear deficiency during the whole season.
While many fans feel and need that the Browns need to go after a wide receiver in the draft, including myself, the Browns have too many other holes to fill in the linebacker, cornerback, defensive line, right side of the offensive line and running back spots to fill.
While I'm not saying that the Browns should NOT take a wide receiver in the draft, the wide receiver position generally takes two to three years to fully develop and for a team as talent-defeicent as Cleveland, they cannot afford to be held back while waiting for a wide-out to develop.
Instead, I see Cleveland addressing it's issues at the wideout position in free agency, and while names such as Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes, Malcom Floyd and James Jones are wide receivers I feel that the Browns should target.
I sense that they will go after a second-tier prospect such as my #1 ranked sleeper wideout, Earle Doucet of the Arizona Cardinals.
At the age of only 25, Doucet is young and can only continue to grow ands develop, there is no doubt that he has talent and despite being placed on injured reserve for the Cardinals, Doucet is the third leading receiver with 291 yards receiving and one touchdown on 26 receptions.
He has good speed, great hands and could be a shifty possession slot receiver or a possible home-run threat in Cleveland.
Look for the Browns to target Doucet if the other previously mentioned wideouts sign elsewhere.
#6) Look For Cleveland To Draft Defense in The First and Second Rounds
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While I feel that the wide receiver position may need a serious upgrade in the 2011 NFL draft, you win games with defense and after watching the Browns defense this whole season, I feel that the Browns defense, or lack there of, needs to be addressed this coming April.
One player whose name has been mentioned and may possibly shoot up Browns mock draft boards from Bleacher Report to ESPN is LSU Tigers cornerback/return specialist, Patrick Peterson.
Currently projected as a top five pick in the April, Peterson would help solidify the Browns secondary along with Ward and Haden for many years to come.
Not to say that Cleveland's defense is bad, but it is not exactly going to be confused with the Steel Curtain anytime soon, my observation is that along with the secondary, the defensive line needs to be addressed in the draft as well and get used to hearing the names of Iowa defensive tackle/end, Adrian Clayborn, North Carolina defensive end, Robert Quinn, Alabama defensive end, Marcell Dareus and Auburn defensive end, Nick Fairley in the next few months.
And after watching the Browns fail to get any real pressure on Ravens QB, Joe Flacco, I feel that this is the right direction for Cleveland to head into.
Linebacker is also a spot for the Browns to address so keep a ear out for names such as Texas A&M linebacker, Von Miller and Oklahoma linebacker, Jeremy Beal may also be targeted too as the Browns clearly lack a Brian Urlacher type of leader on defense.
#7) Look For Cleveland To Take a Wide Receiver in The Third Round.
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Another sleeper wideout mentioned in my "Sleeper Wide Receivers" column, Miami Hurricane wideout, Leonard Hankerson would be a absolute steal for Cleveland in the third round or later.
Drafting a wide receiver should still be a priority for Cleveland but maybe not in the first round and possibly the second, but most certainly the third round.
A four-year starter for the Miami Hurricanes, Hurricanes WR Leonard Hankerson is possibly the second-best sleeper prospect in the 2011 NFL Draft after Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles.
Hankerson is widely considered to be a mid-to-late first round pick or even a high second round pick as he has both the height at 6'3," and physical build of 220-lbs to handle the speed of the NFL.
Hankerson would give the Browns a tall, speedy and physical play-maker that can stretch the field and isn't afraid to mix it up in the middle.
Other names to keep an eye for in the third to fifth rounds are Hawai'i's Greg Salas and San Diego State's DeMarco Sampson.
#8) Expect Colt McCoy To Be Named The Starting QB in 2011
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This maybe the biggest failing and shortcoming of head coach, Eric Mangini, is his utter failure to commit to a quarterback, whether is was Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson, Eric Mangini did not commit to a starting QB in training camp from the start and his indecisiveness nearly wrecked the entire 2009 season, save for former Browns running back, Jerome Harrison's amazing four-game tear to help the Browns finish at 5-11.
In 2010, Mangini was once again coy in naming his starter form the start, while I can understand that Jake Delhomme would be your starter, but when Seneca Wallace outperforms Delhomme and you stick with Delhomme during a horrific three-game stretch in Buffalo, Miami and Carolina then Mangini should have named Colt McCoy his starter.
Currently, McCoy leads the Browns in passing yards with 1,367 yards and has thrown for five touchdowns and six interceptions for a QB rating of 81.9, McCoy has also completed a impressive 63.5% of his passes this season.
Whether it is Mangini, Gruden, Zorn or Morhniweg, the new coach must commit to Colt McCoy as the starting quarterback in Cleveland as he gives the Browns the best chance of winning every week.
#9) Look For RB Montario Hardesty To Run With a Vengeance
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Lost in all the hype and hysteria over fellow running back, Peyton Hillis' Pro Bowl-like breakout season is the running back many believed would be doing what Hillis is doing now in the former star running back out of Tennessee.
For Cleveland Browns running back, Montario Hardesty, It was a major setback for the 58th overall pick in the second round as he suffered a season ending knee injury in his only game in the preseason against the Chicago Bears.
While Hardesty has the talent, elusiveness and the patented spin-move to give the Browns a extra dimension, his presence will surely be a much needed boost to the Browns running game.
Obviously, Hillis cannot and will not have another monster year like this again with the NFL now knowing who he is, but a backfield of Hillis and Hardesty will be a major headache for opposing defense and a much needed element for the Browns running game and take the attention and pressure off of Peyton Hillis in 2011.
Just imagine a re-charged and focused Montario Hardesty in the same backfield with Peyton Hillis. Yeah, that's what I thought.
#10) Expect The Browns To Cut Womack And John St. Clair and Start Shawn Lauvao
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On the year, the Cleveland Browns offensive line has given up 32 sacks and 56 quarterback hits, and while those stats are a big reason for the high ankle injuries of all three starting QB's this season, it seems that the right side of the line is a big reason for those numbers as well.
One of the biggest reasons for the failure of the right side of the offensive line to protect is the inconsistent and shoddy play of Cleveland Browns right guard, Floyd Womack, who alongside with right tackle, John St. Clair makes the Browns right side collapse easier than a accordion.
Expect the Browns to make moves in the off-season by inserting Shawn Lauvao and cutting or flat-out releasing both Womack and St. Clair in the off-season.
# 11) Look For Cleveland to Cut QB, Jake Delhomme
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Without question the worst Cleveland free-agent signing since Andre Rison, Cleveland Browns QB, Jake Delhomme has been a monumental bust during his time in Cleveland.
Generally you don't toss around the word "bust" for a former QB that led an expansion team to the Super Bowl, but it is kinda easy in using that word when talking about Jake Delhomme who has tossed the most interceptions in the league since 2008 with 30.
Signed in the off-season to be the starting QB, Delhomme looked good in pre-season and was looking like the Jake Delhomme of 2002-2007, and then the regular season started.
In his four games with the Browns, Delhomme has thrown for 872 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions, for a horrific QB rating of 63.4. And do I need to mentioned the Buffalo game?
Delhomme is definitely NOT the answer at QB in Cleveland.
To think that Cleveland is paying Delhomme $14 million over the next two years, and Carolina is paying him ANOTHER $12.25 million.
It's a real shame that in today's economy that mediocrity gets rewarded, let alone paid so handsomely.
With the new coaching staff expected to come on board, look for the browns to release Delhomme in the off-season, much to the delight of relived Browns fans everywhere.
Conclusion : Expect Some Big Changes in Cleveland For 2011
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With the end of the regular season coming in one week, rumors will start to spread and wheels will be set in motion for change in Cleveland.
When Holmgren was signed last year as President, he was widely believed to want to try and coach again, clearly I don't see this happening and I firmly believe he will stay up in the front office.
But there will be some serious changes coming to Cleveland in 2011, most notably firing Eric Mangini and bringing in Jon Gruden to be his new head coach, and quite frankly, Holmgren owes no loyalty to Mangini as he didn't hire him in the first place.
Holmgren will look to build the Browns in his own image much like he built Seattle and Green Bay, my take on Holmgren will mold Cleveland is;
Head Coach : Jon Gruden (Tampa Bay)
Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator : Jim Zorn (Baltimore)
Quarterbacks Coach : Josh McDaniels (Denver)
Defensive Coordinator : Mike Caldwell (Philadelphia)
Wide Receivers Coach : Jim Robinson (Green Bay)
Offensive Line Coach : Brian Ferentz (New England)
Tight Ends Coach : Ben McAdoo (Green Bay)
Special Teams Coach : Mike Westhoff (New York Jets)
The projected 2011 Cleveland Browns offense will look like;
Quarterback : Colt McCoy/Seneca Wallace/Jeff Garcia
Running Back : Montario Hardesty/Peyton Hillis/Michael Bush
Tight End: Benjamin Watson/Evan Moore
Wide Receiver : Early Doucet/Mohammed Massaqoui/Leonard Hankerson/James Jones/Joshua Cribbs
Offensive Line : Joe Thomas/Eric Steinbach/Alex Mack/Tony Pashos/Shawn Lauvao
The projected 2011 Cleveland Browns defense will look like ;
Defensive Line : Ahytba Rubin/Marcus Spears/Shawn Rogers/Ray Edwards
Linebackers : Paul Posluzny/Scott Fujita/David Harris
Secondary : Joe Haden/Patrick Peterson/T.J Ward/Abe Elam
Special Teams : Joshua Cribbs/Eric Wright
Projected Record : 9-7 (AFC playoff contender)
This is just mere speculation at this point, but it could all be in the realm of possibility, either way, the Cleveland Browns 2011 off-season promises to be anything but dull.