Cleveland Browns


Todd GranthamBrowns Fire Defensive Coordinator

Tony Grossi has just reported that the Cleveland Browns have fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. This is a stunning move that will surely send out shockwaves through the Cleveland Browns community.

The Browns finished the season almost dead last (30th) in the NFL in total defense, in a bit of a reversal of performance level from past years. Not that the Browns defense has ever been stellar, but the defense was believed to be the strength of this team coming into the season. That simply wasn’t the case, as many players on the defense seemed to regress this season.

Apparently, that’s all it took to make Grantham the fall man for this season’s shortcomings in terms of making the post season. No successor has been named yet. Grossi writes,

“It’s a stunning descent for Grantham, who was given a two-year contract extension in June.

At the time, the youthful Grantham was viewed as a potential in-house replacement for coach Romeo Crennel if the 2007 season went down the sewer. In preseason, Grantham’s television interviews were closely monitored by the Browns’ brass to determine whether he “projected” as a head coach.

Those tentative plans went awry when two surprises occurred. Grantham’s defense was the unit that tanked and Crennel supervised the Browns to a 10-6 season.

In the third season under Grantham, the defense allowed 402 points (fourth-most in Browns history) and 5,753 total yards (second-most). It finished 21st in points after hovering at the bottom of the league rankings most of the season and was 30th in total yards allowed.”

My initial reaction was that this feels premature. The Browns are coming off their most successful season overall, depending on how you look at it, since either the 2002 season or since the Browns’ return in 1999. Despite the defense’s horrible rankings, they did seem to start turning things around towards the end of the season. Grantham had to deal with an aging, weak, and thin defensive line to begin with, and that only got worse with injuries. Also, I am a huge proponent of consistency within organizations.

All that being said, though, there’s no denying the defense has been on a downward trend every year since Grantham took over. His earlier successes were simply overcome by the total failures of his unit as the season progressed. It will be interesing to watch who emerges as the lead candidates to take over the position.

UPDATE:

After writing this post, I came across a couple stories with further background information on this move and the apparent rift that developed in Berea between RAC and Grantham. You can read John Taylor’s story here for the first look at the behind the scenes side of what happened here and you can read Barry McBride’s follow up story on the topic here. Both are excellent reads and should be looked at by anyone who is curious what exactly happened in this bizarre scenario.

Romeo Crennel and Phil SavageBrowns GM Says Extensions Coming

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported today that GM Phil Savage is working on a contract extension for head coach Romeo Crennel (is it just me, or does Mary Kay seem to be much more on the ball than Tony Grossi these days?). There was no mention of length of the possible extension, but Savage is open to options. As Mary Kay writes,

“The Browns plan to extend the contract of coach Romeo Crennel, as early as the next few days, Browns general manager Phil Savage said during his post-season news conference today in Berea.

“We have every intention of doing something with Romeo and we’ll do right by him,” said Savage. “Hopefully it will be addressed in the next few days. If not, then in the next few weeks.”

Savage said he’s open to options, including a multi-year extension. Crennel is under contract for two more seasons.”

On its surface, this would seem to squash my conspiracy theory that Rob Chudzinski is being groomed to eventually take over the reigns from Crennel. RAC still needs a lot of improvement as a tactical coach, but he’s proven that his connections to his players are his strong point. These players will play their hearts out for Crennel, and you can’t say that for all coaches. RAC is still growing, still relatively inexperienced as a head coach, and for now that’s fine. But with an extension, the pressure will be on. The Browns must show improvement next season and anything short of a spot in the playoffs will be totally unacceptable.

I’m also going to go out on a limb and keep my Chudzinski theory alive as well. Crennel is currently under contract for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. I have a funny feeling the Browns will give Crennel a 2 year extension through 2011, which also happens to be the year Chudzinski’s recent extension runs out. But alas, at the end, perhaps it’s just wishful thinking on my part.

The other newsworthy story in the article is that Savage is also planning on signing DA to an extension. According to Savage,

“We have a couple of different options for Derek. We’re more apt to want to do something with Derek that would take him beyond the 2008 season. We want to go into next season with both of our quarterbacks, plus Ken Dorsey intact. We want to make sure we stay strong at that position for at least one more year.”

Um…..what?!? A couple thoughts on this. First, why are you more apt to do something with DA beyond 2008? There’s no need to. You have all the options in the world. Why eliminate all the options on your own? Why not let this play out and see if anyone makes you any offers for DA? As I have said before, the smart thing to do is to max tender DA for next season. If someone wants to give up their 1st and 3rd round picks for him, you consider it. If you don’t want the picks, you match the offer. If after 2008, you still want DA and you can’t immediately re-sign him, you can use your franchise tag on him. I do not understand what the rush is and why Savage feels the need to forfeit all of his options.

The second thing that comes to mind is when Savage says ‘We want to go into next season with both of our quarterbacks, plus Ken Dorsey intact. We want to make sure we stay strong at that position for at least one more year.’ Well, under the plan I outlined, you do precisely that. That’s the beauty of it…you can go into next season with the same group of QBs if you want, but at least it leaves you with flexibility as it continues to play out. There’s no need whatsoever to rush this.

I will say this, though. Phil Savage has earned the benefit of the doubt. He’s made so many great moves since taking over and he has the team heading in the right direction. So for now, he’s gets this common courtesy from me. I will wait and see what happens. Savage is a better talent evaluator than I am, and he must see something more in DA than I do that is causing him to want to sign DA now before his price tag is driven up too high.

One final thought on this, though. If DA really is signed to a long term extension, then Brady Quinn better go on the trade block quickly. The Browns gave up too much to move back into the first round last year to take Quinn to get nothing in return. I talked a while back about some teams who may have an interest in upgrading their QB, and most of those still hold. There will be some teams that would consider taking Quinn and giving up a little something in return. Savage said after day one of the draft last year that if the Browns were ever going to turn the corner, that draft was going to be the key component. Well, it’s looking like that’s the case, only not entirely in the way he thought. Rather than becoming the franchise QB he envisioned, Quinn is becoming little more than trade value riding on the Browns’ bench.

I’m definitely in favor of keeping the options open at QB for now, but if DA is signed long term, that changes everything. I understand injuries can happen in the NFL and having a viable backup is invaluable, but the team just simply gave up too much for Quinn for him to just be a backup. So I will defer to Savage’s better judgment for now, but I am making it known that I am very, very skeptical of this move.

Joe ThomasBrowns O-Lineman Heading To Hawaii

The Cleveland Browns’ rookie sensation, left tackle Joe Thomas has been served a bit of justice. Despite being robbed of his rightful spot on the Pro Bowl team by both voters and peers alike, despite being regarded as one of the 2 or 3 best left tackles in the entire NFL, Thomas is still getting his rightful spot on the AFC squad after all.

Tackle Jason Peters of Buffalo is injured and cannot play, and so Thomas, the first alternate, has been called up to take his spot. Thomas is the first Browns’ lineman to make the Pro Bowl since 1987.

For his part, Thomas is obviously excited, saying:

“I am thrilled to be selected for the Pro Bowl and for the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the NFL. I understand that being selected as an alternate means that someone else could not attend, so I wish the best for Jason Peters. But this is truly an honor and I will do my best to represent the Browns and the AFC in Hawaii.”

Joe Thomas becomes the third member of the Browns to make the Pro Bowl this season, joining Braylon Edwards and Josh Cribbs.

Congrats to JT on a much deserved spot on the Pro Bowl roster. I’m not alone in feeling this is just the first of many, many Pro Bowls in the young man’s career. As long as his production stays at this level, he will be a staple in the Pro Bowl for years to come.

Senator TresselHere’s To Hoping The Senator Can Repeat This Image And Erase Last Year’s Image

When I started this blog, I made the very difficult decision to just stick to professional sports. It wasn’t that I loved Cleveland sports teams more than my alma mater’s sports teams. Rather, it was an issue of time. I wanted my site to focused and, for the most part, to the point. I felt my posts would suffer from the overkill of trying to write all my thoughts on Ohio State sports.

But tonight is an exception. As my beloved Buckeyes get ready to try this thing again this year, I just want to wish the team the best of luck. I give OSU the advantage in RB and OL. I give LSU the advantage at WR. QB is a toss up. I give OSU the advantage all around on defense. Sure, Dorsey is amazing, but the Buckeyes’ front four is the best in the nation.

I’ll let you decipher for yourself what this means. I’m not going to make a prediction this year. I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I can bet, though, is that there’s no way this game ends up 41-14 in favor of LSU. Go Bucks!!!

Coach Chud Going NowhereBrowns Extend Offensive Coordinator’s Contract, Chudzinski Declines Ravens’ Interview Offer

In what can only be described as a most fortunate turn of events, the Cleveland Browns have given offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski an extension, and Coach Chud has turned down the Baltimore Ravens’ request to interview him for their vacant head coaching position.

The story appears in the Baltimore Sun, where Jamison Hensley writes,

“Cleveland offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski won’t interview for the Ravens’ head coaching vacancy today because he got a contract extension from the Browns, a league source said.

Chudzinski joins Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as coaches who have removed themselves from the Ravens’ list.”

This is great news for the Cleveland Browns organization. Not only does it solidify the Browns’ offensive system for the next year, it also gives the Browns the option of handing the team over to Coach Chud in 2 years should they decide that Romeo Crennel is not the man for the job. Now that Coach Chud is going to be sticking around, it should be interesting to see if the Browns extend Coach Crennel’s contract.

Chudzinski, a native of Toledo, Ohio who grew up rooting for the Browns, could be in a situation where the team is grooming him to be their next head coach, similar to the Jason Garrett situation with the Dallas Cowboys. Two years ago Coach Chud turned down a chance to call plays for LaDainian Tomlinson to come home to the Browns, despite the fact he would be joining an offense that was inept at best and a coach who was expected to be on the hot seat by week 5. Instead, he revamped the offense and turned it into one of the NFL’s elite offenses, even despite the fact he was using a discarded QB whom the Browns picked up off waivers. Chudzinski has shown a great mind for football and a vision that is neccessary to be a successful coach. So it is not out of the realm of possibilities that the Browns are looking to eventually hand the team over to Chudzinski, and that could be why he turned down the Ravens’ interview offer.

Or else he simply turned it down because it was the decent thing to do, knowing full well he wouldn’t accept the job and/or he was an outsider at best in the odds of winning the job. But a small part of me still can’t help but think, why not interview? It would be good practice for when he’s ready to really interview for jobs. It would seem he has every reason in the world to interview if his aspirations are to someday be a head coach somewhere else. But if the Browns’ organization’s internal plans are to eventually have Chudzinski take over the team, then there would be no reason to interview.

Either way, this is a good day for the Browns, and for now we can leave all speculation behind. For once, the Browns look to be returning their coaching staff in tact from the previous season…a sign of cohesiveness and stability that has long been lacking in this organization.

Coach ChudOne coach extending stay, one coach leaving?

It hasn’t taken long, but the coaching carousel has begun to spin, and a couple of the Browns coaches are on the ride.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, the Ravens will be interviewing Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for their vacant head coaching position, while the Browns will be looking to extend head coach Romeo Crennel’s for up to possibly 3 seasons.

I said in my last post that we should expect Coach Chud to have an interview or two, so this is no big surprise. I also predicted that he would be unlikely to get a job quite yet, and I still 70% believe that, although I feel like Coach Chud might be exactly the kind of candidate the Ravens are looking for.

Regardless, you gotta believe guys like Rex Ryan and Jason Garrett will be the top candidates for this job. Ryan for his familiarity with the franchise and Garrett for his experience. He has been groomed as a head coach candidate for several years now, and is believed to be one of the brightest young coaches in the NFL. He would seem to be more head coach-ready than Coach Chud at this point in time. Other candidates for the job, according to Cabot, include Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

Here’s GM Phil Savage’s take on the situation:

“Obviously with the turnaround we’ve had, and with the way the offense played, Rob is going to be sought after by a lot of teams either this year or in years to come. . . When you have success you have to anticipate losing your good people.”

The only thing that bothers me about this is the thought of Coach Chud leading the hated Ravens. I really like Chudzinski a lot, and I think he is going to definitely be successful wherever he coaches. I just hope that it is not with the Baltimore Ravens.

As for the Romeo situation, Cabot writes:

“Meanwhile, the Browns have begun talks on a three-year contract extension for coach Romeo Crennel, said Joe Linta, the coach’s agent.

Crennel, who went 10-6 this season, has two years remaining on his five-year deal.

“The talks were very positive,” Linta said. “I really believe [Browns owner] Randy Lerner will want to make Romeo the face of the franchise for the next five years. Hopefully we can work toward that end.”

Linta said an extension for Crennel, who earned consideration for coach of the year this season after the Browns went from 4-12 last year to 10-6, will send a great signal to potential free agents that there’s stability in this franchise.”

I think this is a great proactive move by the Browns. Look, we all know Romeo is far from the best coach in the NFL, and he had more than his fair share of really bad moves this year (remember the double time out challenge at Pittsburgh???), but as I said in my season recap, stability is the key to any successful franchise. I can’t help but think of the way the Steelers showed so much patience with Bill Cowher when he was a young coach with them. He made his fair share of dumb coaching moves, but the Steelers stuck with him, kept extending his contract, demonstrated franchise stability, and built success around it. I feel like that’s the ultimate model of a winning franchise, and I have no shame in saying I hope the Browns emulate the Steelers’ business style.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the Crennel talks, but I once again feel like the Browns are starting to do things the right way. It feels crazy writing these words in describing the Browns, but it also feels good. So mark this website as being in favor of this decision by the Browns. You can hold me to it.

Braylon Edwards Thanks FansBrowns Look To Build On 2007 To Bring Success In 2008

Well, it’s hard to believe it has come to this. I wasn’t expecting to write this column so soon. I expected the Browns to have at least one game in 2008. But alas, (no) thanks to Jim Sorgi’s shortcomings as a QB, the Browns are done. No playoffs this year. So what are we to make of this 2007 season? It’s hard to have any bad feelings about a team that went 10-6. This team exceeded all expectations, including our own, and made this one of the most memorable and most fun seasons in recent history.

Before I get too far ahead, though, I want to say one thing about the way this shaped out. Watching that Tennessee team barely beat the Colts’ reserves to get into the playoffs and knock the Browns out was a very hollow and uneasy feeling. It just didn’t feel right. You’re going to hear many people say ‘hey, it’s the Browns’ own fault….they should have just taken care of their own business’. Of course that’s true. Nobody is going to deny that the Browns should have beat a pathetic Raiders team, they should have held their huge lead over Pittsburgh, and they shouldn’t have let themselves fall so far behind a struggling Cincinnati team. The Browns had their chances. The thing is, though, the Browns never had the luxury of playing anybody’s backups. Even when the Colts starters were briefly in the game, it was quite clear that outside of Bob Sanders, nobody cared about playing well at all. This was a huge advantage for the Titans and made for an uneven playing field in the playoff race. I don’t know if there’s a way to fix this, and so I guess this is just meaningless complaining on my part….but I will always feel like this team was unfairly kept out of the playoffs.

None the less, 2007 feels like a good season. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that at the end of the day, these moral victories for our Cleveland teams are starting to get old. We’ve spent so much time talking about how great this past year has been for the Indians, Cavaliers, and Browns. For sure, all three teams gave us something to be proud of. But when do we stop feeling happy just to be there….happy just to be relevant again….and when do we start demanding just a little more from our teams? Would the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Cowboys, Packers, etc. be happy to be 10-6 and not in the playoffs? Would they be waxing poetic about how much fun the season was? Of course not. That’s the power of context. Somewhere along the line, teams like the Patriots and Colts who had been long suffering franchises similar to the Browns turned that corner and created a standard of winning that permeates throughout the players, coaches, front offices, franchises, and cities. So when I look back at 2007, rather than be too excited about it or too negative about it, I will mainly just hope to look at it as the first step….that monumental season in which things tipped and the team turned that corner and built on it and took the next step to becoming a true winning franchise in the NFL.

So with that in mind, lets take a look ahead and see how this team is going to look in 2008 and how this franchise can go from a 10-6 team to an 11 to 13 win team.

Coaches

Head coach Romeo Crennel will be closely watched. Speculation still runs deep that the Tuna is going to bring RAC to Miami to head up the rebuilding efforts. Obviously RAC is very close to Parcells and the thought of working for him has to be an intriguing idea. But why would you want to start over from scratch? You’ve weathered the storm in Cleveland and now have a team on the brink of winning. Outside of working for his mentor again, there are no other compelling reasons to go to Miami and try to build from a team with no identity. From Cleveland’s point of view, you have to want RAC back. I have been openly critical of RAC’s coaching all year. I have at many points felt like the Browns were winning in spite of his coaching rather than because of his coaching. With that said, though, there’s still no price you can put on continuity. Ask San Diego about that. The thought of having to start over with a new system is a frightening thought. Romeo is still a first-time head coach and he’s learning on the job. The players absolutely love the guy and they play for him. Just for the sake of speculation, should RAC really follow the Tuna to Miami, what would the Browns do? I suspect they would try to lure Bill Cowher back, although unless they were to give him GM powers as well, Cowher probably won’t be coming out of retirement this soon, and getting rid of Phil Savage would be unacceptable. The Browns might try to turn the team over to Marty Schottenheimer and let him bring his winning identity to the team. Perhaps they would promote from within to try to maintain as much continuity as possible. In that case, Todd Grantham and Rob Chudzinski would be the lead candidates, with Chud likely being the first option. In the end, though, I fully expect RAC to be the head coach in 2008. I would like to see RAC work on his clock management skills, including using more discretion in wasting time outs and challenges, and I would like to see him work on team discipline. There were just far too many penalties on this team this season.

A year ago, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was considered to be one of the real up and coming coordinators in the NFL. His name was mentioned in whispers as an outside head coaching candidate. The Browns’ defense looked like the only respectable aspect of the team. We fans tried to justify the defense’s poor statistics by rationalizing that many of the yards given up seemed to come late in games when the defense was gassed because the Browns’ offense was unable to stay on the field. However, this season, the defense was shown for what it truly was…..a unit totally unable to generate consistent pressure on opposing QBs and totally unable to consistently slow down the running game. RBs routinely topped 100 yards against this defense, a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL. A good portion of this blame has to fall at Grantham’s feet. In no way should he be fired yet, but he needs to figure out a way to get more out of the defense in 2008, or else his time will be very limited beyond 2008.

On the offensive side of the ball, coordinator Rob Chudzinski came over from San Diego this season and instantly developed an offense that looked like a real NFL offense. They showed a lot of motion before the snap, mixed up formations nicely, and had a great blend of passing and running plays. The offense exuded confidence and they put up points in a big time way. The success of this unit vaulted Coach Chud into the hierarchy of head coaching candidates. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he was interviewed for a job or two this offseason, but I would be surprised if he actually landed any of them. Another year or two like this one, though, and Chud will be a head coach somewhere. Not yet, though, as I suspect Coach Chud will still be the offensive coordinator in 2008. The main thing I think for Coach Chud to work on would be staying true to the run longer into the games. On a couple occasions this season the Browns seemed to abandon the run way too early. I’d like to see that change a bit in 2008. Otherwise, a great job by Coach Chudzinski this season and I see no reason to doubt the same will stand for next year.

Overall, the coaching staff has a good chance of coming back completely intact next season. This will be key in maintaining the continuity that will ideally lead to even further success next season.

Offense

Here’s a look at the 2007 team, with their 2008 salaries.

  • QBs
    • Derek Anderson (restricted free agent)
    • Brady Quinn ($1.43 million; signed through 2010)
    • Ken Dorsey (terms undisclosed; signed through 2010)
  • RBs
    • Jamal Lewis (free agent)
    • Jason Wright ($927,000; signed through 2008)
    • Jerome Harrison ($445,000; signed through 2009)
  • FBs
    • Lawrence Vikers ($445,000; 2009)
  • WRs
    • Braylon Edwards ($931,000; signed through 2009)
    • Joe Jurevicius ($1.9 million; signed through 2009)
    • Tim Carter (free agent)
    • Joshua Cribbs ($520,000; signed through 2012)
    • Travis Wilson ($445,000; signed through 2009)
  • TEs
    • Kellen Winslow ($1.0175 million; signed through 2010)
    • Steve Heiden (terms undisclosed; signed through 2011)
    • Darnell Dinkins ($605,000; signed through 2008)
  • OL
    • Joe Thomas ($1.45 million + $3 million roster bonus ($3.11 million cap charge); signed through 2012)
    • Eric Steinbach (approx $7.5 million; signed through 2013)
    • Hank Fraley (terms undisclosed; signed through 2010)
    • Ryan Tucker ($2.3 million; signed through 2009)
    • Kevin Shaffer ($2.9 million ($8 million cap charge if he is cut or traded in this offseason; signed through 2012)
    • LeCharles Bentley (restructured terms undisclosed; signed through 2008)
    • Seth McKinney (free agent)
  • K
    • Phil Dawson ($950,000; signed through 2009)

The Browns are fortunate to have a lot of stability in this off season. The key free agents on offense are only DA and Jamal Lewis. I’ve discussed in the past what I think the Browns should do with DA this offseason. I am of the belief that giving him a long term contract right now is crazy. I like the way the Cowboys handled their situation with Tony Romo, showing great patience in waiting until they were 100% certain Romo was going to be the QB they thought he was before signing him to the long term deal. The Browns should take note of how that was handled. In terms of improving this team in the future, they have to think about getting back into the first round of the draft this year. So why not dangle DA out there and see if anyone bites? The Browns can still match any offers if they deem the draft pick too low. They hold all the power in this situation and they need to flex that power and look at all options.

As for RB, it sounds like Jamal Lewis will be back, and I think that’s a good thing. He was so strong for this team this year, rushing for 1,304 yards (only Jim Brown himself has rushed for more yards in a Browns uniform) and developing into a powerful leader for the offense. It’s important to bring him back. But as I said before the holiday break, the Browns have to keep an eye on their future as well. Jamal is getting dangerously close to the drop off line and it’s hard to imagine him still being the same kind of RB three years from now. Just something to think about. For now, though, the Browns are working on getting a new deal done for Jamal, and he should be back next year.

Which means that perhaps the only significant change on offense could be the 3rd WR. Tim Carter is a free agent, and I’m not sure the Browns are going to bring him back. They will need to decide if either Josh Cribbs or Travis Wilson are able to step into that role. I will say this about Cribbs…..the Browns were lucky to sign him to an extension last year. They have him locked up for only slightly more than the league minimum through 2012. It’s hard to imagine Cribbs being willing to return kicks, return punts, play on special teams, and be the main #3 WR all for little more than $500,000. I am only speculating, but you could potentially see a hold out for a restructured deal if Cribbs becomes the #3 WR next year, but that’s a story for another time. The Browns could also potentially look for another WR this offseason with Jurevicius saying he only plans on playing one more year and with so much uncertaintity in the #3 role. Will the Browns shell out money for a guy like Bernard Berrian or Patrick Crayton? Probably not, but a guy like Bryant Johnson or Drew Carter, or even maybe Justin Gage could be an interesting option for the Browns. The Browns remain paper thin at WR and are a Braylon Edwards injury away from lacking a serious threat at WR, so I’d be shocked if the Browns didn’t do something to bolster the WR group.

Otherwise, the offense is pretty well set at OL, TE, and FB. 2008 will be LeCharles Bentley’s last chance to play in a Cleveland Browns uniform, but it’s hard to predict what kind of role he could step into even if healthy. Will he supplant Hank Fraley, one of the leaders and captains of the offense, and take over at center? That’s hard to guess, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him share some time at right guard next year.

Defense

And here’s how the defense looks with 2008 salaries.

  • DL
    • Robaire Smith (terms undisclosed; signed through 2010)
    • Orpheus Roye ($3 million; signed through 2008)
    • Simon Fraser (restricted free agent)
    • Bobby Hamilton (all terms undisclosed)
    • Shaun Smith (terms undisclosed; signed through 2010)
    • Ethan Kelley (free agent)
    • Ted Washington (free agent)
  • LBs
    • D’Qwell Jackson ($515,000; signed through 2009)
    • Andra Davis ($3 million; signed through 2010)
    • Leon Williams ($445,000; signed through 2009)
    • Chaun Thompson (free agent)
    • Matt Stewart (free agent)
    • Kamerion Wimbley ($445,000; signed through 2010)
    • Willie McGinest ($2.9 million; signed through 2008)
    • Antwan Peek (terms undisclosed; signed through 2009)
    • David McMillan ($460,000; signed through 2008)
  • CBs
    • Leigh Bodden ($1.7 million; signed through 2009)
    • Eric Wright (terms undisclosed; signed through 2010)
    • Daven Holly (restricted free agent)
    • Brandon McDonald (terms undisclosed; signed through 2010)
    • Gary Baxter ($3.5 million; signed through 2010)
  • S
    • Brodney Pool ($603,250; signed through 2009)
    • Kenny Wright (terms undisclosed; signed through 2009)
    • Sean Jones ($545,000; signed through 2008)
    • Mike Adams (terms undisclosed; signed through 2008)
  • P
    • Dave Zastudil ($1.2 million; signed through 2010)

The defensive side of the ball is where this team will look the most different in 2008. Radical changes will be needed along the defensive line. I wouldn’t expect to see Ted Washington next season. Instead, expect Shaun Smith to take over the NT position. Orpheus Roye has said he wants to come back for another year, and Robaire Smith will likely be in the mix at DE as well, but the Browns will be looking to bolster the position. If that means via free agency, and assuming Albert Haynesworth and Terrell Suggs return to the Titans and Ravens, then Jared Allen remains an intersting option. The Chiefs will try to keep him, and he has some off field questions that would scare some teams, but the Browns have shown that with due dilligence they are not afraid to sign players with checkered pasts if they believe they have fixed them. Plus, the Browns could have the cap space to make Allen a high enough offer to lure him away from KC. Other options could include Justin Smith and Mike Rucker. As always, you have to question players’ compatibility to the 3-4, but these are the free agent defensive linemen the Browns will have to choose from.

The linebackers probably don’t need too much attention. Leon Williams and Antwan Peek stepped up at moments this season to provide some depth behind the likes of McGinnest, Wimbley, Davis, and Jackson. The one to watch will be Chaun “Fast Linebacker” Thompson. Chaun is the last remaining icon of the Butch Davis draft folly. If he’s willing to return at a decent price, though, I think he can provide decent depth, especially on 3rd down passing situations. He could be worth bringing back.

In the secondary, the emergence of Brandon McDonald, along with Eric Wright’s development later in the season means that with Bodden the CB spot is probably ok for now. Sean Jones and Brodney Pool provide the team with a very athletic safety pairing and not much should change there. I would expect the secondary to look the same next year.

As a whole, the defense needs to get more pressure on the QB. The secondary can only do so much, and when you routinely give QBs all day in the pocket, even the most mediocre of NFL QBs will pick you apart. Beyond that, stopping the run on 1st down will need to get better. Most of these issues will improve if a pass rushing DE comes into the fold and the LBs can utilize blitz opportunities to confuse the OL just enough to get Kamerion Wimbley free on occasion.

Schedule

The 2008 schedule is going to be brutal. The Browns will have to play the AFC South and the NFC East next year, along with the 2nd place teams from the AFC West and East (Broncos and Bills). The home games will be against the Colts, Texans, Cowboys, Giants, and Broncos. The road games will be against the Jaguars, Titans, Eagles, Redskins, and Bills. Add to this the fact that the Bengals have a good chance of rebounding in 2008 and the Steelers will still be the Steelers, and the 2008 schedule looks to be radically better than this year’s. This year, the Browns only beat one team with a winning record (Seattle). If the Browns are going to have an even better record next year, they will need to beat more teams with winning records than one.

Final Summary

Ok, this won’t be the last thing I write about the Browns. I can promise you I’ll be writing about any developments in the Lewis and DA situations as they happen. But as my final summary of this team for this post, I will just say that 2007 ended up being a great season. A valuable one, for sure. This has a chance to be remembered as the year the Browns finally learned how to win. They learned how to protect home field. They learned how to score points. They learned how to look like an NFL team. All these lessons are great and all, but unless they build on them and move forward, this season will serve as just another negative amongst many in the long history of the Browns. The time is now to stop looking for moral victories and to start looking for real victories and to move into the ranks of the NFL’s elite. If the Browns can’t win with this collection of weapons, then I don’t know what else I can write. I suppose in that case this team really is doomed to taunt us forever. But I refuse to think in those terms. I am absolutely optimistic that this team is going to be a force in the next couple years, and as long as Phil Savage is able to continue drafting wisely and adding big pieces through free agency this team is going to finally step up and compete in the playoffs very, very soon.

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