March 01, 2009

The Browns trade The Soldier and other NFL thoughts

10) Wanted to start these NFL thoughts with a stamp of approval for the Browns' decision to part ways with Kellen Winslow for a 2nd rounder. My first reaction to this trade was one of shock and there are quite a few Browns fans around here who were upset/angry at the news, but I actually think the move makes sense on a number of levels. First, let me preface by saying that the Soldier is a BEAST and easily one of the best tight ends in the league. He has a bad reputation for being a jerk or a selfish player, but I've never gotten that impression from him since he has been in the NFL. Winslow pretty much goes out there every week whether he's healthy or not and gives you everything he's got. And the production that you are getting from him is as good as any in the league. He can run, he can block, he has world class hands, he knows how to get open, he can run after the catch, he's tough, and he plays hurt. He's everything you would want in a tight end.

The only thing holding him back is that the guy cannot stay healthy. After that motorcycle accident, Winslow has basically ruined his knees. They seem to only be getting worse. It hasn't really affected his play too much, but how many more years are you going to get great production out of Winslow when his knees are so badly beat up?? Can he really gut out another 5-6 years in that type of condition?? Winslow was basically running on fumes last year. How many more years can you expect him to do that??When you throw in the fact that Winslow wants a long term deal (which you could argue that he deserves for his sacrifice to the team), it's a risky proposition to keep him around.

Whether it is fair to The Soldier or not, he is associated with a past regime of Browns football that wanted to build around individual stars and skill guys. That's not the type of program that Eric Mangini wants to build. Mangini is a Belichick disciple, and Winslow isn't the type of guy who he wants around when he is building a team-oriented program. I think The Soldier is capable of being a "team guy," but he is probably better off trying to fit in for a new organization instead of taking a step back from a leadership role in the Browns.

The Browns got a 2nd round pick for this guy. If they could get a solid starter for their defense, wouldn't that draft pick be just as valuable as Kellen Winslow?? That's how I think the Browns have interpreted it from a football standpoint, and the health/leadership issues only solidified it for them. If you hold Winslow for another year and he starts to break down, he's worthless on the trade market. Get your 2nd rounder, make a clean break from the past, and move on.

Anyway, I think it's a good move for the Browns. I would not be stunned if Braylon Edwards is next on the chopping block if the return is right. They could potentially go into this draft with a boat load of picks to transform the look of their team.

9) The other story of interest with the Browns is this Brady Quinn-Derek Anderson thing. I'm a little surprised that the Browns are actually considering Derek Anderson for the starting job next year. Maybe it's just posturing to drive up his market value for a trade. I think it would be a HUGE mistake to hand the job to Derek Anderson. He is not the type of guy Mangini would want. I always got the impression that the Belichick disciples wanted QBs who make good decisions, throw accurately, and make a bunch of different timing throws. In other words, the EXACT OPPOSITE of Derek Anderson. Anderson was a train wreck last year, and the fans hate him. The quickest way for Mangini to get into hot water with Browns fans would be to anoint Anderson as the starter and then watch him throw 4 picks in the opener.

I hope it's posturing. The Browns should try to move Anderson to a team desperate for a QB, put Brady Quinn in as the starter, and get to work on building a team. Brady is a leader. He's the kind of guy who Mangini should be looking to as the foundation for his program. I don't think Brady Quinn is a Pro Bowl type player, but he does enough things well that I think you can win games with him.

8) While I like the Winslow trade for the Brownies, I can't say that I'm a fan of the Redskins handing out that absurd contract for Albert Haynesworth. Are you serious?? Have the Redskins not learned anything in the last 10 years??

Yo Daniel Snyder, free agency is not the way to build your team. How many free agent busts do you need to have before you learn that lesson?? Signing guys from other teams who have been playing in different systems with different coaches is not how you do it in football. Football is all about chemistry and familiarity. Generally, the team that drafts a guy is going to have the most success with him because they can instill all their values and methods as soon as he comes into the league. Haynesworth has been learning the "Titans Way" since his rookie year. Going to the Redskins is a completely different animal. This isn't like baseball or basketball where individual skill is pretty much transferrable wherever you go. In football, it is all about how you fit in a system.

The other problem is that Haynesworth is a complete flake!! This guy went out and busted his butt in his free agent year to get paid, but who knows how he's going to treat these next few seasons now that he's getting big dollars. Would it surprise ANYONE if Haynesworth showed up in camp next year fifty pounds overweight with all sorts of injury issues?? Everything about Haynesworth suggests that he will probably dog it now that he got his big contract. Handing out $100 million to 350 defensive linemen with shaky character is risky risky business.

I've just seen this happen too many times to think that it will turn out any differently. Haynesworth will come in with big expectations, he'll probably be out of shape, he'll be up and down for a few years, frequently hurt, and eventually will get cut with a few years still left on his deal. You can pretty much guarantee it.

Don't get me wrong, he is a stud when he wants to be, but I certainly wouldn't want to be the team that made that huge investment in him. There's a reason why the Titans seemed to perfectly fine with letting him walk. They got a bunch of really good years out of him when he wasn't making big money, and now they let him go somewhere else where he is going to be overpaid.

Spending big money in free agency is fools gold. You can improve your team with some smart, targeted picks, but using free agency as the primary means for building your franchise is never a good idea.

7) That brings me to the Kansas City Chiefs. Maybe I'll be completely wrong about this move, but I absolutely love this trade for the Chiefs to get Matt Cassel. For a second round pick?? All day long.

I'm not convinced by any stretch that Cassel is going to be as good as he was in New England with that great supporting cast and great coaches, but he's also not a joke either. He proved that he can put up numbers and win games in the NFL. The Pioli/Haley regime in KC is going to run a similar system to what New England ran, so I would imagine that he'll be able to fit right into what they are looking to do. I think Cassel can be an effective QB for the Chiefs.

And he's 26 years old and just entering his prime. On paper, the Chiefs just picked up a good young quarterback who can lead them for at least the next five years and only had to give up a second round pick. Even if they had taken a quarterback with the 2nd round pick this year, it would probably be a few years before he would even be ready to go. Cassel is ready made and has already been trained by Belichick and Josh McDaniels. There is no real learning curve for him.

The only thing that would probably temper my enthusiasm for this move would be if the Chiefs are handing him an enormous contract as part of the deal. I haven't read anything about that, so I'll be curious to hear if that is the case. If he is coming to KC and also getting big dollars, then there is a little more risk. But if the Chiefs can get him signed to a reasonable deal, I see no downside to this move.

Bottom line, it feels good to have a legitimate quarterback in your franchise. It gives you a foundation that you work around. The Chiefs haven't had that feeling in a long time. It's certainly better than someone like the Lions that still has no direction at quarterback and probably will waste a pick on a bust like Matthew Stafford.

6) The other interesting thing that came out of the Matt Cassel sweepstakes is that the Broncos apparently offered a first round pick (#12 overall) to the Pats for Matt Cassel. WOW. Now that is a story. They were working on a deal to simultaneously trade Jay Cutler to Tampa Bay.

First of all, why didn't New England take that deal if it was on the table?? They took a 2nd rounder instead of a first rounder?? Belichick must not think there is any value in the first round this year or something and didn't want to get saddled with a big contract for that pick. Then again, he could have traded down to pick up extra picks. Strange. I also thought New England would have gotten more for Cassel. Maybe the market for him wasn't that strong, but it seems to me like Cassel had first round value for at least a few interested teams.

Second, the Broncos are trying to move Cutler?!? Wow, I did not see that coming. I know McDaniels is a New England guy and wants to have "his guys," but is Cutler really that much of a problem at the quarterback position?? I always assumed that he was one of the best young QBs in the game. Cutler is a little streaky though, so maybe that's not what McDaniels wants. Interesting stuff. Cutler is more of an old school gunslinger QB who loves to rifle it down the field. The new school/New England way is more of these touch passes and timing routes.

I also wonder if Tampa Bay maybe nixed this deal. I would have thought Tampa Bay would all over a move like this one. They'd suddenly have Cutler at QB and Winslow at TE. That would be a pretty exciting new look for the Bucs fans.

5) Is Arizona really going to let Kurt Warner walk?? Really?? He only wants a 2 year deal. Why not bring him back?? The guy obviously can still play. It's not like he's looking for a 5 year deal or something. You're Arizona. You might never get this close again. Why not go all in for another year or two before you rebuild?

4) Just go ahead and put me down for not being a Michael Crabtree guy. We'll have a bunch of NFL Draft discussion on here in the next couple months, but I wanted to get that out there. I'm incredibly leery of him. He's already got a strike against him for being a system guy, and now he's got health problems. No thanks. I'd rather let someone else take a chance on him.

I have the same feelings about Percy Harvin. What position is he playing in the NFL?? Receiver?? Has he ever run a route before?? His entire game is "get it and go." How many of those guys ever work out?? Rocket Ismail was the same player in college and never did much in the league. Same with Peter Warrick. Being an electrifying player in college does not always translate to NFL success. Plus, Harvin has injury issues.

Wide receiver is one of the biggest bust positions out there for first round picks. You might get lucky, but chances are that you'll be disappointed.

3) A couple NFL combine times really jumped out at me last week.

David Bruton - 4.46
James Lauranaitis - 4.81
Malcolm Jenkins - 4.59

The 40 times for Lauranaitis and Jenkins has caused a lot of consternation among Buckeye fans as some sort of validation that OSU no longer has elite talent and that the program is too far behind the SEC teams to catch up, but I actually think there's a lot more to this story. My theory on these Lauranaitis/Jenkins teams of the last few years was that they were just not all that talented and not reflective on OSU as a program on the whole. A lot of the "stars" on these recent Buckeye teams were overachieving guys who were 3 star types out of high school. If you go back and look at their recruiting classes in 2004-2005, they were ranked around 15 or so. Lauranaitis was a 3 star type recruit, and so was Jenkins. These guys have had great college careers and got the most out of their ability, but they are reflective of the fact that Tressel went through a rough recruiting stretch around that time. I think Ohio State had some genuine talent issues on the field in the last couple years, but that they overachieved enough to get into bowl games that they didn't belong in. If anything, Ohio State fans should probably be proud of that.

OSU has really stepped up their recruiting efforts in the last couple years, and I think that will show on the field over the next few years. The guys coming in are more talented out of high school than the seniors that just left.

So Buckeye fans, I can understand why you are bummed out that Lauranaitis ran a 4.8 and validated what SEC fans have been saying for years about Ohio State's talent, but I think that OSU is about to close the talent gap over the next few years. I don't know that they have SEC talent, but it will be a lot closer.

As for David Bruton, am I the only one who was stunned by that 40 time?? A 4.46?? Holy cow, I did not know he was that fast. Doesn't this 40 time sum up ND football in the last 15 years?? Once you take these kids out of the stifling ND football atmosphere and let them go all out for football with no other commitments, they suddenly look a lot more talented. How many times have we seen decent ND players go off to the NFL and become stars?? It seems like there is at least 1 a year. In how many other programs does that seem to happen? Not too many. Usually it is the other way around. The culture of winning at a place like USC is so great that players tend to be overrated when they get to the NFL and don't live up to expectations. ND players underperform at ND and then turn it on when they get to the NFL. Depressing stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I liked David Bruton a lot when he was at ND and he was hardly one of our biggest problems, but it still shocked me to see him run a time like that.

My opinion on ND football is that all of the distractions of being an ND football player (alumni functions, tutoring, dorm events, team mass, academic work, etc) really holds these guys back from being championship football players at ND. All of those things are great for them as people and as students, but not necessarily for the football team. I support ND's commitment to making sure football players fit in as students, but I strongly believe that there is a tradeoff. What other teams have a mandatory mass at a church two hours before a football game?? At LSU, players aren't doing all this stuff. They work on their football, they lift weights, they eat, and they watch film. School and student life is a small part of the overall experience. Same with Bama or the vast majority of these big time college football programs.

2) I'm really interested in seeing what happens with Ray Lewis. Ray Ray is like the Marlon Brando of the NFL. The Godfather. When he says something, every player in the league listens. He came out earlier in the year and said that NFL players need to take care of themselves and get as much money as possible. Now every NFL free agent is talking about what he said.

But in terms of his career and his legacy, doesn't it make a lot of sense for Ray Lewis to take fewer dollars and stay in Baltimore?? Isn't that the best fit for him?? He knows that system, and it works well for him. The linemen can take up all the blockers, and he can roam the field looking to deliver as many big hits as he pleased. Ray Ray is a GOD in Baltimore. Where else is he going to get that type of love?? If he goes to the Jets and stinks up the joint next year, he'll get killed up there. And it might hurt his legacy.

I know he's talking the talk about wanting to get the dollars, but I am really hoping Ray Lewis stays in Baltimore. And I'm saying that as someone who hates the Ravens. Ray Lewis just belongs on that team until he retires. It wouldn't be the same to watch Bengals-Ravens next year and Ray Lewis isn't out there. Plus, there's just something exciting about Ray Lewis in a Ravens uniform delivering big hits while Dan Dierdorf loses his mind with glee.

1) Finally, I'll end with the Bengals and the saga of TJ Houhsmandzadeh. As we get farther into the free agency period and TJ remains unsigned, I get the impression that the Bengals will eventually creep back into the picture for his services. And that bums me out.

When the Bengals franchised their kicker, I thought it was going to be the moment where the Bengals sent a message that they had a plan and that it involved a new direction. The Bengals have historically been the exact opposite of the Redskins. They don't sign anyone from other teams, but they literally cling to their own players as long as humanly possible even if has become plainly obvious that it's not in their best interest to do so. The Bengals don't know when to let go. They fall in love with their own too easily, and it ends up killing their flexibility as a franchise. If you do ANYTHING as a Bengal, they are going to do everything humanly possible to keep you around. The Bengals have the smallest scouting department in the NFL, so their attitude is that they want to keep anyone who has actually panned out for the franchise.

Keeping your own can be a good thing, but it also can be your worst nightmare. Holding the rights to a player when he is young and underpaid is a great thing. But holding that same guy when he is broken down and clogging up roster space is a killer in the NFL. The Bengals accumulate more dead weight than anyone on their roster, but they cling to these guys to the bitter end. Rudi Johnson, Willie Anderson, Levi Jones, even Chad Johnson. And on and on for about the last 20 years.

The Bengals have had a great run with TJ. He was a 7th round pick and has been a Pro Bowl receiver for the Bengals. He is one of their few scouting triumphs in the last 20 years. I think the Bengals deserve a lot of credit for finding him and developing him, but the best move they could make at this time would be to let him go. If TJ had been a Pittsburgh Steeler, he would not be coming back next year. He's 31 years old and wants too much money. There are bigger priorities on an NFL roster than WR. They would have let him walk and given his job to a young WR and used his cap space to build depth and their defense. That's exactly what the Steelers did when Plaxico Burress and Antwan Randle-El became free agents. That is what good organizations do. That's exactly what the Bengals should do as well.

Going into the offseason, I expected the Bengals to franchise TJ. That would have been the worst move possible, but that's the Bengals way. Clinging to a guy with no real plan on what they wanted to do with him or at the WR position. It also would have been a huge cap number that would be difficult to plan around since it's a temporary commitment. When the Bengals passed on franchising TJ, I thought maybe they had learned their lesson and were move on.

Now, I'm actually fearing the worst, which is what I should have worried about all along. My theory on the TJ negotiation is that the Bengals are really just waiting for his price to come down so that they can swoop in and sign him and then make a big fuss about resigning him just as season tickets renewals are coming due. Then they can trumpet TJ's return as a "major commitment from the organization" to try to con fans into re-upping for one last year. This is how the Bengals operate. They could care less about the long term plan. They just want to do enough to fool the fans for another year. Fans are fickle and have short memories, and the Bengals prey on that. In reality, nothing would be different. TJ would be back, the same crappy team would be intact, and nothing would have changed. But the Bengals will try to spin it to fans as some sort of change. The Bengals really don't have any sort of long term plan, so they figure they'll just go crawling back to TJ just for the sake of doing something. This worst case scenario is exactly what I fear, but I think that is what is going to happen.

Of course, if I was running the Bengals (and I swear on my life that any average Bengal fan could do a better job with this franchise than the Bengals have done), I would let TJ walk and trade Chad for a 2nd rounder. Now THAT would be change. Turn the WR position over to the two draft picks and Chris Henry, and maybe sign a solid vet to a 1 year deal. You can get away with that group. Heck, the Ravens had Derrick Mason as their #1 WR last year and made the AFC Championship game. Suddenly, the Bengals would have all kinds of roster flexibility and money to use in the draft and for positions of need. Sign a center, keep drafting defense and line, and maybe you have something. Plus, the Bengals would be a really young roster that could grow up together and form some chemistry, and they'd be in great position to make some targeted free agent picks to supplement the roster in the future.

Again, the Bengals used 2 good draft picks last year on WRs. A 2nd rounder AND a 3rd rounder. And they want to bring back TJ and Chad and Chris Henry?? What was the point of drafting those guys in the first place if you were going to bring back TJ and Chad all along? That right there is all anyone would need to know about whether or not the Bengals have a long term plan.

As for TJ, I don't want to give out the impression that I am not a fan of him. I am a HUGE TJ fan. I've been saying for a few years that he is a better WR than Chad Johnson, and I still feel that way today. TJ is actually a good guy and a character guy, and he is a great player. There isn't anyone I would rather have go over the middle to pick up a big 3rd down. TJ is tough as nails, and he has incredible hands. I think he can be a valuable player for someone if it's the right contract. If he ends up in Minnesota, I think he can be a productive player for them if they get a quarterback to throw him the ball. I am always going to root for a guy like TJ. He's been a loyal soldier for the Bengals and has never complained. He's been the complete opposite of Corey Dillon, who was dead to me as soon as he got traded.

But if I had to make a decision as to whether or not I want him on the Bengals in 2009-2012, I'd be perfectly happy to let him walk. TJ is 31 years old, and I want to see the Bengals create a plan for winning that doesn't involve overpaying wide receivers because it's the only thing they could think of to try to sell tickets next year.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Good stuff. I think I agree with you about the Soldier. He is aging quickly. Who knows how many good years he has left. To get a 2nd round pick for him, that is tough to turn down. But...he still is one of the most productive tight ends in football, and him and Brady seemed to have pretty good chemistry. I still think it's a good move.

I honestly thought that they would trade Braylon before Winslow. Edwards is despised in Cleveland. He drops everything thrown his way (led the league again in drops). He is notorious for skipping out on the media after a bad game (the Browns beat reporter, who is a huge homer, even called him out on it in the Plain Dealer). And he just seems like a bad attitude guy. Not to mention he had a terrible year but I think he is still fairly highly valued.

If the Browns could get a late first rounder for Edwards, I think I might pull the trigger on that. The only downside is that they are leaving Brady out to dry. And if they even think about starting Anderson there might be a fan revolt.