Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

If not Brian Hoyer, then who?

browns hoyer switchIt has been an interesting 12 months for Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer.

At this time last year, Hoyer was working hard (a trait that is apparently a foreign concept to some quarterbacks on the roster) to rehabilitate from an injury to his ACL that stalled his 2013 season after just three starts.

As the calendar pages turned during 2014, Hoyer’s NFL future took more twists and turns than the famed Nürburgring in Germany.

The NFL Draft brought Johnny Manziel to town, with many mistakenly believing the Browns had to start the rookie from Texas A&M from day one.

Head coach Mike Pettine had other ideas, though, and named Hoyer the starter late in the preseason. Hoyer would reward his coach’s faith by leading the Browns to the top of the AFC North after 11 games. His play brought with it talk of a contract extension and the belief that the Browns had finally solved their quarterback quandary.

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How do you feel about the team of Farmer and Pettine?

mike-pettine-jimmy-haslam-nfl-tampa-bay-buccaneers-cleveland-browns-850x560It was one year ago that the Cleveland Browns made what could turn out to be a franchise-altering decision in hiring head coach Mike Pettine.

The club continued to move away from the stale notion that Berea is a “toxic situation” where “dysfunction” runs rampant a few weeks later when owner Jimmy Haslam showed Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi the door while simultaneously elevating Ray Farmer to the position of general manager.

Thinks haven’t been perfectly smooth, of course, as Farmer and Pettine have worked their way through their first year together.

Farmer’s two first-round draft picks, Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, have yet to show that they are serious about wanting to put in the work needed to be professionals.

Pettine had his rough moments on the sidelines during the season, most notably when he decided it was a good idea to try a 60-yard field goal at the end of the first half in Atlanta.

But both men have shown they have the ability to balance out and, hopefully in the future, tip the scales far more in favor of the Browns.

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Which positions do the Browns most need to upgrade?

Ahtyba Rubin, Michael Vick

Ahtyba Rubin. Nice effort. Big contract. New home in 2015?

The Cleveland Browns tested the mantra of “next man up” during the 2014 NFL season.

Injuries hit the team hard, most notably when center Alex Mack was lost for the year with a broken leg, but the hardest hit area may have been the defensive line. At one point or another during the season, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes and Armonty Bryant all missed time due to injury.

Those injuries, especially the ones along the defensive line, revealed a hard truth — while depth is nice, if your front line players are just average and they go down with an injury, there is going to be a noticeable drop-off when the second string is forced into action.

The Browns will enter free agency and subsequent NFL Draft with holes to fill and money to spend. While the franchise had the highest adjusted salary cap in the NFL for 2014 at $157.42 million, the Browns are estimated to have about $48 million in projected cap space once all the accounting is done for the year.

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Which of their own free agents should the Browns keep?

New Orleans Saints v Cleveland Browns

A restricted free agent, Tashaun Gibson made the Pro Bowl after tying for second in the NFL in interceptions.

With only one game remaining on the NFL calendar, thoughts in Cleveland have started to turn to everyone’s favorite subject: the NFL Draft.

But before we can get to what has annually turned into the Browns version of the Super Bowl, the franchise has to work its way through free agency.

In addition to trying to solve the ongoing quarterback problem, which could include free agent Brian Hoyer into the equation, the Browns have several other decisions to make on their 11 other unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents.

Among the questions that general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine will work though in the coming weeks include:

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Is next year’s starting QB currently on Browns roster?

browns quarterback situation

Johnny, be a lamb and grab that Roman Burger out of my bag.

The Cleveland Browns found themselves caught in a tale of two-and-a-half quarterbacks in 2014.

Through the early part of the season, Brian Hoyer looked to be writing the kind of “hometown kid makes good” story that everyone loves, with his play bringing about talk of a contract extension and the requisite stability for a player who had bounced around the league.

Even after the season-ending injury to Alex Mack started to derail the season, Hoyer did what he could to keep the offense on track. A nationally televised beating of Cincinnati and a game-winning drive against Atlanta had the Browns at 7-4 and dreaming of division titles and the playoffs.

But even from those lofty heights their were warning signs.

Hoyer followed-up the Atlanta win with a poor showing in Buffalo, a game that culminated a three-game stretch that saw Hoyer post the worst three-game stretch by a quarterback since 2007, according to Pro Football Focus, as he threw six interceptions against just one touchdown while seeing the Browns drop two-of-three.

After throwing for just 136 yards, and being picked off twice, in what was a winnable game against Indianapolis, Hoyer left head coach Mike Pettine no choice but to turn to an unready Johnny Manziel with the Bengals coming to town.

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Who should the Browns hire to replace Kyle Shanahan?

browns lose billsThe Cleveland Browns entered the 2014 season with high hopes for an offense led by coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

For the first few weeks of the season that belief was rewarded as the Browns were averaging 26.8 points per game and running the ball effectively under Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme.

Things took a turn for the worst, however, after the team lost center Alex Mack to a broken leg during the Week 5 win against Pittsburgh. Suddenly, the running game struggled, quarterback Brian Hoyer wasn’t as effective running the play-action portion of the offense, and the lack of production started to slowly bring the team down.

It go so bad that the Browns were forced to turn to an unready Johnny Manziel with three games remaining on the schedule. The results were disastrous.

Once the season ended, Shanahan waited until head coach Mike Pettine left town to start calling around looking for another job – despite still being under contract with the Browns.

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Is the Browns victory train getting any closer to the station?

Following the completion of today’s conference championship games, we will have reached that portion of the calendar where there is only one meaningful game left before closing the books on the 2014 NFL season.

Of course, this being Cleveland, we’re already a few weeks past the final game for the Cleveland Browns and now stand roughly eight months away from the team’s next meaningful game.

We started thinking about where the Browns have been and where they are headed this past week when Cat Stevens’ Peace Train  came on the radio, with a particular lyric catching our attention:

Now I’ve been smiling lately,
thinking about the good things to come.
And I believe it could be,
something good has begun.

As those words started to sink in, we realized that despite yet another disappointing end to the season, we’re starting to feel pretty good about the direction the team is heading.

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On the playoffs and the downside of veteran QBs

Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis ColtsIf Sunday really was the last time we see Peyton Manning on an NFL field as an active player – and it yesterday wasn’t the end, it certainly is coming soon – then the Denver Broncos are about to learn the same hard lesson that teams, including Minnesota and Kansas City, have learned before.

It is also a lesson that the Cleveland Browns and certain corners of the fan base should heed.

When you sign an aging veteran quarterback, no matter how good they are, rather than develop a quarterback, and don’t end up winning a Super Bowl, you run the risk of setting your franchise back even further than you were before you signed said quarterback.

The Chiefs learned that lesson back in the day with Joe Montana, the Vikings learned it a few years ago with Brett Favre, and now the Broncos are about to learn it as well.

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Cavs bring back the popular mid-season roster makeover

cavs making tradesAfter a four-year hiatus while LeBron James was off in Miami, the Cleveland Cavaliers welcomed a fan favorite back to the franchise this week.

We’re talking, of course, about the mid-season roster makeover.

Recalling the days of Flip Wilson, Ben Wallace and Wally Sczerbiak, general manager David Griffin spent a busy couple of days turning Dion Waiters, a couple of spare parts and a couple of first-round draft picks into Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.

“What I’m most proud of, and our front office staff is most excited about, is that we’ve put together a team that we believe can compete at the highest level,” Griffin said in reflecting on the moves. “And we feel like we’ve done it without completely mortgaging the future. People look at the number of picks we’ve given away and everybody thinks, ‘Oh, my goodness, they’ve given away the farm!’ Well, we had an unbelievable farm, so we were putting it to work and we’re really pleased with where we are now. We’re going to make a first-round pick this year and we feel good about the situation we’re in.”

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Perception, reality and the Cleveland Browns

browns lose billsEver since the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, Browns fans have lived in a perpetual state of “hope for the best but expect the worse.”

That conditioned response isn’t reserved for what happens on the field on Sunday afternoons, but extends to what happens within the walls of team headquarters in Berea.

The latest example comes from a pair of “reports” on Tuesday that got Browns fans fired up.

Jason La Canfora, a CBS Sports NDL “Insider” got the ball rolling when he went on a Cleveland radio station to share his “insider knowledge” about alleged growing problems for the Browns.

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