Thursday, October 12, 2006

Getting Defensive

It may have been foretold by Nostradamus, we're not quite sure, but it seems that Courtney Brown is back on the injured reserve and out for still another season. Only this time, he's in a Denver Broncos uniform. So to the extent that Cleveland Browns fans need to feel good about something, they can feel good about this.

Courtney Brown seemed to have all the talent in the world. The one thing he could never do is stay healthy. For those keeping track at home, Brown has played a full season once, in 2000. Last year he did play in 14 games but recorded just two sacks for a total of 14 yards. Not exactly the kind of production one might expect out of a number one pick.

On a broader level, there has been much kvetching over the Broncos weird fascination with Cleveland Browns defensive linemen. The convention Cleveland-fan thinking is that this represents just another screw-up since, clearly, the Broncos are a better team. But the truth is, the strength of the Broncos defense is in their defensive backfield. The line, at best, and with all these ex-Browns, remains highly mediocre.

Michael Myers, the player and not the actor/comedian, hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. To call him an ex-Brown is only technically true. He played in Cleveland for only a season and a half, ironically, because of the injuries to the aforementioned Brown. Most of his time was spent with Dallas until they cut him and the Browns picked him up. In his time in Cleveland he recorded exactly one sack, the same as his total with Denver.

Gerard "Big Money" Warren at least has remained healthy. But by any objective measure, such as tackles or sacks, his production continues to decline each year. In fact, his best year was his first year in Cleveland. Since then it's been a rather dramatic decline.

Regarding Kenard Lang, the jury is still out. A career defensive lineman, the Browns tried to make him an outside lineback in Coach Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme. It didn't work too well for either side and Lang went looking in the offseason, landing in Denver. In three games, all subbing for Courtney Brown, Lang as five total tackles and one sack. Nothing stellar about that, either.

The bigger point to be made, though, is that with the exception of Mike Myers, all of these lineman carried high salary cap numbers for the Browns. Given their production, the cap numbers simply were not justified. We can certainly debate whether the Browns made good use of the cap space cleared by letting go of this group, but it's beyond debate that the cap space needed to be cleared.

The secret to Bill Belichick's success in New England revolves around his ability to coordinate cap numbers and production more closely than virtually any other team. Belichick is not afraid to let go of even popular veterans if their production no longer comes close to matching their drag on the team's overall salary. This has allowed him to sign, often relatively cheaply, up and coming talent whose production outstrips their cap numbers. Again, whether this works for the Browns, only time will tell. But on this score, you can hardly fault them for trying.

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