The Cleveland Browns haven’t yet played a regular season game under new head coach Eric Mangini, but already he’s accomplished one thing as the preseason closes. The team isn’t a national laughingstock. That would be reserved for the Oakland Raiders with the Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers nipping at their heals.
Much has been written about the sorry state of the Raiders and yet it could be argued that it still isn’t enough. General partner Al Davis is either immune to the heavy dose of criticism being thrown his way for the last several years or he’s just so seriously delusional that he’s not even aware that any thing he’s done is worthy of criticism. But to this there can be no doubt: Davis has turned one of the league’s most proud franchises into the league’s worst. It’s not even a close call, despite the other worthy contenders.
The Browns have certainly had their difficulties. The combined impact of Art Modell shuffling the team off to Buffalo, a league-imposed hiatus and then a 10-year run under the Lerner family that has the fans this year just begging for the team to be mediocre has created a lost generation of Browns fans. That pain is being felt now as those lost fans come of age with no emotional connection to the team and no reason to spend their money on the team.
Despite every fumble on the field and off, being lousy isn’t itself a crime. In the context of this conversation, the actual embarrassments have been held to a relative minimum. Former general manager Phil Savage mailing a profane email to a fan who had the temerity to question his genius comes to mind. So, too, does, the bottle throwing incident. Let’s not forget the revolving door of coaches. There also was Romeo Crennel flipping a coin to determine a starting quarterback in preseason. A few other things come to mind and everyone has their own list. Still, even with all of this, the Browns look positively well run when compared with the Raiders.
Last week, for instance, the Raiders lost a preseason game to the New Orleans Saints 45-7. Do you know how hard it is to lose a preseason game by that margin? The Saints have a nice club but they aren’t the 2007 New England Patriots. The Raiders are just that bad. It’s not like head coach Tom Cable (who?) doesn’t realize it. In perhaps issuing what surely is a frontrunner for quote of the year, he said after the loss “I don’t like losing. Nobody does. But right now I am excited about the fact that we really show a lot of remorse.”
In Oakland, these days, they measure progress not by actual results on the field but by the level of sorrow they feel over each loss. Imagine how remorse the team will feel if Cable lands in jail for punching out his assistant coach.
Meanwhile, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, both with rookie coaches, have done something that if it happened once would be unimaginable. The fact that it happened within days of each other is just stupefying.
Last week, apparently irked about the progress his offense was making, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, a rookie in every sense of the word, fired Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator. Not to be outdone, this week Jacksonville’s rookie head coach, Raheem Morris (who?) sent offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski on his way. For those following the rather weird career of Jagodzinski, remember that Boston College fired him last year when he interviewed for the job Mangini vacated in New York. Jagodzinksi didn’t get the job and now lost the job he did get instead. Talk about the chill of an early fall.
Now it’s hard to say exactly what either Gailey or Jagodzinski could have done wrong in preseason. Each head coach cited the lack of progress their offenses were making, but maybe it’s just that in each case their offenses just aren’t any good. It’s also difficult for a rookie head coach to build his first staff. After all Romeo Crennel hired Maurice Carthon as his offensive coordinator, but even he last more than a season. Picking a coaching staff and then giving them only a few weeks during preseason with a roster full of players that will be out of football a few weeks later isn’t exactly a fair trial. It’s more indicative of a full scale panic attack.
But of course, you can always turn to the Buffalo Bills for perspective. Head coach Dick Jauron, hardly a rookie but not exactly John Madden, decided to essentially validate Haley and Morris by taking a similar plunge. On Friday, Jauron fired his offensive coordinator, former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Turk Schonert. Apparently it really is easier to fire the coach instead of the players.
Maybe Lerner really was on to something when he hired Mangini instead of a rookie. At least with Mangini if he fires Brian Daboll no one will probably realize it until he just doesn’t show up for work one day.
In his usual jovial manner, Mangini and the Browns announced most of their roster moves Saturday, taking it right up to the 6 p.m. deadline because, well, it’s what they do. Like everything personnel related, Mangini is a reluctant discloser. Perusing the list of cuts, it’s hard to see why.
No one of great note waved goodbye. A few Phil Savage mistakes, a phrase that’s likely to be written a few more times over the years, are history. Players like Charles Ali, Isaac Sowells and Paul Hubbard are gone. Hubbard at least may be back for another year on the practice squad, although a good employment counselor might suggest that it’s time he move on to his life’s work.
There aren’t a lot of surprises in how Mangini has constructed the roster thus far, although there are likely to be more changes before the team takes on the Minnesota Vikings next week. The roster isn’t much of an upgrade from last season’s, either, but there’s only so much that can get accomplished in one off season. Still, there are some items of interest in what Mangini has done.
For example, his fascination with quarterback Brett Ratliff continues. Indeed it would be no surprise if Mangini ultimately goes into the season with just two quarterbacks on the roster, assuming he can find a good deal for Derek Anderson. Richard Bartel, who was cut, looked every bit as good as Ratliff, if not better, during the preseason and could be brought back if Anderson is moved.
Jamal Lewis is still hanging around, but for how long? Right now, the Browns have only one running back that isn’t either injured or coming back from an injury. Fortunately, that one player is James Davis, the only player not named Josh Cribbs that looked impressive during preseason.
For another season, the running back position remains unsettled. Lewis has pretty much hit the wall while Harrison missed most of the preseason with an injury. Davis has the makings of a feature back and has far more spring in his step than Lewis and will probably start. If that ends up being the case, then holding on to an aging running back like Lewis doesn’t seem like a luxury the Browns can afford. Harrison will continue to play the change-up role, but Noah Herron, who was cut Saturday, is a good candidate to be back if Lewis is eventually moved. Stay tuned.
Another interesting position on the roster is tight end. The Browns are keeping three at the moment, which makes sense in context. Steve Heiden is coming back from an injury and is in his 11th season. The fuel in his tank is limited. Robert Royal is in his 8th season and probably will see the most time at the position. Martin Rucker survived. He was a Savage pet project. The problem is that Rucker, frankly, isn’t very impressive. He doesn’t seem to block particularly well and he doesn’t run particularly good patterns. If Heiden goes down, the Browns will be exceptionally thin at this position.
And for what it’s worth, Mangini hasn’t issued a depth chart and won’t until sometime next week. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
Something that’s funny, but funny strange not funny ha-ha was the decision the Indians’ brain trust finally made to shut down Grady Sizemore for the rest of the season. While fans were aware of Sizemore’s sore left elbow, something that got less notice though it also will require surgery is a problem with his lower abdomen. Apparently Sizemore’s been playing with a sore groin all season and no one bothered to mention it.
Now I know what you’re thinking and the answer is “yes.” Mangini and Browns general manager Mark Shapiro are brothers-in-law. That begins to explain why Shapiro, again, has been less than candid with the fans and the press about an injury by a player. But that’s only part of the problem.
The bigger issue, just like with both Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez last year, is why Shapiro didn’t order manager Eric Wedge to shut down Sizemore earlier or why Wedge didn’t step in and do it himself. Sizemore hasn’t played particularly well all season and yet the team marched him out there game after game even after being out of the pennant race for months.
Maybe it matters little in terms of Sizemore’s preparation for next year when he had these surgeries, but common sense suggests that more time to recover is always better than less. Common sense also suggests that continuing to play someone whose injured increases the chances that the injury, or in this case, injuries will become more severe.
When the Dolans get around to really evaluating this past season, I wonder whether it will occur to them how big of a chance both Shapiro and Wedge took with one of their few remaining assets, and if it does what they’ll do about it. As these things usually play out, likely Wedge will be made to pay for this sin as well.
Word came down on Saturday that another national joke, former major league pitcher Roger Clemens, has had his lawsuit against Brian McNamee completely dismissed. What makes this particularly rich is that Clemens was done in by a judge in Houston.
Clemens, utilizing offense as his best defense, sued McNamee after he spilled the beans about his steroids use to George Mitchell and his merry band of investigators. Figuring that no one in Texas would dare cross Clemens, his attorney, Rusty Hardin, filed the perfunctory defamation lawsuit in Houston. The judge basically told Clemens almost from the beginning that the case had no legs, as we like to say in the legal business. Clemens didn’t listen. The judge dismissed most of the case in February and finished off the job last week. Clemens can appeal, of course, but if he’s smart he’ll save his money and lick his wounds.
Meanwhile McNamee has his own defamation suit against Clements, this one taking place in New York. While McNamee’s suit has a better chance, legally, it’s really the difference between slim and none. McNamee isn’t going to prevail, either, and eventually this whole matter will crawl back under the carpet. If that means that’s the last we ever have to hear about Clemens, then the whole thing was worth it.
With college football having kicked off this weekend and pro football next weekend, this week’s question to ponder: Why does the NFL need four preseason games but college doesn’t need any?