Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Any Road Will Get You There

Standing among all the trees, sometimes it’s best to remember, first, that you’re in a forest.

As I listen to various reporters and columnists debate the fine intricacies of the Browns’ recent activities around Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brady Quinn and Kamerion Wimbley it seems like they all forgot that this team, even with a season-ending four game winning streak only finished with five wins.

This isn’t a very good team to begin with. If anything, this team hasn’t made enough moves. The Browns have won only 38 times in the last 7 years and have lost 74. Is this really the time to debate the relative merits of Wimbley?

Not to single out Marla Ridenour in the Akron Beacon Journal on Monday, but reading her kvetch over whether or not these trades have made the Browns better makes me wonder whether she actually sat through every miserable game the way the rest of the fans are. Nitpicking the trades of both Quinn and Wimbley makes it seem as though team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert are breaking apart the New England Patriots.

Hardly. They are breaking up the concrete on one of the league’s consistently worse teams, meaning that Ridenour isn’t even asking the right questions. These trades and their other moves are far more than the sum of their parts. They are an indication that play time, finally, is over.

If the release of Derek Anderson and the trade of Quinn didn’t send that message then certainly the trade of Wimbley to Oakland for a third round pick had to. Wimbley may be a former first round pick, but fans are sick of hearing about whether or not the next season will finally justify his draft status.

In truth, Wimbley played well as a rookie and has been mostly MIA since. Saying he’s the best linebacker on this team is like saying Jake Westbrook is the best pitcher on the Indians. It’s a relative measure on a scale that’s abysmally low. Wimbley wasn’t worthy at the time of a first round pick by former general manager Phil Savage and his play year in and year out since has driven home that fact. Frankly the Browns were lucky to salvage a third round pick and I don’t care whether it was the lower of the Raiders’ two third-round picks.

That doesn’t mean Wimbley wasn’t a good guy to have around. But his production is easily duplicated by players making far less. You have to balance the budget somewhere.

As for whether or not Delhomme and Seneca Wallace make the Browns any better at quarterback than the duet of Quinn and Anderson, that’s one of those classic and meaningless bar stool debates. It may not be completely fair to judge Anderson and Quinn in the context of this team because the talent they had to work with was so poor, but what it is completely fair to conclude is that neither could rise above that wreckage, either.

You can make the case that every quarterback, even Tom Brady, needs talent around him to look good and be correct. But the case is also made that the good quarterbacks make those around them better. Brady, for one, has made an awful lot of average receivers look good.

Neither Quinn nor Anderson seemed to have that gene. Anderson certainly looked good in 2007 but when Braylon Edwards went off the rails, Kellen Winslow wasn’t available to him and Jamal Lewis was proving that he was done, Anderson couldn’t overcome the greenness of their replacements. If anything Anderson proved he’s a system quarterback at best and not someone who can thrive under any circumstances.

Quinn will always be more of a mystery. The knock on him is his accuracy and often times it was easy to see why. But he seemed to play better out of a no-huddle offense meaning that the players looked at him as a leader. He could get guys in the right spots. Yet he never could completely take the reigns of the job and mold it into his own.

The larger point, anyway, is that the Browns are going in a completely different direction on so many different fronts that it’s beginning to get difficult to keep up.

Consider the players the Browns designated as restricted and unrestricted free agents. Rex Hadnot and Hank Fraley were decent contributors to an indecent team. Yet both are now gone. Holmgren and Heckert have indicated that they’re willing to say goodbye to Jerome Harrison who holds the franchise record for most rushing yards in a game. This is a polite way of saying that the Browns have thrown up a heavy construction zone and wearing a hard hat alone may not be enough to keep you safe.

The cutting of Anderson was foreseen by everyone, including, I think, Nostradamus. Less seen, though, was the signing of both Delhomme and Wallace and the trading of Quinn. The trade of Wimbley seemingly came out of nowhere and yet it didn’t.

Meanwhile the Browns have overpaid a bit in free agency for a linebacker, an offensive lineman and a tight end. And while it’s never a good idea to overpay any player in a sport with a salary cap, it is offset by the stockpile of draft choices, nearly all of which will cost them less.

Holmgren didn’t necessarily offer a lot of insight in explaining the recent surge of activity but he did confirm the more salient point: action was needed. To really accomplish that goal requires a stockpile of draft choices as they serve as the currency on which NFL action really takes place.

NFL executives value draft picks more than their own family and right now Holmgren and Heckert are sitting at a poker table with a pile of chips that the other participants covet. For once the Browns are in an enviable position and have people actually capable of taking advantage of that.

Here’s the only variable fans really don’t know at the moment: Where in the name of Spergon Wynn is this franchise headed? Admittedly, that’s a pretty big question and one that isn’t easily answered by the disjointed threads of what’s taken place so far.

Even Holmgren didn’t offer much insight on that question, sensing, I guess, that at the moment what matters more is that the franchise is actually moving and dramatically so. In the past what’s passed as movement has been movement around the edges. Head coach Eric Mangini’s dumping of Edwards and Winslow weren’t nearly as dramatic as what’s currently taking place. They didn’t signify any particular move as they did a parting of ways with two known malcontents. That’s a move anyone can make.

Moving your starting quarterbacks and two starting offensive linemen? Dumping a starting linebacker, a former first rounder at that, on the league’s worst defense for a third round pick? That’s a statement.

There’s a saying that if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there. For too long that seemed to be the underlying mission statement of this franchise. Now, even without any great insights from either Holmgren or Heckert as to their current thinking, you still get the sense that this franchise as a far clearer direction. The fun part for Browns fans now will be figuring it all out.


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m. said...

frankly, i'm amused to see you use the word kvetch--and delighted. rant and kvetch is what the browns inspire. life is short--so what about turning our attention to the Cavs--we can take a walk on the sunny side of the street. sweet.

FlaBuck said...

Great article Gary. In a recent comical movie, "The Invention of Lying" with Ricky Grevais, everyone always told the truth, no matter who got hurt feelings or who was embarassed. Wouldn't it be great, if for just one day, all sports executives had to do the same. Mike Holgren may have stated, "Wimbley is a one-trick pony. He has one move and never developed another". Or, " Brady Quinn has a shotgun for an arm, inaccurate and no range, DA has a rifle but on most throws just needs a pea-shooter and he doesn't have the brains to use it" Yeh, wouldn't it be great?

Gary Benz said...

m. Welcome back! It's been too long since you've commented.

FlaBuck: I couldn't agree more. I can almost hear Holmgren say of Mangini: "Has little man's syndrome but works hard. I'll give him another chance but I've got to keep him away from the front office. Maybe I'll put in new locks."

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