Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lingering Items--Evaluation Edition

Baylor University quarterback Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy Saturday night and that is apparently enough to anoint him the next future quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. It's exactly that kind of patience that has gotten this franchise in trouble in the first place.

Maybe it's best to forgive the locals who see Griffin as another Cam Newton, someone who can come in and play well on a bad team. It's brought some excitement to a moribund Carolina Panthers franchise so perhaps there's some legitimacy in that view.

But as you ponder a future with Griffin, ask yourself whether quarterback is even close to being the biggest area of need on the Browns at the moment. For anyone who has already written off Colt McCoy, what is it exactly that you see in Griffin that would have made this Browns team any better this year?

Would Griffin's presence make Mohamed Massaquoi any faster? Would his presence make Josh Cribbs run a decent route or help Greg Little catch the ball? Would Griffin have healed Peyton Hillis or Montario Hardesty? Would Griffin have been able to turn anyone on the right side of the offensive line into a better run or pass blocker?

Griffin may be a game changer but with all his talent there are things he can't do and that starts with filling the prodigious holes in the Browns' offense. Personally the thought of the Browns investing all that cash into a first round pick like Griffin only to watch him get clobbered by the same things that are turning McCoy into a pinata is about as appealing as it was watching the Browns invest all that cash in Tim Couch only to watch him get clobbered into a premature end to his career.

Somewhere along about the time Pittsburgh's James Harrison was engaging in about his 12th dirty hit of the season by blasting into McCoy's facemask with the crown of his helmet, many fans and too many jugheads in the media decided McCoy wasn't the answer. And if that blow to the head didn't do it then it was the critical interception that McCoy threw a few plays later that sealed his fate, never mind that his brain was so scrambled by the play he probably couldn't even remember which team he was playing for.

This is why it is so difficult to be a Browns fan. Not only do you have to put up with an organization that redefines incompetence each season, you also have to deal with a fan base with the patience of a newborn.

I get that everyone's tired of all the excuses. So am I. But to condemn McCoy to the Island of Misfit Browns Quarterbacks right now given the putrid cast that general manager Tom Heckert surrounded him with this season makes as much sense as the BCS. If McCoy is to be evaluated in the context of this team, then why does anyone think that Griffin would fare any better or last any longer?

The same crappy front office that brought this mess of an offense, that decided that no moves needed to be made at wide receiver, that decided an injury prone Tony Pashos was the answer on the right side of the line, that put their faith in Montario Hardesty, is going to be the same crappy front office that drafts Griffin and then surrounds him with the same kind of second tier castoffs.

That's the nub of the problem. There isn't a quarterback in the entire NFL that could move the needle statistically for this offense. And there isn't a quarterback in college, especially a junior like Griffin or a senior like Andrew Luck, that could have done any better then McCoy.

This isn't to defend McCoy so much as it is to point the white hot glare of the spotlight on the reality of this Browns' offense. It's a mess in almost every way a team's offense can be a mess. Outside of Joe Thomas, there isn't a quality player lining up on that side of the ball at the moment. The few players that even pass for decent, like Hillis, have been hurt all season.

If this were Vegas, it would be as if the Browns' front office bankrolled McCoy at the blackjack table and then told him that the only time he could bet was when he was dealt a 8 and a 7. Winning 4 of every 16 hands sounds about right to me. And yet the fans seem puzzled by that lack of success.

I think McCoy has some ground to cover as a quarterback and perhaps he may never make it as a big time NFL quarterback. But anyone who thinks they can make that conclusion after this season with that supporting cast ought to quit their day job and apply for a job with the Browns as the next general manager. Sure things won't get any better, but on the plus side they probably won't get any worse.

Speaking of that thug James Harrison, if Roger Goodell and the NFL don't come down with at least a two game suspension on him for the hit on McCoy then it will be confirmation that they aren't really serious about eliminating concussions. And if I were representing the former and current players suing the NFL for its responses to the growing number of concussions I'd use the hit and the lack of effective action by the league for it as exhibit 1 that the NFL just doesn't get it.

Harrison by any measure is the dirtiest player in the league. Last year he was fined over $500,000 as the result of four vicious, unnecessary hits. Browns fans will recall that Harrison knocked both Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi out of the same game with brutal, illegal hits.

That of course hasn't deterred Harrison one bit. In reaction to the fines, Harrison hasn't just shown no remorse. He more than double downed on his thug persona by slurring Goodell in an article entitled “Confessions of a Hit Man” that appeared in Men's Journal.

I like in particular how Harrison did his best to portray himself as an outlaw with a grudge, someone who is constantly fighting for some abstract notion of respect despite the huge salary and plush lifestyle he leads thanks to the generosity of the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The choice quote of that article is the one that hopefully Goodell reads right before he throws Harrison's ass out of the league for good: “But up until last year, there was no word of me being dirty—till Roger Goodell, who's a crook and a puppet, said I was the dirtiest player in the league. If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it. I hate him and I will never respect him.” For good measure, he also called Goodell a “faggot.”

Three points about those quotes. First, Harrison's a liar. Goodell never called Harrison the league's dirtiest player, though he should have. Second, Harrison's reputation goes back further then a year ago. He's always been a thug who would rather lead with his helmet when making a tackle then take the easier and less riskier bath of tackling with his shoulder. Third, Harrison apologized in that passive aggressive way most people apologize. He's sorry if anyone was offended by his remarks. He's not sorry he made them. He's not saying he didn't mean them. He's just sorry if you're too much of a sensitive puke to hear them.

The Harrison apologists in Pittsburgh, which include the Steelers' owner and the head coach, will point out that this is Harrison's first personal foul of the season and that he is trying to conform despite his loud mouth bragging to the contrary. What these apologists fail to appreciate is that Harrison has no interest in learning his lesson. He sees himself as the protector of some ancient league ethic about the violence inherent in the sport and remains hell bent on upholding the image of the thug who posed for that article bare-chested and brandishing two guns. Besides, the lack of personal fouls is hardly a marker for better behavior. Harrison didn't draw a penalty on the Cribbs or Massaquoi hits either and they were clearly illegal.

There also is the theory that even the Plain Dealer's resident contrarian Bill Livingston advanced that somehow Harrison can't really be blamed because McCoy appeared to be a runner on the play. Well, McCoy was scrambling, true. He also threw the ball from behind the line of scrimmage, which makes him a quarterback. No one's complaining that Harrison should have held up hitting McCoy at all. Where Harrison crossed the line was lowering in lowering his head so that the crown of his helmet was aimed squarely at McCoy's chin. Harrison could have hit McCoy in the chest but that is a pussy move in Harrison's world. Far better to blast him in the face just so he and the rest of the league get the message.

The league sent Ndamukong Suh to the sideline for two games for stomping on a player during a nationally televised game. Suh's high schoolish move looked awful but caused far less damage. Suh's a repeat offender that has more than demonstrated that he has no predisposition to play by the rules. In that regard, though, he's just following the lead of players like Harrison. If the league really wants to send an effective message to the Suhs of the world, they have to start by sending Harrison to the sideline as well. And if they were really serious, Harrison's season would be over.

It looks like Cleveland Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is in hot water with some fans, including Cavs fans, for opening his mouth again and daring to speak the truth about the joke that the NBA has come at the expense of small market teams.

Gilbert was getting excoriated in some corners for being one of the more aggressive owners during the NBA's lockout. Gilbert's fight then and now was to level the playing field for a league that is tilting in favor of a few super teams and against everyone else.

If you had invested as much money as Gilbert has into this franchise and then watched as the league sat passively as that franchise's value was being significantly diminished by rules that should be designed to protect it, wouldn't you speak up just as loudly?

It's not worth getting into all the particulars of the Chris Paul trade and its ramifications on the entire league. What is worth getting into is all the various goofy rules and exceptions that can easily get manipulated by the league's high rolling clubs at the expense of everyone else.

Basketball is a winter sport and it's understandable that pampered players would rather play their 41 home games a year in a warmer climate. No one wants to go to Minnesota or Cleveland or a dozen other places in the winter. Hell, I hate being in Cleveland in the winter. But if the NBA is truly going to thrive it must protect the Minnesotas and Clevelands of the league even if it comes at the expense of nullifying trades that aren't in the sport's best interest.

Sure that's a slippery slope but on the other hand it's exactly why there is a commissioner in the first place. His most important duty is as a guardian of the entire league's best interest and not just the interest of a coddled few.

Cavs fans should be applauding Gilbert, not crucifying him. Gilbert's motives may be selfish—the protection of his own investment—but they have the byproduct of protecting the overall health of the league.

Personally I'd rather have Gilbert being the standard bearer for fairness then have owners like the Dolans who have been less vocal and far more compliant in fostering baseball's inherent economic unfairness.

It's a funny thing about fans. As much as they like to bitch about how the cards get stacked against them, particularly in Cleveland, they'll do little on their own accord, like stop supporting those who stacked those cards against them. Meanwhile when someone with some gravitas does step forward on their behalf their pride takes over and they complain that they don't need any help in their fight against the bully, even as they stand their bleeding from the beating they've been taking.

With the Cavs opening up training camp this past Friday and the talk now of waiving Baron Davis so that his salary won't count against the cap, this week's question to ponder: Doesn't it seem rather convenient that Davis has suddenly developed a bad back?


Anonymous said...

You're right, GB. This is the "Grumpy Edition"! Can't disagree with you in re Harrison's hit on McCoy. Does it matter that he was a "runner" or not? An illegal/unnecessary hit is an illegal/unnecessary it. Recognize it, punish it out of existence, and move on.

Anonymous said...

Right on both the Browns and the Cavs, GB!

Happy Holidays,

Gary Benz said...

Helmet to helmet hits are illegal and Harrison clearly made sure he hit him high. He's a thug.