Friday, June 15, 2012

Lingering Items--Big Face Edition

As the Cleveland Browns effectively enter year 3 of the Mike Holmgren era, a light bulb finally went off in the head of the namesake.  Speaking to a collected media that’s heard the same old same old for so long that it could write the stories before a word is spoken, Holmgren instead veered off script.  Offering a mea culpa of sorts, Holmgren acknowledged what had previously escaped him—that instead of being a steadying influence on the franchise, he was becoming one of its most suspect members.

Holmgren is now going to become the face of the franchise, just as he was hired to be originally.  The Big Show is now the Big Face.  His general manager, Tom Heckert, is affable but is as dynamic as a librarian.  His head coach, Pat Shurmur, is too busy trying to keep his head above water to have time for the external niceties that go along with that job like coddling the media with substantive answers to mediocre questions.

Holmgren admitted that he’s heard the criticism that focuses on his shadowy existence in Berea and his penchant for talking to his friends in the Seattle media market while ignoring his obligations locally.  As a result the Browns have had a void since Holmgren was hired (to go along with the void that existed before he was hired) that has left the fans disconnected to a team with whom they crave closeness.

It’s never too late to admit a mistake as long as you’re going to go about getting it corrected so for now let’s take Holmgren at his word and give him the benefit of the doubt.  This week’s press conference was a good start, peppered as it was with self-flagellation and some honest insight into what he really thinks about the team he’s constructing.

The fans really would prefer arguing the merits of drafting Brandon Weeden and debating whether to trade or release Colt McCoy or Seneca Wallace instead of wondering whether the architect of all of this regrets taking the job in the first place.  Holmgren said he stood in the background in deference to Heckert and Shurmur because as a former coach that’s how he would have preferred it.  But what Holmgren failed to appreciate is that he never worked for someone like himself, a figure that for good or worse tends to cast a large shadow over everything that has very little to do with his expanding waist line. 

Besides, having a semi-iconic figure like Holmgren talk to the media on a regular basis takes the pressure off of guys like Heckert and Shurmur who clearly understand the difficulty of the task in front of them and need as much energy as they can muster to focus just on that.

The Browns haven’t been terrible the last two seasons because Holmgren stayed on the sidelines, but his staying on the sidelines did tend to make the fans more paranoid about the situation.  At this point it’s hard to know how committed Holmgren has been to the team but it’s been easy to assume the worst.  He’s fed that beast.  If he stays true to his word then that at least takes one thing off the ever expanding list of things to bitch about when it comes to this franchise. 
One of Holmgren’s endearing traits as a public speaker is that he’s anything but a poker face.  He can be alternately charming and irritating.  He’s politic when he remembers to be but mostly he’s a guy that tries to be as candid as a person can be when talking to the media.  The problem was that Holmgren’s visits to the podium were too infrequent for him to develop a rhythm with the fans and so they became distrustful.

The Browns are an improving team that still has too many holes.  But if Holmgren keeps his word and explains it all like a mustachioed Clarissa then that’s a positive step for a franchise known more for walking backward.  And if there is one thing above all else that this team needs, it’s more steps up then back.


One of the main questions Holmgren faced was over the prospect of having Weeden, Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace on the roster for all of next season.  Holmgren said that they haven’t quite figured it all out at this point but it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise if either McCoy or Wallace got traded.

Here’s a newsflash.  It wouldn’t surprise anyone else either.

If the issue is economics, then McCoy gets traded.  He’s got a trade friendly contract owing to his status as a third round pick.  But the Browns aren’t having salary cap problems and that puts Wallace in play but for different reasons.

Wallace isn’t a likely candidate to be traded.  Other teams may want him because he fits the profile of a serial backup, but with a salary of $2.4 million for next season most wouldn’t want him at that price.  If he’s gone it will be because he’s released with another team paying him league minimum and the Browns picking up the difference and absorbing it as a one-year hit to their salary cap.  Big deal.

Frankly I’ve never quite understood the fascination that Holmgren has with Wallace.  It’s crystal clear that Holmgren doesn’t see Wallace as a viable long-term starter in the league or he’d be starting and Holmgren would stop taking quarterbacks in the draft.  The same is true for every other team in the league.  Wallace’s value seems to be limited to his knowledge of the offensive system despite a rather thin playing resume in his 8 seasons in the league.  Besides, Wallace is a whiner and he’s not all that good of a teammate.

Wallace made it very clear last season that he had no interest in helping out McCoy and then went about his business following suit.  It was a ballsy position to take for a guy making that kind of money but Shurmur let Wallace get away with it because he had much bigger fish to gut.  Now Wallace says he’ll help out Weeden but doesn’t want to stick around if he’s relegated to the third string quarterback behind McCoy, who he apparently detests.

Wallace is an expensive reserve and certainly not worth the trouble.  A team properly managing its salary cap can never overspend in anyone category, making McCoy a far better candidate to remain which is why he’ll probably be gone.  The better choice would be to cut ties with Wallace, the sooner the better.  But the Big Show likes Wallace and that’s a pretty powerful voice in the conference room when Heckert, Shurmur and Holmgren take on that debate in earnest.

One of the odder moments of the Holmgren press conference was the few minutes he spent trying to reconcile with the Bob Feller of the Browns’ alumni, Jim Brown.  It was Holmgren who fired Brown taking away a half million dollar salary that Brown was getting for being some sort of consultant to Randy Lerner.  Brown didn’t much like losing his lucrative side gig and made his feelings known.

Now as part of Holmgren’s reinvention he’s welcoming Brown with open arms but not necessarily 
another paycheck.  For his part Brown seems to be open to coming back into the fold so it probably won’t be long before Brown starts singing the praises of Trent Richardson as he walks the sidelines of the Berea practice fields during training camp.

Having Brown hang around the facility is a net positive for the team.  He’s arguably the greatest running back to ever play the game and represents to the current crop of players a time when this franchise really was one of the league’s best.

But let’s not get all gooey wishing for some grand reconciliation.  Brown’s loyalty to the franchise is proportionate to the pay they give him and has been for years.  That’s not a criticism, just a fact.  If he’s back, great.  Welcome.  Hope you stay around a little longer this time.  But if he’s not, so be it.  Of the 2100 questions this team needs to answer, this one ranks about 1928th.

Here’s how ridiculous things have gotten months before the Browns play their first preseason game.  There was a story in your local newspaper about how Weeden and Richardson could both be in the conversation for NFL rookie of the year.  Technically, that’s true since they’re both rookies.  But shouldn’t someone at least see if either can actually play and play well at this level before wondering what accolades might follow?

But if we’re going to stupidly speculate about such things, wouldn’t it just make sense that Richardson is the more likely candidate?  All he has to do is run well.  That’s not necessarily an easy task on a team that doesn’t run block all that well, but it’s a mostly singular and hence simpler pursuit then what faces Weeden.

If there’s a harder position to play in professional sports than NFL quarterback I don’t know what it could be.  The best case scenario is that Weeden’s maturity matches his age and he’s able to adapt to all the nuances of the pro game more quickly than most rookies.  Even then he still doesn’t have much in the way of receivers to pass to.  No one gives rookie of the year honors to a quarterback simply because he can hand off well.  Weeden is going to have to display that strong arm and that advertised maturity in a way that yields at least as many touchdown passes as interceptions for him to get much notice as a budding rookie of the year candidate.

But why stupidly speculate about any of this?  I don’t much care how many interceptions Weeden throws  so long as at the end of the year the Browns have more than 5 wins to their credit.  That’s the only statistic that really counts anyway and will be the thing above all else that earns Weeden a second year as the putative starter.


LeBron James if nothing else is one of the more compelling sports figures of the last 50 years and his presence in the NBA Finals once again leads to this week’s question to ponder:  If James had not made such a public spectacle about his free agency and his Decision to leave Cleveland, would the NBA Finals be less interesting this year?

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