Ask Gary: Are improved Browns contenders?

by Gary Shelton on March 16, 2019 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Lightning

Can Mayfield lead the Browns to the post-season?JEFFREY S. KING

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

The Cleveland Browns of all teams, have been transformed since the hiring of GM John Dorsey, who apparently has single-handedly turned that laughing stock of a franchise into a legitimate playoff contender. Do you think the key component to building a winning franchise is having a talented GM even more so than a top level coach? If so what candidates would you suggest the Glazers hire to turn this franchise around?

Larry Beller

I think it's important, Larry. I wouldn't say more important. It depends on the team and the front-office. But, yes, it's important.

One thing: I wouldn't say Dorsey has delivered so far. The Browns have had 11 straight losing seasons. I like their momentum, like everyone else. But they won two more games than the Bucs, and neither of us would say that Tampa Bay is anything special.

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Then there is this. In the Patriots' era, their most important employee is Bill Belichick, who does both the coaching and the general managing. So take him out of the equation, and you're left with a lot of guys who rise and fall. Howie Roseman of the Eagles is the flavor of the day, followed by Kevin Colbert of Pittsburg and Les Snead of the Rams.

But in recent seasons, Atlanta's Thomas Dimitroff and Seattle's John Schneider have seen their reps fluctuate the way their teams have.

Part of it is that these guys come from nowhere, pretty much. Some of them are scouts, and some are front-office risers. All of them have huge staffs of scouts and capologists. The best ones have a plan for every position, and they are adaptable.

That's the problem with identifying the next general manager, too, whether it's for the Bucs are someone else. Had you heard of most of the league's general managers before they took the job? Probably not. Keep this in mind, too. GMs, unlike coaches, don't tend to get a lot of second chances, which keeps their name recognition low.

I keep hearing that people like Seattle's Scott Fitterer and Minnesota's George Paton.  Jeff Ireland of the Saints will probably be the rare guy who gets a second opportunity.

But say you're an owner: Do  you know enough about any of these guys to entrust your franchise to them?

Do the Glazers care at all about how pathetic the Bucs are?

Scott Myers

Scott, if you're asking if the Glazers would prefer to win than lose, of course they would. They have egos, too. I'm sure they'd love to walk into an owners' meeting and have everyone tell them how smart they are.

But if you are asking if they realize that part of the problem is in the owners' box, probably not. Owners who lose can always point to a thousand things that go wrong and a lot of others who messed up.  The players. The coaches. The scouts.

But there is a reason that New England and, to a lesser degree, Pittsburgh are always pretty good. It comes from the top.

The major failing of the Glazers have been in the people they have hired since they traded for Jon Gruden. Raheem Morris had never even been a coordinator in the league, and when he came here, there was no money for free agents. Greg Schiano was a desperate move after Chip Kelly said no. Rutgers isn't exactly a powerhouse. Lovie Smith had been solid in Chicago, but he spent willy-nilly once he was here and threw millions away. Dirk Koetter was a lifelong assistant coach.

Hey, the Glazers -- in recent seasons -- have spent enough money. They are close to the cap, which is absurd for a five-win football team. I liked their choice of a head coach, although we may all change our minds if Arians doesn't get enough help from the front office.

But when an owner isn't involved day to day, and most of them aren't, then they have to hire good people and let them go. For an owner, that's caring. Compare it to the Lightning; Jeff Vinik isn't deciding who plays on which line. He trusts his employees, and they have a plan.

So, yeah, I'd say they care.

But not enough.

Here's a challenge for you: Make up your All-Time NFL team made up of players from Florida's universities.

Jim Willson

Wow. That's a tough one. And I'm probably not smart enough to answer it.

Let's start with quarterback. When you think that the Florida schools have eight Heisman winners among them, you'd think the choices would be better. But Florida has had only so-so pros. Here's a question: Do you count Cam Newton, who did his biggest damage at Auburn but started at Florida. How about Vinny, who had a long career but struggled horribly in Tampa Bay? Regardless, I'm going with Miami's Jim Kelly, who reached four Super Bowls.

At running back, we have to go with Emmitt Smith of Florida and Warrick Dunn of FSU. That leaves out Neal Anderson, Edgerrin James, Frank Gore and Chuck Foreman.

At wide receiver, I'll go with Fred Biletnikoff and Michael Irvin. Don't forget about Cris Collinsworth, Wes Chandler or Reggie Wayne. I know Kellen Winslow Jr. has had his troubles, but he's the best tight end available.

On the offensive line, let's go with Lomas Brown and Walter Jones at the tackles and Jim Otto at center. The guards are a bit weak, so we're going to slide Bryant McKinnie and Leon Searcy inside.

On the defensive line, we're going with Jack Youngblood and Kevin Carter at ends and Warren Sapp and Jerome Brown at defensive tackles.

Our linebackers would be Ray Lewis, Derrick Brooks and Ted Hendricks

In the secondary, we'll go with Deion Sanders and Joe Haden. Our safeties will be Ed Reed and LeRoy Butler.

Our kicker would be Sebastian Janikowski.

Sound close to what you would have?

When the Lightning, or any hockey team, is ahead by, say 4 goals going into the 3rd period (like the Toronto game) or maybe 3 goals with 5 minutes to play, I'm curious why they don't substitute for their star goalie to give him a rest or prevent injury. What are the odds that such a commanding lead will be lost? Against Toronto, there were Stamkos and Kucherov out there with seconds to play as well. Help me understand.

Barry McDowell

Barry, when to rest players and when to let them play to remain sharp is an eternal battle for coaches. Just look at Thursday night's game against Detroit. The Lightning had three days off, a huge break for a hockey team, and came out flat against the Red Wings. Jon Cooper blamed the lack of sharpness on the layoff.

Take Andrei Vasilevskiy. I'd prefer to see the Bolts give him a couple of more nights off during the last couple of weeks of the season. But Vasilevskiy wants to stay sharp, too.

Personally, I'd do as you suggest. I'd find games when the Bolts are ahead in the third period, and I'd reduce the ice time for my stars. So what if a game slipped away? Play them enough to keep them sharp, but pull them so they don't get tired or injured.

Remember when Tony Dungy used to coach the Colts? There were a couple of seasons when his team was so far ahead, he could rest people in the late stages of the season. And his team would not be sharp.

I think players want to play. I think coaches want to stay sharp. And keep this in mind: I don't know of anyone who ever blamed a loss in the NHL playoffs on being tired.

Jon Gruden makes a splash with an impressive trade and a number of lesser signings as well. He still has a handful of 1st round picks: my guess is the fireworks are not finished in the other bay area. How do you think this will work out for him? Will they have a better record than the Bucs?

Richard Kinning

Richard, the Raiders are in good position for a franchise turnaround. Everyone knows that. And, yes, if I had to bet, I'd bet they have a better record than the Bucs this year. Still, what does that matter if one team wins five and the other team wins four (as was the case last season).

Here's the question you have to ask, though. What do the Raiders do with all of those draft picks? If you remember, the Bucs traded a handful of high draft picks to the Raiders for Gruden all those years ago, and the Raiders did very little with them. Draft picks are fine, but only if you use them well.

Then there is the restless nature of Gruden, who traded away his best two young players last season. I think Antonio Brown is a talented headache, but is he really that much better than Amari Cooper? Are the Raiders likely to get another Kahlil Mack in the draft? Will Gruden stay behind Derek Carr, or will his eternal look for another quarterback arise again.

I think Gruden is a gifted coach, and I would expect them to be better. But let's see how stable the Raiders are on their way to getting better.

I work with a transplanted Cleveland Browns fan and he is walking on air this week. Seems Cleveland has something that is a foreign commodity to them...hope. Could the lowly Browns win the division this
year?

Richard Kinning

Richard, that was well put. Hope is a vital thing for fans, isn't it? In Tampa Bay, we should know that.

And I agree with your friend that things are looking up in Cleveland. Still, 11 straight seasons have ended with more defeats than victories, so it's hard to say the Browns will win the division this season. I think they can be a playoff contender, but think about it. Baltimore and Pittsburgh both play in the AFC North with Cleveland. It would be quite a jump to win the division over both of those teams.

I think the addition of Odell Beckham was good, and the drafts have given Cleveland some good players. I'm not as high on Baker Mayfield as a lot of people, but the weapons around him are good.

I think it'll take a couple of seasons for Cleveland to ripen, but I've been wrong before. Certainly, no one thinks they're the confused Cleveland team of a couple of years ago.

It's amazing to me that a 5-11 team can have only $4 million of free cap space. How is that possible? How does the GM still have a job?

Richard Kinning

It's a fair question, especially when you add in draft picks like Ronald Jones, Noah Spence and Roberto Aguayo.

I suspect that after all of the changes, the Glazers are gunshy about firing people. So they chose one person to trust -- an old habit of theirs -- and it happened to be Licht.

Look, if the Dream Team (O.J.'s lawyers) defended him, I don't think you could argue for Licht to stay. Normally, the thing that gets general managers are how much money they spend and how often they lose. Both of those are true of Licht.

Now that he's here, however, let's hope he makes wiser choices.

I am not a huge baseball fan, but I never get tired of playing hooky from work on an afternoon with low humidity and watching a spring training game. That is fun, more intimate smaller ballpark and fun atmosphere. I have gone to the Orioles in Sarasota and the Pirates in Bradenton, but don't tell my boss.

Richard Kinning

I know a lot of fans who enjoy spring training even more than the regular season. I've never been one of them, but I agree with you about the intimate ballparks.

I hate when the game is turned over to the kids who don't stand a chance of making the regular-season roster. But it is more relaxed, and day baseball is a treat. So there's that.

And, Richard, I suspect your boss knows. He's got seats, too.

I can hear it... NHL Playoffs. I have been waiting for this since last year. The Bolts are the favorites, but these last 10 games have some traps to avoid. We don’t want to lose anyone to injury in a game that means nothing, and don’t want to get complacent and lose the edge by playing teams that are not as good as they are. Cooper should keep them in line, but I am still nervous about it.

Richard Kinning

Richard, fans are supposed to be nervous, aren't they? That's what happens when the games mean so much.

If I were you, though, I could care less about these last 10 games. The Bolts are playing to stay sharp and to get historical numbers. But if they go 2-8 or 8-2, it really doesn't matter.

You want to be nervous? Be nervous about the playoffs, where Boston and Toronto may lie ahead. Be nervous about the history of the President's Cup, and how it suggests that the No. 8 seed is much closer to the No. 1 seed than in other sports. Be nervous about injuries.

I agree it's a nail biting time for Tampa Bay. This season has been so marvelous, and this team so talented, that it's put the franchise on a high wire. Finishing second in the league -- second -- wouldn't make anyone happy. It's Cup or bust.

The stakes are high. That means that stumbling would be painful. But would you rather have the chances of anyone else or of the Lightning?

What is your favorite spring sporting event? Imagine you have $150 for a ticket;  what would you pick?

Richard Kinning

Richard, I don't know that a $150 ticket gets you in the gate at some of the events I'm going to mention, but here goes.

The first thing that comes to mind is the Masters. I have to say that of all the times I've been to Augusta, I've never been disappointed. That back nine is a wonder of the world. Maybe it's because that tournament is stable, where others move around, that gives the event a special feeling.

I've met other writers who aren't as impressed. That's okay. For me, there is nothing like roaming the grounds of Augusta National.

The others? I'm not a fan of the Kentucky Derby. I appreciate the pomp, but because they're busy being horses, most of the athletes don't talk. Mr. Ed, I guess, in the year he competed. A friend of mine, Wally Matthews, used to say it was the best thing we covered. But every time I hear about how competitive horses are, I wonder how many of them race to that tree and back on their own.

I think the Final Four is terrific, even when all the defections to the NBA has taken a lot of the talent and familiarity away from the college game. But no sport has the constant drama that the Final Four has. The coaches are fascinating, and the athletes are passionate.

I love Opening Day for baseball. It really doesn't mean a lot, because the season is so long. But symbolically, it's the start of something big. I wish it was tomorrow.

Does Wimbledon count as the spring? Probably not, but I'd rank it high. My Irish mother grew up in England, so it means something to me to go over there. And I think strawberries and cream is the bomb.

Then there are the NHL playoffs. I like them a lot more than I like the NBA, even though it's amazing the things that NBA athletes can do. But there is nothing tougher than the trek from the first round to the lifting of the Cup. It's a grind that is always worth it.

In Olympic years, I always liked going to the Trials, especially swimming. I remember when male swimmers used to shave their heads, and I did this story. If you bought that shaving your head helped an athlete's times, and if you bought that women wanted to win as much as men, then why didn't women swimmers shave their heads? It got some great responses -- I remember Summer Sanders said "well, you have to get out of the pool sometime" -- and was a fun read.

That's always been the best thing about sports, Richard. When you get tired of baseball, it's football season. By the time your eyes are tired of watching football, it's hockey season. Then there is golf and basketball  and tennis mixed in. It's a buffet.

 

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller March 16, 2019 at 7:26 am

Maybe it’s more important to not have a bad GM as the Bucs have had for so many years than to have a talented one. Jason Licht is just one of a long line of incompetent GMs employed by the Bucs over the last 15 years. It adds up to a lot of bad draft choices, poor decisions on free agents, lack of direction, losing seasons and as we are seeing this year – mismanagement of the salary cap.

A lot of these questions in today’s column have a common theme. The football franchise in this town is saddled with bad owners who make poor hiring decisions that gives fans lack of hope. The Bucs unfortunately are all of that. We are supposed to believe these new coaches are going to be able to turn around a losing team with mostly the same players other than a new batch of draft pics made by a GM who has missed on so many drafts. God bless any fans who can find hope in that.

You may not believe in the Browns yet but with all the talented players they have been added these last 2 years, there is no doubt the table is being set for a breakout season. Time will tell if it happens this year or next but they look to be yet another team that surpasses the Bucs in a rags to riches story-line.

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Gary Shelton March 16, 2019 at 8:45 am

Oh, I don’t doubt the Browns will pass the Bucs. They truly have more momentum. I just don’t see them passing Baltimore and Pittsburgh in their division. But the needle is swinging up.

Can’t doubt your logic on the bad owners/bad front office of the Bucs. They are a blend of bad decisions and impatience when those decisions happen. I don’t think Koetter was a good coach, but I didn’t think he was the guy standing in teh way of an 11-win season. You?

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