By Stephen Thomas (@15Stephen15)
The story of the 2014 Browns has come to a close, and we’re into the runup to The Browns Fan Super Bowl, otherwise known as The NFL Draft. To break down various questions and thoughts on both 2014 and the coming offseason, I’m going to open up the vast, long-ignored collection of mailbag questions from my dedicated, knowledgable and imaginary fan base.
Were you happy with 7-9?
Not Sure If I Should Be Angry On Twitter
Dear Not Sure,
First, as for the final record, I’m looking at it this way; had someone come to Browns fans as a group in August and offered 7-9, no questions asked, we all probably would have taken it and been happy, but after a 6-3 start, the word “happy” isn’t quite right for 7-9. Yes, there was progress, as anyone who can’t see that this Browns team is better than they were one year ago is a moron, but the end of the season slide was frustrating and difficult to watch. We all should have seen that it was coming, as this team – as hard as they played – was obviously overachieving at 6-3 and very, very thin in spots. The tsunami of injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball, was eventually too much to overcome. That doesn’t make the final month of the season any easier to take, but looking at it rationally, it was tough to expect anything else.
Second and more importantly, being angry on Twitter is ALWAYS the right move. You definitely want to be part of the mob mentality on SportsTwitter, or it will turn it’s collectivist thinking and destructive power on your mentions like Gremlins on chicken wings. SportsTwitter is kind of like an unfunny version of the angry mob of villagers in Young Frankenstein, except it can be you they take to the lumberyard. (Stand by for more 70’s & 80’s movie references.)
Record aside, what did you think of the season overall?
Ready To Explode If You Say Anything I Disagree With
First, thanks for being so open minded. I’m about 97% sure your Twitter handle includes the word “Sux” or maybe even “Ballzzzzzzz.” You’re my favorite kind of sports fan!
Second, as I said, this team is definitely better than they were a year ago. Even with both first round picks struggling, the draft overall has to be viewed as a success by any rational account, and we’ve had possibly the greatest UDFA class in the history of the franchise. Adding guys like Bitonio, Kirksey, Desir, West, Crowell, K’uan Williams, and Taylor Gabriel was huge. As much as the front office deserves all of the heat they’re getting for Manziel & Gilbert, they deserve just as much credit for all of those back end of the draft finds. The secondary is deep and talented, especially with Gipson developing the way he did. The linebackers played well also, although finding a younger guy to come in and learn from (and eventually replace) Dansby is needed, as he’s aging. (What a leader, though. His impact on this franchise cannot be overstated. If they do turn it around, we’ll probably be able to look back at the Dansby signing as one of the pivotal moments.) As horrible as the run defense was, it’s difficult to really gauge the defensive line, due to the enormous amount of injuries, but I’d expect that to be the first area the team addresses in free agency and/or the draft. As for the offense, the Browns had an NFL style running game for the first time since Byner & Mack, and the wide receiver corps did as well as I thought they would preseason, which was better than most folks thought they would. It’s a matter of time until Crowell becomes a #1 back, with West a very solid #1A. None of it matters if they can’t solve the QB dilemma, but as an overall unit they’re much better. Trending up, folks. The Browns are definitely trending up.
Is Johnny Manziel the guy for 2015?
Depends. The guy for what?
You know, wild parties with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze.
Oh, then definitely yes.
Cool. How about for football?
That’s a far more difficult question.
That’s why I asked you. You’re the one writing this stupid column and pretending you know stuff.
Shut up, jerkface.
OK, here are my thoughts on JFF. Everyone knows I was high on the Johnny bandwagon since before he came out of college. After a decade of quarterbacks who were so afraid to make a mistake downfield they checked down to the point where we didn’t even need wide receivers, having someone who competes to win on every play was – and still is – beyond appealing to me. I’d much rather have a QB who’ll throw it up multiple times per game and let his WR’s try to make a play 35 yards downfield, even if it means dealing with the occasional 35 yard interception. The word “gunslinger” has become overused for NFL quarterbacks, but that’s the mentality I’d love to have under center on the lakefront. So from that perspective, I still can’t fault drafting JFF – I’ll live and die with a guy who fires every bullet in his gun. (Anyone old enough to remember Bernie and Brian Sipe knows what I’m talking about.) On the other hand, the results thus far have been, shall we say, underwhelming, so it’s more than fair to ask if Johnny is indeed that gunslinger. Yes, it’s only been 6 quarters, and yes, I do think that given the options in free agency and the Browns position in the draft, Johnny will almost certainly ride into training camp with the starter’s job as his to lose, but unless there is a radical shift in attitude and (apparently) preparation, he may very well lose that job to Kirk Cousins, or Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Michael Vick, or whoever the front office decides to bring in.
So you don’t think the veteran QB will be Hoyer?
I cannot envision a scenario where the front office decides that a repeat of this season’s “Hoyer or Manziel” media circus is best for the team. It obviously wore on the locker room a lot more than they let on, like when The Emperor finally got on Darth Vader’s last nerve.
So what DO you think the front office will do about the quarterback position for 2015?
Bring Back Wynn
Well, for those of you out there harboring any Marcus Mariota/Jameis Winston fantasies, let me say they’re less likely to happen than my Jennifer Aniston/Kaley Cuoco fantasies. Unless Ray Farmer is willing to give up at least both first rounders this year and a first rounder next year, there is zero chance of moving up to pick 1/2 from as far down as the Browns are – and I wouldn’t want them to do that anyway. There are still far too many holes in the roster to give up that many picks. I’d say they make a small move to bring in a guy like Cousins or Vick or maybe even Matt Schaub to compete with Johnny in the spring and training camp. It’s not the long term solution, but it may be the best apple of a not so delicious 2015 bunch.
If Johnny misses one more team meeting, what should they do?
I don’t know. Shoot him?
Is it true that your daily sports-humor radio commentary “Here’s The Thing” is currently broadcast on The Armed Forces Network to our military folks around the world? Follow up question: Should Fox Sports or some other national sportsradio company buy it, syndicate it domestically, and pay you gobs of money? Finally, where can someone subscribe to it for free on iTunes?
Definitely Not Your Mom Trying To Help Your Career
Dear Not Mom,
Yes, it is, yes, they should, and you can subscribe to Here’s The Thing for free HERE. Golly gee willikers, thanks for asking. You’re so nice!
What areas do you think they’ll target in the offseason?
Way Too Into The Draft Bill
Dear Draft Bill,
Based on what’s available in free agency and the draft, I’m guessing they go after a Guard and one or two run stuffing defensive tackles in big money free agency. (Personally I’d love to see them add Iupati in the right guard spot, he’s my #1 free agent target – alongside Thomas, Bitonio and Mack, that’s a wicked offensive line no matter who’s at right tackle.) I don’t see them spending enough money on one guy to land Suh, but Fairley may be a possibility. Then there will be a few smaller signings, perhaps another veteran wide receiver (Crabtree?) and the backup QB. In the draft, I see heavy emphasis on pass rush, with possibly both first round picks going that way. Later in the draft, I can see them going after Darren Waller, the big WR from Georgia Tech. These are guesses though, as it’s difficult to say at this point with the Browns having to make decisions on so many of their own free agents first. Whatever happens, I expect “Trader Ray” to be very active in the draft, moving up and down the board again if the guy they want isn’t available.
What do you see them doing with all of their in-house free agents?
Draft Bill again
Don’t ever call me Steve-a-rino again, or Steve-o, or Stevemeister. My only acceptable nicknames are Stephen Fantastico, Steve Steve The Dancing Machine, or in certain situations Stephen: Sex God Of Norway. Call me Steve-a-rino again and I’ll cut you. I’ll cut you good.
As far as the Browns free agents, I’d expect Jordan Cameron to be back, but at a much lower number than he probably wants – sadly, his concussion troubles probably cost him millions on the open market. If Miles Austin is healthy, I’d be shocked if they don’t offer him another contract, the guy was absolute money on third down all year. I’d also be very surprised if they don’t make a competitive offer to Buster Skrine, who really developed this season. As for the defensive line folks, all of their fates will depend on what free agents the Browns can sign – I don’t expect any of our own guys to get more than a token offer until a few outside dominoes fall. One or two will probably be back.
Josh Gordon is obviously one of the most gifted wide receivers to ever set foot on the gridiron. He’s also a dunderhead who appears like he will never stop taking those God given gifts for granted. Will his career go up in smoke like Richard Dumas, and what should the Browns do about him?
First of all, nice Richard Dumas reference that maybe eight people reading this who were Phoenix Suns fans in the 90’s will get.
What they should do about Gordon is a question that’s far above my pay grade, especially when you consider that my pay grade is just slightly below the poverty line in Kosovo. However, if you ask what I THINK they’ll do, I’ll say this: Josh will receive the next few months to prove that he finally gets it. His offseason work between now and the draft – which will have to be done all on his own – will show the front office how to proceed. If there is a sea change in his attitude and preparation, and he dedicates himself to approaching even half of his potential, then there’s no reason to make any kind of move with him. He’s dirt cheap from a contract perspective, hosed himself out of a year of free agency, has very little trade value, and if he screws up one more time, the NFL will make the decision for the team by kicking him out. So from a dollars angle, doing anything right now makes zero sense.
However, if we reach the draft and the Browns brass sees no change in Josh’s demeanor or work ethic, I’d expect them to make some kind of move. Whether that be a trade for a low round pick, including him in a package deal for other players or some higher round draft pick, or cutting him outright, I don’t know. They could even hang onto him until training camp, and wait for another team to have the inevitable starting WR injury and try to trade him then. I will say that if he doesn’t change, and soon, he won’t be on the roster opening day 2015. Talented or not, a guy like that constantly putting himself ahead of the team wears on a locker room like Cousin Eddie wears on Clark, and is especially poisonous for a franchise desperately trying to change the culture.
Are you sure that’s what they’re going to do?
Nope, They could just take him out and shoot him, too.
You’re a SoCal stud, will you be at the game in San Diego in 2015?
Nameless President Of The Stephen Stalkers
Yes, I am, and yes, I will. By the way, thanks so much for the endless photos of yourself, it lets my wife know there’s at least one other woman on the planet insane enough to want me.
What will the Browns do about Kicker? You used to kick, didn’t you? Are you available?
Why yes, yes I did. I’ve forwarded the VHS highlight tape from my 1988 high school season to Ray Farmer multiple times, but haven’t heard back. (Yet.) Let me say this, if it gets down to where the Browns are calling me to kick, the team is in more trouble than Apollo in round two against Drago. Outside of me doing a few situps to get in shape, I have no idea what they’ll do, but Phil Dawson’s and Adam Ventieri’s don’t grow on trees, at least not in this hemisphere. Hartley seems as good as anyone else that’s available, unless Roberto Aguayo decides to enter the draft.
How about a way too early final record prediction for 2015?
OK, why not? The Browns 2015 will closely mirror the Bills 2014 – a monster defense keeping them in games while weakness at the quarterback position holds them back from being a true title contender. 10-6.
How about one final mailbag question?
How do you know this is the final question? Are you spying on me? Where are you?
Nevermind that, just don’t close your blinds. My question is, will you be renewing your season tickets for 2015?
Of course. I’ve held the same Dawg Pound seats since 1991, so to give up now would be more madness than being a Browns fan in the first place. Besides, if I gave up the tickets, this would 100% be the year they won The Super Bowl, and then I’d be forced to go insane, put on clown shoes and run nude through multiple shopping malls in protest, and no one wants to see that. I’ve seen it. Trust me, NO ONE wants to see that. Except apparently you, you freak.
Thanks for writing, everyone! Go Browns!