Farmer suspended but Browns avoid losing draft pick

The NFL have finally finished it’s investigation into Ray Farmer and Textgate and handed down the punishment yesterday. NFL VP of Operations Troy Vincent announced the penalties yesterday along with the Falcon’s punishment for pumping fake noise into the Georgia dome. Here is the main part of Vincent’s statement regarding Textgate.

“The use of a cell phone on multiple occasions during games in 2014 by Cleveland Browns General Manager Ray Farmer was a violation of NFL rules that prohibit certain uses of electronic devices during games,” Vincent said. “Based on these violations, the Browns have been fined $250,000 and Ray Farmer will be suspended without pay for the first four regular-season games of the 2015 season. The suspension will start on midnight of the Sunday preceding the Browns’ first regular-season game and will end immediately after the Browns’ fourth regular-season game. During the period of the suspension, Farmer cannot be involved in any club matters and is prohibited from being at the Browns’ offices, practice facility, or at Browns games.”

While having Farmer suspended at all is disappointing and reflects badly on the Browns and their front office, it really isn’t that harsh of a penalty. By the first game the rosters will have been finalized and beyond looking for bargains on the waiver wire and exploring possible trades, there isn’t a whole lot Farmer will miss. Even when he does return the trade deadline won’t have passed. Had the Browns been fined a draft pick it could have been a lot worse with how important this draft could be for the Browns with them looking to build on last year’s 7-9 record and make a push to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

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GM Ray Farmer will be suspended for four games for his role in Textgate

As for the $250,000 fine it really is on peanuts to owner Jimmy Haslam when you consider that he bought the Browns for $1.05 billion or that he had no problem being able to pay a $76 million tax settlement last year. The NFL also cleared Haslam or any other front office figure from responsibility in Textgate, showing it was clearly that it was Farmer acting on his own.

Alex Mack to return for April OTAs.

The play was a off tackle run to the right with undrafted rookie Isiaih Crowell picking up  yards as the Browns continued to run riot against the Steelers but all of those were really only side notes as the medical staff rushed onto the field and carted Alex Mack off the field.

The Browns were at 2-2 and were after surprising many with their abilty to run the ball and be a match for anyone. At the centre of all this was Alex Mack. Mack who played with the Browns ever since he had been draft was one of the main reasons the Browns lead the league in rushing yards after 4 games with 146.4 rushing yards per game. Then just things began to take off for the Browns, Mack broke his left fibula and had to sit out the rest of the season. The Browns rushing yards fell to 90.5 and without Mack anchoring the centre of the line the Browns really struggled.

Alex Mack

Now today the Browns announced that Mack was due to return for the April OTAs but wont be expected to return to full drills straight away but rather will be eased into drills. The Browns and Mack are more concerned with getting Mack ready for the first sunday of September rather than rushing him back.

Manziel return set for April

Johnny Manziel voluntarily entered rehab last month with next set timeline for when his exit with the Browns’ coaching staff saying that it was more important for Manziel to sort out his personal life before he can focus on winning the Browns starting job. Now though we are being told that’s he has a release date in early April and should be attending the Browns’ first off season workouts on 20th of April. Which is horribly ironic (4/20) for someone who is just after leaving rehab.
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Hopefully this can be a turnaround like Brett Favre rather than the beginning of the end of his career.

Browns favourites to appear on ‘Hard Knocks’

Last year was the most attended preseason in Browns’ History with all the national media sending reporters to Berea to report on Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon. The Browns had been asked by HBO and the NFL to be on Hard Knocks but wisely turned it down using the first year head coach clause as it was Mike Pettine’s first year with the Browns. Then former Browns website editor and now Buffalo News writer Vic Carruci reported that the Browns are the favourite to be on next season’s Hard Knocks. If no teams volunteer to be on Hard Knocks then the NFL can force a team to take part in Hard Knocks. The NFL can only force a team to participate in Hard Knocks if 1) Has not made the playoffs in the previous two seasons, 2) Does not have a new head coach, and 3) Has not appeared on Hard Knocks in the previous 10 years. The Browns are one of nine teams eligible for Hard Knocks along with the Redskins, Giants, Buccaneers, Vikings, Texans, Rams, Titans, and Jaguars.

johnny-manziel

The Browns would certainly be entertaining TV if they were selected with all of the stories surrounding Johnny Manziel and his rehab, GM Ray Farmer and Textgate, Jimmy Haslam and his fraud, and Josh Gordon and his suspension. It would blow every other Hard Knocks out of the water and could make a star out of the hard nosed Mike Pettine like it did to Rex Ryan. You’d have to wonder would it be a distraction though as this is a group of players who are potentially on the verge of something special with plenty of talent on the roster and this could be enough to disrupt the momentum that was built last season.

Ahtyba Rubin signs with Seahawks

As I predicted in my article a month ago (Is it time to part with Ahtyba Rubin?), Ahtyba Rubin will not be returning to Cleveland next year after it was announced that he had signed a one year deal with the Seattle Seahawks. Rubin who had been a Brown since he was drafted in the 6th (#190 overall) really struggled last year was not a priority resigning for the Browns especially after signing Randy Starks in free agency.Rubin really struggled against the run and particularly when asked to move inside and play nose tackle after Phil Taylor was injured. Rubin exceeded expectations as a 6th round pick but it was clear from last season that his days as a Brown were numbered. No details about how much Rubin is earning next year have been made public so far.
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Rubin chases down Matt Schaub

Sorting through the free agency madness: part two-Browns news

To see part one of the free agency and trade recap click here

Last year the Browns were very active in the free agency market signing players like Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, Andrew Hawkins and Ben Tate but this year was a marked contrast with the Brown only real signing of note being QB Josh McCown and WR Brian Hartline. Now I am going to run through their free agents and signings so far.

Free Agents

At the end of the season the Browns had six free key agents and as of now the Browns have not resigned any of them and seem unlikely that they will.

Jordan Cameron(2)

Jordan Cameron

Jordan Cameron was the Browns biggest free agent at the season. Cameron is a legitimate top 5 tight end when healthy but that is a big if based on last season. Cameron suffered 3 concussions over the past two years and the Browns had indicated that they were only willing to resign Cameron for the right price and weren’t willing to break the bank to retain him. The Browns had reached a verbal agreement with Cameron to resign on a two year, $15 million only for the Dolphins to swoop in at the last minute and match the offer and sign him. In leaving the Browns Cameron said one of the main reasons he left was to have the chance to play with Ryan Tannehill and Florida’s lack of income tax and weather probably helped as well.

Jabaal Sheard

Sheard who had been with the Browns since he been drafted in the 2nd round back in 2011(37th overall) signed a two year, $11 million deal with the Patriots after indicating that he wasn’t going to resign with the Browns. Sheard was important part of the Browns defence last season starting at outside linebacker opposite Paul Kruger finishing the season with 44 tackles and 2 sacks. As far as Sheard with the Patriots, he is exactly the kind of player that Bill Belichick loves with Sheard being capable of playing both defensive end and outside linebacker, giving Belichick all the flexibility he wants.

Brian Hoyer

Although the Browns did have some interest in bringing back Hoyer like with Cameron they stressed they were only interested in bringing him back for the right price. Talks had reportedly been going on for months between the two but seemed to be going nowhere with both having different valuations of the value of Hoyer and the Browns being concerned about the detestation of Hoyer’s play as the season progressed. When the Browns decided to sign Josh McCown to a 3 year, $14 million the writing was on the wall as far Hoyer’s time with the Browns was concerned. Hoyer then reunited with his former OC from his time with the Patriots, Bill O’Brien and signed a two year, $10.5 million deal.

Buster Skrine

Buster Skrine

Skrine who up until last season was always a very physical gifted corner who could match anyone stride for stride but lack discipline and struggled in Ray Horton’s zone coverage scheme, really made big strides last season. Skrine saw a ton of targets with Joe Haden on the other side and really showed improvements but still struggled with penalties particularly with the contact down the field penalty. With three rookies at cornerback in Justin Gilbert, K’Waun Williams and Pierre Desir didn’t seem willing to pay Buster Skrine serious money. As a result, Skrine went and signed a 4 year, $25 million deal with the Jets to become part of their dream team secondary with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

The Brown other two main free agents were WR Miles Austin and NT/DE Ahtyba Rubin. Austin was effective for the Browns last season before getting injured and might be back again next season although as I said earlier I don’t think Rubin will be back as he was one of the main reasons the Browns struggled so much in the run game. With the signing of Randy Starks as well means that it is even less likely that Rubin will return next year.

Signings

Whereas the Browns were one of the big spenders last year, the were far quieter this season sign only four free agents in the first round of free agency, instead saying they were focused on building through the draft. The four they did sign could well be starting come September though.

Brian Hartline

Brian Hartline

The former Ohio State wide out returned home to Ohio and to play for the Browns. Hartline who had two consecutive 1000 yard season before seeing his playing time drop with rookie Jarvis Landry’s breakout, will probably be starting out wide next season and allow Andrew Hawkins to spend more time in his natural slot position. Hartline was signed to a cap friendly deal of 2 years, $6 million.

Josh McCown

The other main offensive signing for the Browns was QB Josh McCown. McCown, 35 signed a three year of $14 million with $6.25 million guaranteed in what will likely be his last stop in the NFL. A journeyman in the NFL, McCown has had his ups particularly two years ago with the Bears when he threw 13 TDs to 1 INT but has had his downs as well such as last season when his INTs increased by 13. McCown could well be starting come September as he has experience in John DeFilippo’s scheme with the Raiders and Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw are continuing to learn.

Randy Starks

Randy Starks

The Browns made some depth moves in the second wave of free agency signing both Randy Starks and Tramon Williams for experience and depth. Starks was a starter last season but was a causality when the Dolphins decided to break the bank and sign Ndumakong Suh. Starks was known as more of a pass rusher than a run stuffer during his time with the Dolphins and will help upgrade the interior pass rush. His deal was a two year, $8 million and probably signals the end of Ahtyba Rubin’s time with the Browns.

Tramon Williams

Tramon Williams

With Skrine leaving the Browns to sign for the Jets and the other three cornerbacks fighting for the spot opposite Joe Haden being rookies last season, the Browns opted to bring in a veteran presence to compete with the youngsters. Williams spent his entire career up until now with the Packers and signed a three year, $21 million.

Restricted Free Agents

The Browns had four restricted free agents at the end of the season including Probowl FS Tashaun Gipson, LB Craig Robinson, NT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and S/ST Johnson Bademosi. All of them are expected back next season with the Browns putting a 2nd round tender on Tashaun Gipson and Craig Robinson and a late round tender on Kitchen and Bademosi.

Report: Browns offered Jordan Cameron for Percy Harvin

Jordan Cameron

Cameron celebrates catching a touchdown against the Patriots

According to a ProFootballTalk report today prior to when the Seahawks agreed to trade Percy Harvin to the Jets they had an offer from the Browns of a straight up swap of Harvin for Jordan Cameron. Harvin who struggled when he was with the Seahawks both with injuries and with OC Darell Bevell’s lack of creativity and his inability to find a role for him would have been an intriguing piece in an offence that struggled in the passing game as the season went on. An OC as talented as Kyle Shanahan would have surely found plenty of innovative ways to work Harvin in to the game olan. From a Seattle point of view having Cameron would have meant they had a legitimate threat over the middle to compliment their bruising running game. Now though its all just hypothetical with Harvin being sent to the Jets before being cut and signing for the Bills. Meanwhile Jordan Cameron signed with the Dolphins as a free agent on a two year, $15 million deal.

Percy Harvin

Percy Harvin during his time with the Jets

Sorting through the free agency madness: part one-Trades

Every March, we get to see a certain amount of craziness in the first wave with certain players getting ridiculous regrettable contracts, players getting cut to save cap space and some players slipping under the radar and becoming steals. Yet it not that often that we see trades, let alone blockbuster ones at this time of year with teams being more interested in free agency and the upcoming draft than in exploring trades. Then from last Tuesday, everything changed when Chip Kelly started to go crazy and traded 2 time All-Pro RB LeSean McCoy for Bills LB Kiko Alonso. Then we saw more craziness as the Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets who also cut Percy Harvin. Now I’m going to try and sort through the madness and for the simplicity sake I’m going to sort it into five categories; Trades, Browns moves, cuts, retirements, free agency and best free agents remaining, with each one being published on consecutive days.

Trades

LeSean McCoy Kiko Alonso

  • The main one that shocked people and really set the ball rolling was the one of LeSean McCoy to the Bills for Kiko Alonso. Obviously McCoy is an immense talent being a two time All-Pro who has gone over 1300 yards three times in his six year career but with a $10 million cap hit next and already having six years on the clock and being a free agent next year it is understandable but still quite surprising that he was traded from the Eagles. I must admit I’m a fan of Kiko Alonso from his rookie year and that he is really nice consolation for the Eagles, I would still be worried about his health and whether it could have any long term effects on his health. From a Bills point of view it has got to be a home run trade to help kick start the Rex Ryan era in Buffalo. From his days in New York, we know that Ryan always had good defences regardless of good or bad the players at his disposal were but lack the offensive talent to match on the other side. I mean when Mark Sanchez was your best player you know you have a bit of problem. With McCoy the Bills get a franchise running back to go along with the veteran Fred Jackson who will take the pressure off of a passing attack that relied on rookie WR Sammie Watkins last year. The Bills also wrapped up McCoy for another five years with a five year, $40 million dollar contract. Alonso was a massive loss after the Bills signed Brandon Spikes and moved Alonso from middle linebacker to weak side linebacker.
  • The Bills then went out and further solidified their offense by trading for veteran QB Matt Cassel sending a 2015 5th round pick and a 2016 7th round pick to Minnesota in exchange for Cassel and a 2015 6th round pick. While Cassel is hardly the ideal situation for an offense he is still an upgrade of EJ Manuel and will give the Bills some invaluable veteran savvy while also helping to teach Manuel. This could well be Cassel last stop if everything goes right and he manages to lock down the starting role permanently.
  • Then out of the blue the Bears decided to trade Brandon Marshall to the Jets for pretty much nothing in return. The deal was that the Bears sent Marshall and a 2015 7th round pick to the Jets in exchange for a 5th round pick. While Marshall did have his worst year since his rookie season last year and failing to break the 1000 yard for the first time in 7 seasons he still has plenty to contribute. With Chicago cleaning house during the offseason with John Fox replacing Marc Trestmann and Marshall known as a bit of a locker room distraction and his $7.5 million cap figure, it is understandable but still surprising none the less. With Marshall’s arrival the Jets can push Eric Decker to his more natural position WR2 and have a true number one receiver to lean on.
  • Jimmy Graham Max Unger

  • Then if the Marshall and McCoy were surprising I don’t if there is a word that can describe the trade of Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks. Less than 12 months ago the Saints made Graham one of the faces of their franchises along with Drew Brees giving him a 4 year, $40 million dollar deal. Yet when Seattle came calling they weren’t all that reluctant to part with him exchanging him along with a 4th round pick for former All Pro centre Max Unger and 2015 1st round pick (31st). Don’t get me wrong Unger is a fantastic player and provided they can get even a starter with the pick then this is a fair trade but it most have been a real difficult one to feel good about. Graham is just a frankly ridiculous player at 6-7 with 4.5 40 speed with the ability to line up anywhere on the pitch. With him the Seahawks get the best tight end in the game and a legitimate down field threat. With a target of his size it is safe to say that Richardo Lockette won’t be getting any screens in the Redzone next season. With Graham and his ability the Seahawks would have to be preseason favourites to be hoisting the Lombardi trophy at the end of the year.
  • Haloti Ngata

  • With Ndamukong Suh signing his six year, $114 million dollar (more on that tomorrow) and Nick Fairley being a free agent, the Detroit Lions defensive front went from being their best unit to being one of their worst, that is until they went out and traded for 5 time All-Pro Haloti Ngata. Ngata has long been considered one of the best NTs in the league and with the Lions he has every opportunity to succeed with talented young players like Ezekiel Ansah. From a Ravens perspective, contract talks were apparently going nowhere and it is a big relief to get his $16 million cap figure off the books and still get some value back in the form of 2015 4th and 5th round picks. For Detroit, restructuring and extending Ngata’s contract is a must with the massive cap number. The only real worries about Ngata are his age and the looming 4 game Adderall suspension.
  • Sam Bradford Nick Foles

  • That wasn’t the end of it though with Chip Kelly continuing to clean house sending Nick Foles, a 2015 4th round pick and a 2016 2nd round pick for Sam Bradford and a 2015 5th round pick. While Sam Bradford is clearly a great talent and a possible franchise QB if he can stay healthy and has all the skills to excel in Chip Kelly’s spread scheme but my big problem for me is that health part. Out of 80 possible starts, Bradford has only started 49 games (61%) and for that he has been paid $65 million and didn’t play at all last season. Although Kelly’s medical staff is renowned for its innovative approach and their ability to keep players on the field they could have bitten off more that they could chew with Bradford whose injury problems go all the ways back to college when he injured his throwing shoulder in his junior year and was a risk when the Rams decided to take him #1 overall. In Foles, the Rams get a player who a serious potential but needs to become more consistent than he was last year. We got a good glimpse of what Foles could be in 2013 when he threw 19 TDs to only 2INTs after taking over from Michael Vick after he went down injured. Another problem for though is what Philly had to give up to go and get Bradford. Bradford, as talented as he is, is not worth Foles, a 2nd and 4th rounder, especially when you consider he only lead the Rams to only 18 wins in his 49 starts (37%).
  • Miami who had already been busy in signing Suh, went ahead and took advantage of the Saint’s cap problem and got Kenny Stills in exchange for Dannell Ellerbe and a 3rd round pick. Ellerbe who was injured for of this season and was a disappointment in general since he signed was going to be cut anyway by the Dolphins if no takers were found so being able to get a playmaker like Stills on a cap friendly rookie salary for essentially a 3rd round pick is an absolute steal. While from a New Orleans perspective it’s a bit of a head scratcher as the gave a potential star in Kenny Stills for a an aging linebacker who the probably could have gotten in free agency and a third pick where they aren’t guaranteed by any means to find someone as good as Stills. After the Saints two trades they do have and impressive 5 picks in the top 100 (two 1sts, a 2nd and two 3rds). From a Dolphins point of view it was merely the lead to their big trade of the day.
  • NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

  • Mike Wallace, the most prized free agent of the 2013 free agent market is gone from Miami after only two years. Wallace was shipped along with a 7th round pick to the Vikings in exchange for a 5th round before a $3 million roster bonus would have been paid this weekend. Wallace didn’t really succeed at all in Miami with him and Fins QB Ryan Tannehill not really suiting each other’s games. Wallace is a pure speed guy who can take the top of any defence whereas Tannehill’s biggest struggle is the deep ball so it was never going to be an ideal match. Wallace will go to the Vikings who were big fans of him back in 2013, so much so that they offered him $16 million more than he ended up taking from the Dolphins. Wallace will be a match made in heaven with Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater allowing him of options down the field where is sure to see a ton of man coverage if Adrian Peterson does return and play for the Vikings this season. The big loser in all of this might be Greg Jennings with his $8.9 million cap number who could a casualty.
  • Other lesser trades of note include that of Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Jets from the Texans for a 7th round pick. Fitzpatrick will likely be able to outperform Geno Smith in camp and will probably be the Jets starter next season. The Texans also trade away backup Case Keenum to the Rams for a 7th round pick where he’ll probably be a 2nd or 3rd  stringer. One weird quirk of free agency was the Texans having 5 QBs on their roster for a day after signing former Brown Brian Hoyer. The Saints also traded guard Ben Grubbs to the Chiefs in exchange for a 5th round pick this year in more cap saving measures.Tomorrow, Browns news.

Brian Hartline signs with the Browns

It was announced yesterday that Brian Hartline was coming home and had signed a two year, $6 million dollar deal with the Browns. Hartline played his college ball with Ohio State before spending six seasons with the Dolphins but was cut last month only one year into a new 5 year contract. Hartline had two consecutive 1000 yard seasons before dropping to 474 yards last season with the emergence of Jarvis Landry. Hartline is expected to be a key part of the Browns receiving corps this year with Josh Gordon suspended again. Hartline is a possession receiver who still has plenty left in the tank but is probably best suited to being a second option rather than a first option. I have always been an admirer of Hartline and look forward to seeing him as Brown but also bit wary because the last ex-Dolphins receiver the Browns got was Devone Bess and that didn’t end well.
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Hartline catches a pass over Browns CB Buster Skrine