Browns sign Fujita, Pashos – is Troy Smith on the way?

The Browns signed a pair of free agents over the weekend, inking deals with linebacker Scott Fujita (three years, $16 million) and right tackle Tony Pashos (three years, $10.3 million).

The signing of Fujita probably signals the end of Eric Barton’s short tenure in Cleveland. The former New Orleans outside linebacker will play inside in Eric Mangini’s 3-4 defense and should do well at that position. While he’s an unspectacular player (i.e. he’s not going to make a ton of highlight reel plays), Fujita is fundamentally sound and plays the run extremely well.

Pashos will replace John St. Clair, who struggled mightily last year. With the Browns ready to transition to a power running game under Mike Holmgren, Pashos is a good fit because he’s a mauler in the run game. He is coming off an injury-plagued 2009 season, but has been durable over his career and should be healthy by the time camp opens.

Another interesting Browns-related nugget is that Troy Smith’s agent said on Monday that his client “would crawl from Baltimore right now to be able to play in Cleveland.” The Browns are looking for quarterbacks and Smith was tendered at the low level, which means he could be had for a fifth round pick. But is he a fit for the West Coast offense? It might be worth it for Holmgren to part with a fifth rounder to find out.


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Are the Browns targeting Joe Haden?

Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes that Florida cornerback Joe Haden could be a perfect complement to Eric Wright in the Browns’ secondary. ESPN’s Mel Kiper agrees.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. predicts the Browns will take Haden in his current mock draft, compiled before the Combine.

“Joe Haden makes the most sense, in terms of value,” Kiper said on a conference call. “We don’t know if he’s going to be Darrelle Revis [of the Jets] or [Oakland’s] Nnamdi Asomugha. They’re the two best cover corners in the NFL right now. They didn’t [get drafted] in the top 10. But Haden will.

“Haden has potential to be an elite corner. He’s a complete corner, effective on the blitz, outstanding in coverage.”
“I haven’t done a lot of work on him yet, but obviously he’s highly regarded, so we’ll look seriously at him,” Browns coach Eric Mangini said at the Combine.

Browns General Manager Tom Heckert has studied him enough to be impressed.

“He’s a heckuva football player,” said Heckert. “He’s one of the top corners, if not the top corner in the draft. He’s played at a big-time program and they won a lot of games. He’s going to go early.”

Some people absolutely love Haden and say that he’s the safest pick in the top 10. Others, like the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, believe he’s a borderline top-ten pick and that there’s some concern about Haden’s forty time. (Haden ran a 4.34 in high school, but Mayock says that he might only run a 4.52 or 4.55.)

That said, there’s no question that Haden is the top corner in this year’s draft and reminds me of Darrelle Revis. He racked up a ton of experience playing against top competition while at Florida and he has the ability to be a shutdown corner if he can develop. While having a good forty is important for defensive backs, it’s not everything and I doubt that teams would pass on him just because he ran a slower time (although if molasses beats him, then there could be a problem).

He seems like a perfect fit for the Browns.


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Report: Browns to keep Eric Mangini

According to ESPN.com, the Browns will retain head coach Eric Mangini and his entire coaching staff in 2010.

Mangini went 5-11 in his first season with the Browns, who finished with a four-game winning streak.

On Tuesday, his first day running the Browns, Holmgren said Mangini had a legitimate shot of returning for a second season in Cleveland.

Holmgren is also interviewing general manager candidates this week. On Wednesday, Eagles GM Tom Heckert visited the Browns. Per league rules, Heckert could not be hired by Cleveland until Philadelphia completes its season.

While it’s hard to argue with Holmgren’s decision based on how the Browns finished the season, this could potentially be a disaster in the making. The Browns looked completely befuddled under Mangini’s guidance for most of the season and three of their four wins at the end of the year came against the Chiefs, Raiders and struggling Jaguars.

That said, the Browns did improve defensively under Mangini and the emergence of running back Jerome Harrison offers hope for the offense heading into next season. Mangini didn’t handle his quarterback situation very well earlier in the year, but Brady Quinn did show promise before injuring himself in Week 15.

Chances are that Mangini will be on a short leash next year. Holmgren might not be expecting a playoff appearance, but if the team doesn’t show marked improvement n 2010 then Mangini could be on his way out this time next year.


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Report: John Fox is interested in Browns’ job

According to Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Panthers’ head coach John Fox is reportedly “very interested” in the Browns’ job if it becomes available this offseason.

1. Fox is “very interested” in the possibility, according to a league source.

2. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson would be willing to arrive at a contract settlement to get out of the $6 million owed Fox for the 2010 season.

3. Richardson, seeing a potential owners’ lockout in 2011, would not replace Fox with Bill Cowher, but might promote from within.

4. Behind the scenes, most if not all of Mike Holmgren’s coaching and executive “ready lists” are made up of clients of agent Bob LaMonte. Fox is in that stable.

This doesn’t make sense to me. Why would Richardson allow Fox to go if he wasn’t going to replace him with Cowher? The Panthers have been the model of inconsistency under Fox over the past couple years, but his teams always play hard and usually find a way to finish respectable. So why allow Fox to jettison if Cowher (who has been linked to Carolina before) wasn’t going to be his replacement? (Unless there’s an internal candidate that Richardson really wants to promote that I’m just not aware of.)

The Browns have an interesting dilemma on their hands with Eric Mangini. Cleveland finished the season winning four in a row, including a 13-6 victory over the defending champion Steelers in mid December. But this was also the same team that looked completely inept for 13 weeks under Mangini, so why should Holmgren believe that Mangini has the Browns heading in the right direction? Four wins over the Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars is nice, but that’s the only thing they were: Four wins over the Steelers, Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars.

We’ll see if there’s any teeth to this Fox rumor and monitor Holmgren’s big decision regarding Mangini.


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Mike Holmgren named Browns club president

Mike Holmgren has accepted the Browns’ offer to become the team’s new club president, according to Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Holmgren said on his weekly radio show last Friday that if he took the job, he’d give Browns coach Eric Mangini a chance to prove himself. He said “it’s not fair” to come in and fire a coach after one season, but that he understands sometimes tough decisions aren’t fair.

A league source said Lerner was hoping that whoever he brought in would see that Mangini’s plan was working — and there’s been evidence of that in recent weeks, including back-to-back victories over Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Mangini also has the support of executive advisor Jim Brown, who said he deserves to keep his job.

Terms of Holmgren’s deal were not disclosed, but previous reports estimated it could be around $5 million a year. On Saturday, Holmgren turned down an offer for a high-level post with the Seahawks, which, according to the Seattle Times, was the president’s role.

Holmgren now has decide whether or not to give Mangini a chance to prove himself past one season, or start fresh and hire someone new to coach his team. It’s human nature to want to start with a clean slate, so I would imagine that Holmgren will let Mangini go and hire someone who is familiar with the West Coast Offense (the offense Holmgren ran in his coaching career). But then again, who knows – maybe Holmgren sees that Mangini has the Browns moving in the right direction and values him as an asset.

Regardless of what he decides to do with Mangini, this was absolutely the right hire by the Browns. Holmgren has already proven that he can win in this league and Cleveland needs someone that can build from the ground up. Great hire.

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