Every Sunday our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter provides his quick-hits from the week that was in the NFL.
Did this Mike Wallace situation escalate or what?
Last Wednesday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers had broken off contract talks with Wallace until he signs his one-year, $2.472 million tender and reports to the team. That same evening, Mike Tomlin held a press conference and said that the situation is “bigger than Wallace” and that he was going to go work with Emmaunel Sanders “because he’s here, and be exited about doing it.” Two days later, the Steelers hand $42.5 million to Wallace’s teammate Antonio Brown, which wasn’t a message to Wallace as much as it was a statement that the team wasn’t playing around. Reports have also surfaced that Wallace rejected a contract offer in the five-year, $50 million range and that he could be traded during camp. But a trade is going to be incredibly difficult because no team will want to surrender a first-round pick for Wallace this offseason and keep in mind that the Steelers only received a fifth-rounder for Santonio Holmes (who was a Super Bowl MVP, mind you). Thus, it appears as though Wallace has two choices: Play for just over $2 million this season or holdout, which really doesn’t help him achieve what he wants (that being a long-term deal). At this point, the Steelers are in complete control. If Wallace signs his tender, reports to camp and is motivated to stick it up Pittsburgh’s ass, then the Steelers win. If he doesn’t report, then the Steelers are already preparing for life after Mike Wallace.
Chad Johnson appears to be a tad delusional.
While speaking to the media earlier this week, Johnson predicted a “monster” season for himself this year in Miami and then essentially blamed his poor performance last season on the Patriots. Said the Twitter artist formerly known as Ochocinco: “My personality was controlled last year. You perform. It’s never been vindictive. I never got anybody in trouble.” He went on: “The didn’t hear me at all last year. Zero. Zilch. When my mouth is running, it forces me to stuff that I do well, I do extremely well. The Pats know what I do well. You put that player in position to make those same plays he’s been making his whole career. It’s not rocket science.”
Let’s keep in mind that Bill Belichick and the Patriots coveted Johnson. It’s not like they grabbed him off the scrap heap and paid him the veteran minimum – they gave up a fifth and a sixth round pick because they thought he could still play. What they quickly found out is that they acquired damaged goods. According to a report by the Bengals’ official website back in June, T.J. Houshmandzadeh used to tell Johnson where to line up on offense when the two were in Cincinnati. And around that same time, multiple sources told the Boston Globe that Johnson just didn’t have the “football I.Q.” to succeed with the Patriots, who used to tell him to run a route a certain way and he would do the opposite. New England also gave him the benefit of the doubt by keeping him on their roster until this spring when it was clear that he still hadn’t fully grasped the offseason. So it’s a little arrogant on Johnson’s part to blame his poor 2011 on the Patriots because they didn’t let him be him. Belichick’s rigid ways may have had some negative impact on Johnson’s play but his declining skills are mostly to blame for his one-year stop in New England.
What exactly is Dwayne Bowe’s game plan here?
He took exception to the Chiefs slapping him with their franchise tag earlier this year, so he skipped OTAs and minicamp in efforts to voice his displeasure with the situation. But now that he’s no longer eligible for a long-term deal, why skip training camp? Why not sign the one-year tender and play for $9.5 million guaranteed? I get it – if you’re Bowe, why bust your butt in training camp if you can show up for Week 1 and make the same amount of money. But he’s not endearing himself to the Chiefs or other teams by skipping training camp. Look, there are no guarantees in life. Bowe could get hurt in training camp or on the first snap of the regular season. He could also go on to have a great season without taking one practice rep, assuming pf course that he even shows up for the regular season. But if the ultimate goal is to receive a long-term contract, then why drive another stake between yourself and the people who can accomplish that objective? If you want your bosses to give you a raise, or if you want to make yourself more attractive to the competition, you don’t stop driving into the office.
Here’s an idea to end the stalemate between Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars.
It would appear as though the only way the situation will be resolved is if the two sides come to some sort of compromise. He is the Jacksonville offense but the Jaguars hold all the leverage right now. He’s under contract for the next two years and the team doesn’t want to set a precedent for paying players with more than one year remaining on their deals (which makes sense). I don’t write contracts for a living but one would think that if the Jaguars would be willing to make at least some of his current deal guaranteed, MJD would report to camp with a slight raise. If not, then the Jaguars might as well keep fining him until he shows up because with or without him, they’re not going to challenge for a postseason berth this season. Besides, in 2009 the Jaguars and MJD agreed to a fair contract. The team expected him to be this good, which is why they invested so much money in him then. For him to turn around and now try to hold the team hostage for more money is slightly ridiculous. Thus, if the two sides can come to some sort of compromise that makes all parties happy and gets MJD to camp, that would appear to be the best solution.
It would be a mistake if soon-to-be Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III let Mike Holmgren go.
Poor ownership, failed player evaluation and scouting, and bad hiring decisions have all contributed to the lack of success that Cleveland has had over the years. But a lack of vision, continuity, and cohesion has been the biggest reason the Browns have suffered through a decade of losing. Holmgren’s first two years in Cleveland haven’t been very successful but there’s excitement building thanks to the first-round selections of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Holmgren knows how to build a winner, as he did so he Green Bay and Seattle before Cleveland hired him as its team president back in 2010. It’s understandable if Haslam wants to bring in his own people but to fire Holmgren and start over isn’t a move that brings the Browns closer to competing. This is a team that has lacked vision and while Holmgren hasn’t done enough to earn his new boss’s trust, Haslam owes it to the fan base in Cleveland to keep the train on the tracks.
The Browns asked the Rams about trading for quarterback Sam Bradford before turning their attention to Robert Griffin III, sources said at NFL meetings this week.
The Rams said no.
“His name came up, not from us,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Wednesday morning. “Clubs inquired. But there was no consideration whatsoever on our part (to trade Bradford).”
Fisher would not confirm the Browns were one of the teams.
“I prefer not to get into specifics about the conversations. I can say there were teams that inquired,” Fisher said.
This would be the second time the Browns tried to snatch Bradford. Prior to the 2010 draft, President Mike Holmgren made a last-ditch offer to move up from No. 7 to No. 1. The Rams – under a different regime – held the top pick and wouldn’t budge.
In a text response, Shurmur declined to comment on whether the Browns tried to trade for Bradford.
I think it’s a little odd that both Fisher and Shurmur either denied or declined to talk about whether or not the Browns tried to trade for Bradford and yet Grossi still wrote, “The Browns asked the Rams about trading for quarterback Sam Bradford,” in the first sentence of his article. I don’t doubt that Grossi has other sources but it’s funny how both head coaches washed their hands of the report and Grossi ran with it anyway.
But I digress. I’m not surprised to hear that the Browns allegedly tried to trade for Bradford this offseason. He and Shurmur had success working together in St. Louis two years ago and he’s a perfect fit for what Cleveland is trying to do offensively. But while I’m not surprised that the Browns inquired about Bradford, I’m even less surprised that the Rams turned them down.
Bradford is coming off a bad season but he has the makings to become a great quarterback under the right tutelage. His rookie year was comparable to Matt Ryan and Dan Marino’s first seasons (at least statistically) and he has the intangibles to develop nicely under Fisher (who must see Bradford’s potential or else he would have traded him when he had the opportunity). Last year Bradford tried to learn a complicated Josh McDaniels offense in a lockout-shortened offseason and wound up getting hurt under the Rams’ shoddy protection. I’m more inclined to think that 2011 was the aberration and not 2010.
What’s interesting to me about Grossi’s report is whether or not Mike Holmgren has tipped his draft hand here. He’s allegedly made two attempts this offseason to try and upgrade the Browns’ quarterback situation so does that mean that Cleveland will take Ryan Tannehill at No. 4? That seems too high for Tannehill but hey, it’s the NFL draft – you just never know.
Mike Holmgren addressed a restless Cleveland media today in a press conference about the controversy surrounding the Colt McCoy concussion from last Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, basically calling the criticisms “unfair.” McCoy had suffered a brutal hit from linebacker James Harrison that led to a one-game suspension for Harrison by the NFL.
The Browns did an internal review of the events following the hit on McCoy with NFL officials and representatives of the NFLPA yesterday. Holmgren disclosed that the Browns did not give McCoy a concussion test on the sidelines before he was put back into the game by head coach Pat Shurmer. The Browns did give McCoy the test after the game and McCoy passed that test, though he did complain about bright lights which obviously raised some red flags. It was only later that he experiences serious symptoms.
Holmgren said the review covered what happened on the field after the Harrison hit. The training staff was already swamped with several other Browns players who were hurt, so they didn’t see the hit on McCoy. When they went out onto the field, McCoy immediately complained about his hand, so they focused on that. He was not knocked out and he was responsive as he discussed his hand, so they didn’t see anything that would make them concerned about a possible concussion. This was also the case on the sidelines as McCoy continued to communicate with them about his hand.
The problem is that they didn’t see the hit, so they didn’t realize that this situation warranted a closer look and a possible concussion test. Many Browns on the sideline did not see the hit as well according to Holmgren, and nobody thought to go to the trainers and explain that they might want to take a closer look. This was the communication breakdown that led to McCoy going back into the game. The trainers told head coach Pat Shurmer that McCoy was good to go, so Shurmer sent McCoy back in. Perhaps Shurmer made a mistake here by not stopping and asking if they were sure considering the severity of the hit, but everyone needs to remember that the game was on the line, the Browns were on the 5-yard line with a chance to take the lead against the Steelers. Shurmer had other things on his mind, and McCoy looked fine to him as well.
Holmgren has taken a lot of heat from the Cleveland media on this one, which I think was an overreaction. Holmgren made a good point that even the NFL observer at the game didn’t intervene. Perhaps the protocol going forward needs someone from the NFL or the teams whose responsibility includes making sure that players subject to these kind of hits to the head get the concussion test. That would have solved the problem here, and I think this might be a step considered by the NFL in lieu of an independent neurologist.
Meanwhile, Holmgren’s relationship with parts of the Cleveland media is deteriorating rapidly. The writers at The Plain Dealer continue to treat him pretty well, but talk radio (as usual) is dominated by angry hosts who blow every controversy out of proportion. The antics of Peyton Hillis and comments by Josh Cribbs get endless airplay and hosts dwell on the last 11 years of misery in Cleveland. The pathetic state of the Browns offense and the 4-9 record hasn’t helped Holmgren’s case, but the facts are clear – the Browns have focused on defense in the past two drafts and have gotten some very good players. There was no offseason yet the Browns installed a new offense with a rookie head coach. Colt McCoy is young, and the offense has been suffered important injuries in the backfield and on the line.
We all know that Mike Holmgren knows offense, so most rational fans are willing to give him time to build something. But the talk radio crowd is ginning up resentment, and Holmgren’s combative news conference will only fan the flames in Cleveland. He chastised the media for arguing this was the “same old Browns” with their problems in the front office, as Holmgren took serious offense to that statement.
Holmgren made some very good points, but I think the Browns can use some common sense help in the PR area. Holmgren explained that he waited to talk to the media until the Browns had all the facts and met with the NFL and NFLPA, but they could have easily sent out a press release earlier in the week explaining this approach, and they would have avoided much of the unnecessary drama.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy shows his frustration after being sacked against the Houston Texans in the first half at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on November 6, 2011. The Texans defeated the Browns 30-12. UPI/Aaron M. Sprecher
Colt McCoy’s concussion is the hot topic right now, but the bigger question involves whether the Browns should stick with McCoy next season or draft one of the many quarterback prospects in the 2012 NFL draft. Peter King makes the case that the Browns should stick with Colt McCoy.
The Browns should build around Colt McCoy, not draft a quarterback in 2012 to replace him. I’d seen snippets of McCoy flailing around this year, but hadn’t watched every throw of a game. And so I watched Thursday night to get some sense of the near- and long-term prospects of the former University of Texas quarterback. And I came away thinking the Browns should stick with him and use a rich 2012 draft to finally build the kind of offense around McCoy that any quarterback would need to succeed.
Mike Holmgren is a disciple of Bill Walsh. I remember when Walsh was shown a few plays of Charles Haley rushing the passer at James Madison; he told his scouts he really wanted him. “If we see him make a few plays like this, we can coach him to do it all the time,” Walsh said, and he was proved a prophet — Haley became a top NFL pass-rusher for San Francisco and Dallas.
Well, on Thursday night, I saw McCoy, with limited help from grade-D skill players, make enough plays to convince me he’s not the problem. Now, I realize he made two or three idiotic throws in the second half — and you’re not going to win doing that consistently. But one of the bad throws came after he was concussed and should never have been put back in the game. And those throws have to be addressed.
But he did enough good things that I came away thinking: Use the three picks in the top 40 next April (Cleveland has its own first- and-second-round picks, plus Atlanta’s first-rounder from the Julio Jones deal last April) to help McCoy, not replace him. Three plays showed a mature quarterback making good decisions:
1. On the first series of the game, using play-action, McCoy set up, looked over his options and found tight end Evan Moore down the left side on a crossing route with a step on linebacker Lawrence Timmons. The high-arcing pass settled into Moore’s arms. Gain of 33.
2. Also on the first series, Josh Cribbs found a gap downfield in the left seam and McCoy made a great touch pass over cornerback Ike Taylor. Gain of 25.
3. In the third quarter, on third-and-eight, down 7-3, McCoy faced a five-man rush and moved up in the pocket. Feeling pressure, he threw the ball about five feet to the right of tight end Alex Smith, because that was the only window open to make the throw — Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and William Gay converged on Smith and seemed ready to pancake him. But the throw was zipped in perfectly, Smith made a diving catch, and the Browns had a first down. Good judgment, great throw.
Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this if McCoy didn’t make some brain-fart throws. But I believe he can be coached out of those — it’s what Bill Walsh would believe, watching him — and I believe some of that stems from the fact that the Browns are a poor offensive team as a whole.
McCoy has holes. He also has a coach, Pat Shurmur, who can correct those, and is in an offense he’s so well-suited to run. He’s well-liked and respected in the locker room. If I’m Browns GM Tom Heckert, I’m looking for an offseason upgrade at wide receiver (the Browns need two), guard, running back and tight end … before I even think about replacing the quarterback.
King makes some solid point. McCoy is a smart quarterback and he’s a gamer. The Browns have been focusing on defense in recent drafts and Tom Heckert has found some good players with Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard. The defense is heading in the right direction.
The offense, however, has been a mess, and Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert will need to sift through the wreckage and figure out a strategy going forward. It’s obvious that there are personnel issues around McCoy. The receivers are mediocre, and while rookie Greg Little has shown some promise, he’s raw and he’s been dropping passes. The running back situation has been marred by the Peyton Hillis soap opera and numerous injuries starting with Brandon Jackson in training camp. Then you have the injury to left guard Eric Steinbach disrupted the offensive line. Throw in a new offense and no offseason to get ready, and it’s no wonder that McCoy and the Browns have struggled.
That said, it has to be tempting to consider Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III or Landry Jones in the draft next year. This is where Mr. Holmgren needs to earn his huge salary. Heckert will do all the work on the draft, but Holmgren needs to make the big decision on McCoy. If they stick with McCoy, they will easily load up on receivers and other playmakers with all their picks next year. But they also might have a shot at a real franchise quarterback. It’s a tough decision.
When he was an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 60s and early 70s, Bill Walsh knew he had to find the right quarterback to fit his system.
Back then, the “right quarterback” had the same attributes as the “right quarterback” does today: Tall, strong-armed, intelligent, etc. But Walsh knew that in order for his offense to work, he needed a signal caller who was accurate first and foremost, and who possessed the ability to make quick decisions in order to get the ball out of his hands in a timely manner.
In Sam Wyche, the Bengals had what some deemed a prototypical quarterback already on the roster. But Walsh clearly didn’t think Wyche was the exact fit to run what is now called the West Coast Offense, so the Bengals acquired former sixth round pick Virgil Carter from the Bears.
Unlike Wyche, Carter wasn’t your prototypical quarterback in that he only stood 6’1” and 192 pounds and didn’t posses a strong arm. But he was smart and accurate, which is exactly what Walsh envisioned for his offense. Carter went on to lead the NFL in completion percentage in 1971 and was third in overall passing. He was the first player to successfully implement Walsh’s system.
Fast-forward to present day where Browns’ team president Mike Holmgren hopes he has found a quarterback to implement his system. Like Carter, the biggest knock on Colt McCoy is arm strength (or lack thereof). He lasted into the third round of the 2010 draft because teams were worried about whether or not he could make all the throws required of a pro quarterback. But Holmgren snatched him with the 85th pick because he too runs a version of Walsh’s West Coast system and sees a signal caller born to run his offense.
In theory, the West Coast predicates itself on using short, horizontal passes to stretch a defense sideline-to-sideline, as opposed to more traditional offenses that want to stretch a defense out vertically. In essence, the WCO uses those short passes to help open up longer running plays and create opportunities for deeper passes to be completed at a higher percentage.
But in order for the offense to work, it needs a quarterback that can read a defense quickly, get the ball out of his hands in a timely manner and most importantly, be accurate with his throws. If his passes are off the mark or delivered too fast or too slowly, the receiver’s timing is off as well and the entire play breaks down. Thus, there’s no need to have a quarterback with Aaron Rodgers’ arm strength running the show. (Although it certainly doesn’t hurt, as the Mike Holmgren-led Packers can attest to with Brett Favre.)
In the Browns’ first preseason game, you can see why fans are starting to get excited about McCoy’s potential. He completed 9-of-10 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown while running Pat Shurmur’s offense to near perfection. He looked comfortable, poised and spread the ball around with little to no hesitation. If he can carry that performance into the regular season, there’s no reason the Browns can’t at least be competitive.
Now, nobody is suggesting that the Browns are playoff bound or that McCoy is heading to the Pro Bowl anytime soon. One preseason game does not a player or team make. But for a franchise that has desperately searched for direction for nearly a decade, this is a positive start for Cleveland. And it’s not like McCoy didn’t posses these same attributes in college: His completion percentage never dipped below 65.1 in any of his four seasons at Texas, and he finished his junior season with a comp percentage of 76.7 and his senior season with a mark of 70.6. He also posses the intangibles that every team wants to see out of their quarterback, including strong leadership skills and the willingness to work on his craft (which was on display this summer when he sought out Favre’s help in Mississippi).
In McCoy, the Browns seemingly have the perfect fit at quarterback for Holmgren and Shurmur’s offense. They seemingly have found their Virgil Carter.