I have a high opinion of John Dorsey, the new Cleveland Browns general manager. But I am not going to praise his hiring by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. In his five years as owner of the Browns, Haslam has hired four general managers, and the three previous ones to Dorsey have presided over Browns’ teams that have won 4, 7, 3, 1, and zero games. You’re going to have to do better than than that to get anything but rank skepticism in this corner, Mr. Haslam.
The men of Haslam have never had a quarterback to build around, and have drafted Johnny Manziel, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer as that. The men of Haslam are 2-38 in their last 40 games. The average GM tenure in the Haslam era (including Tom Heckert, the one he inherited when he bought the team in 2012) has lasted 15 months.
So even though I think Dorsey is a good scout and a steely man who can ignore the ever-shifting winds of Browns horribleness, who cares? What matters is wins. Talk means nothing. Words in columns mean nothing. What means something is this team finally getting a quarterback who can win football games in the big league. The Browns, since being reinvented in 1999, have never had one. They’ve had a league-high 36 picks in the last three drafts, but have chosen to pass on Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. They have 12 picks in 2018, including four in the top 40 or so. Which leads me to the question for Dorsey in our 26-minute conversation that Browns’ fans will likely find most important.
“How many Baker Mayfield games have you seen this year?” I ask.
“Six,” Dorsey said.
Good for him. The feisty Oklahoma quarterback is going to be a decision Dorsey will have to make near the top of the draft. Mayfield might be the best quarterback in the draft, but he’s also 6'0 ¼", and NFL scouts don’t like small quarterbacks, regardless of their skill and competitiveness.
“I want to be able to project and articulate my opinion when the time comes and it matters,” Dorsey said. “I saw [Mayfield] at Kansas this year, in the OU-Kansas game. You’re darn right he’s a good quarterback, no matter how tall he is. Some would say he’s too short, but I would ask you: How tall is Russell Wilson? How tall is Chase Daniel?”
Russell Wilson is a good comparison, and he is 5'10 ⅝". The journeyman Daniel is exactly 6 feet. Dorsey signed Daniel as a backup to Alex Smith in his first season as Kansas City GM, so clearly he has no prejudice against short quarterbacks.
But it’s too early in the scouting process to try to guess who Dorsey and coach Hue Jackson will choose as the Browns’ next big thing at quarterback. They obviously have to pick one, unless they’re able to convince someone like Kirk Cousins to abandon all hope of winning for the next couple of years to take a sick money deal in Cleveland. The Browns are slated to have more than $50 million in cap money available this winter.
To think the Cleveland GM job is a death sentence is silly. The Browns do have holes all over their roster, in part because their analytics people put a value on players and don’t waver much; that led to the disastrous swap of a player they’d developed, wideout Terrelle Pryor, who they let go in free agency, for wide receiver Kenny Britt, who they signed for the same money they’d have given Pryor (four years, $32 million). Pryor wanted more. But signing Britt to big money anyway was just stupid, in part because Britt had a history of trouble as an NFL player. Last week, one of Dorsey’s first decisions was to fire Britt. Good move. But more wasted money. However, with $54 million under the cap as of today for 2018, and with six picks in the first 65 draft choices next April, the rebuild is doable. Dorsey is a Ron Wolf disciple, and he knows players, better than predecessor Sashi Brown knew them. So on the surface, this is a good move. But it’s impossible to praise any football move by an owner who has made a slew of them, and who hasn’t kept a single coach or GM for longer than two seasons.
It’s hard to get past 2-38 in the last 40 games. It will confront Dorsey at every turn.
“I pinch myself to have this job,” Dorsey said over the weekend. “I love the National Football League, and I love the history of the Browns going back to Paul Brown, and I understand the meaning of the Cleveland Browns to this league. I met Paul Brown, and I will never forget it. In 1984, at the scouting combine, I was talking to [Maryland quarterback and draft prospect] Boomer Esiason, and the next thing I know, this older gentleman walks up and talks to Boomer and before he leaves, he says, ‘Boys, always remember those who came before you.’ It was Paul Brown. I just love tradition. I’m going to tell you: We’re going to get this thing righted.”
That’s been said before. But in the 19 seasons since the Browns came back to the league in 1999, they’ve had a winning record twice. Haslam, since buying the team in October 2012, has tried everything but patience. One of his hires, baseball transplant Paul DePodesta, brought an analytical bent to the franchise, and if it’s helped, we haven’t seen it. DePodesta is most noted for saying that the team didn’t feel Carson Wentz would be a top 20 quarterback in the NFL.
If you hear an executive of your team say that, it’s a wonder why Haslam would keep DePodesta. But Haslam said DePodesta would stay, to provide whatever advice Dorsey might find valuable.
“In today’s football,” Dorsey said, “it’s a combination of art and science. This model can work. Eighty-five percent Atlanta Braves and 15 percent Oakland A’s, that can work.”
He meant the Braves are scouting gurus and the A’s are Moneyballtypes. Dorsey will take DePodesta’s advice. Will he use it in formulating his draft board for the 2018 draft? We’ll see.
So the new era of the Browns is underway. In his first two days on the job, Dorsey said he already had 10 conversations with Hue Jackson and think this arranged marriage will work just fine. We’ll see about that too. The one thing the Browns have going for them is that Dorsey and Jackson are both traditional football guys, and Jackson should get along with Dorsey far better than the chafing relationship he had with Brown.
In the end, though, it’s going to come down to identifying and drafting or signing a long-term quarterback. If you’re USC quarterback Sam Darnold and are weighing whether to come out in 2018 or stay in college for another season, do you let the dysfunction of the Browns contribute to your call? I would, if I were him. Those are the challenges confronting Dorsey: convincing a Darnold or a Cousins to come to Cleveland. No matter how good a scout Dorsey is, that’s going to be a tough job.
Now for your email from a busy week...
NICK FOLES = JEFF HOSTETLER?
I’d make the point that the 1990 Giants won it all on a backup after Phil Simms went down. Jeff Hostetler went in and played his heart out, and got a little lucky. Philly has a balanced team, and can still clinch home-field. Nick Foles has lots of experience, and knows his role will be more game manager and less superstar. I think they still have a decent shot.
They do have a decent shot. In fact, when Simms went down in the 1990 season with a foot injury and ceded the job to Hostetler, Hostetler had started just two NFL games. Foles has started 36. I don’t think the Eagles are out of it by any means—and I do think they’ve got a decent chance to win home-field in the NFC. If you want a further harbinger of hope, think of this: Hostetler knocked off Joe Montana’s 49ers and Jim Kelly’s Bills, both heavily favored, in the playoffs that year.
I was born a Steelers fan (grew up about 35 miles out of the 'Burgh), and while I am an older fan who grew up on the hard-hitting version of the game, we do need to do something to try and eliminate intentionally vicious hits. First, there needs to be a well-defined policy because it looks like it’s run by social media or by PR departments. You can see similar hits where one is suspended and another is not. This gray area must be eliminated.
—Gary T., Monroe, Ga.
Problem is, Gary, that no two hits in the NFL are exactly alike. Some would see the George Iloka hit on Antonio Brown and say it’s the decline of NFL civilization; some, such as me, believe Iloka was not aiming for Brown’s head and simply hit it while trying to dislodge the ball from his grip. I am in favor of—in fact, I’m a flag-waver for—the NFL enacting a policy to more closely monitor and discipline vicious hits. I just don’t think you can paint all vicious hits with the same brush.
JAGUARS DESERVE BETTER COVERAGE
I am a long-time reader of your column and have really enjoyed it for the most of this time. But I have to take you to task for your lack of coverage of the Jags’ victory over Seattle. You chose to cover big market teams and a snow game between two teams that probably won’t make the playoffs. No wonder the Jags feel disrespected. The Jags made a statement and got no respect from you. Also, you are right to point out the actions of a small minority of fans but then you let a blatant cheap shot by Michael Bennett get barely get a mention. It was just as bad a Gronk’s, where you covered that (again a big market team). Your column has gone down in my estimations after this week.
—John, Glasgow, Scotland
You’re right, John. The Jaguars do deserve credit, and deserve pub from me. It’s my job to cover all 32 teams, and this week I should have devoted more space to a team that’s really been a pleasant surprise this year. I disagree that a mostly meaningless game such as the Bills-Colts Snow Bowl should be ignored (it was lovely and compelling), but I agree with you that I should have spent some time on the Jags.
First up, love the column. I’ve read it every week for over a decade. This week, however, I was disappointed that the column featured 600 words about an inconsequential snow game, but not a single mention of the Jaguars’ exceptional performance against the Seahawks, or the playoff implications thereof. Actually, that’s not true. You did mention the game, but only to (rightly) condemn the Jax fans. C’mon, man. We’ve not been good in a long time—at least give us a pat on the head and a word of encouragement!
—Ian, Leeds, England
Thanks, Ian. Will do. You know what’s interesting? We got a lot of mail this week castigating me for my lack of Jacksonville coverage. Understandable, to be sure. And much of it came from the UK. That must mean that the Jags’ (and the NFL’s) efforts to make it The UK’s Team are working.
MIAMI REGISTERING PLAYERS TO VOTE
I'm a bit surprised anyone is criticizing the Miami Dolphins’ effort to register its players to vote as a PR stunt. Of course it was a PR stunt, but one with a civic purpose. This will have been a success if it inspired fans to go register to vote, which is certainly what the intent was all along. I say good on the organization for doing something positive with the message. We have too much negativity and political polarization as it is.
—Jim L., San Antonio
That’s the way I felt, Jim. But we live in a pretty polarized society, so anytime you credit some people doing a good deed, it’s likely there will be people criticizing that for no reason other than they view it as a political football. Tough times we live in now. My guess is that about half of the 32,000 people reacting to my original Tweet had negative things to say about some aspect of all 75 Miami Dolphins registering to vote.
RIP RON MEYER
I met Coach Ron Meyer at Mills Falls restaurant in Newton, Mass., in the mid 1990's and of course I had to tell him what was wrong with his Patriots. He was polite and patient all the while (I'm sure) thinking, "here's another yahoo who knows nothing about football trying to tell me how to run my team"! Less than a month later I'm sitting at the Bus Stop Pub having a cold one and who should walk in but the coach again. I his saw eyes roll when he spotted me so I decided I had given him enough input at the restaurant. We just sat, drank and had a nice chat about everything but the Pats.
Love Ron Meyer. An interesting human being who loved football but who would not sleep in his office to be defined by it.
CLEVELAND’S NEW GM
Browns get a new GM. Not a word.
Just too much happening Sunday to give it justice. So I saved it for today, when I could give it morse room to breathe. In the Monday column, it might have gotten 600 words. Today, I can blow it out for 1,200.
In all the discussion about the Shazier injury have not seen any comments on how the injury occurred. He led with his head, not the way all the experts say you should tackle to avoid injury. It appeared to me that the intent was to not only make the tackle but to inflict injury. Does not the coaching staff and player deserve some blame for the technique used in the tackle?
—John M., Erie, Pa.
It’s an interesting point, and a good one. I did mention it in the original reporting of the injury. But it just feels wrong to delve too much into it now. There will be time enough to talk about Shazier’s technique.
CLEARING THE SNOW BOWL
I loved watching football players try to play in the blizzard conditions. But I couldn't help but wonder how fair this would have been had it been a playoff game? Couldn't the league do a better job of clearing the field? Possibly had a couple of front loaders or graters clearing between the hash marks while sidelines, grid lines and end zones could be clear using smaller equipment? Maybe the NFL preferred the blizzard spectacle?
The thing is, Steve, it would be the same conditions for both teams. So I don’t see how that would be unfair. Perhaps the game would end in a fluky way, but not an unfair way.
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