AFC North: Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Josh McCown signing:

McCown’s three-year deal with Cleveland reinforces Johnny Manziel’s place in the Browns’ plans: McCown should be the favorite to start the season opener. He might be the Browns’ best option all year. But McCown also seems an ideal eventual handoff option to Manziel or another young quarterback.

Manziel
McCown
In 12 years, McCown has never started a full 16-game season.

The Browns needed a new quarterback plan after Manziel entered a treatment facility, but they weren’t moving on.

Re-signing Brian Hoyer, after the clunky competition between him and Manziel in Cleveland, wouldn’t have made sense. If Hoyer had come back, he would have been the starter. Despite winning seven of his first 11 games for Cleveland last season, apparently the Browns had seen enough.

McCown can be a starter or backup and adapt either way.

Support existed -- in Berea and from fans -- for Hoyer as a Brown. But Hoyer isn’t much different from McCown. Both are reliable and have shown flashes of good quarterback play, but haven’t sustained it.

Manziel might never be the answer. The Browns still want to find out for sure -- with more than two games as a sample.

Browns hoping for the McCown from Chicago, not the one from Tampa Bay: McCown’s 1-10 record and 14 interceptions with Tampa Bay are curious after he played so well in five starts for Chicago in 2013, throwing 13 touchdowns to one interception.

But McCown dealt with a thumb injury, a struggling offensive line and the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford in September. Those factors shouldn’t excuse his stats, but they help explain them.

The Browns know they aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers. They’ll get better than a starter with a 1-10 record.

Browns clearly unimpressed with quarterback market: The Bucs cut McCown 16 days ago, which allowed four quarterback-hungry teams -- the Jets, Bills, Browns and Bears -- to jockey for the services of the only available quarterback on the market.

The Browns must have believed that the group available at the March 10 start of free agency -- Mark Sanchez, Jake Locker, Hoyer and more -- wasn’t worth the wait.

There was never a home run for the Browns to hit. The Rams are unlikely to unload Sam Bradford. Save Hoyer, McCown was one of the best available.

Another move to come? Doubtful: The Browns’ quarterback picture has come into focus. They’ll have McCown, Manziel, Connor Shaw and possibly a draft pick (second round or beyond) for training camp.

It’s early, but after asking around, the prospect of trading up for Marcus Mariota seems unlikely at best. Giving up several top picks is a lot to ask for a self-proclaimed build-through-the-draft team.

The Browns can exhaust every option with Bradford, though they probably knew that wasn’t going to be fruitful before they signed McCown.
It’s not that the Cleveland Browns should build a roster of nothing but Ohio State guys.

Though that might not be a totally bad thing.

Hartline
It’s just that the team’s receiver position is such a need that when a capable/talented player is released, it sets the squirrels running on the treadmill in the mind to wonder if he fits the Browns. It just so happens that two talented players were released this week and both are from Ohio State and grew up in Northeast Ohio.

Ted Ginn Jr. would fill a glaring need as a returner and could compete at wideout as well. He still has speed, which always is an asset. Carolina and the Browns both have interest in Ginn, a Cleveland native, and there is some thinking from Carolina that the Browns have the edge.

That has to play out.

Friday, word broke that the Dolphins are releasing Brian Hartline.

While Ginn, 29, seems to be a natural, Hartline would take discussion. But he’s worth discussing. Hartline, a native of Canton, Ohio, is 6-foot-2, 28 years old and he’s caught 189 passes the last three seasons in Miami.

He does not have blazing speed, but he’s a tall target with good hands. Word also broke Friday that Atlanta was releasing Harry Douglas, but he seems to have similar skills as Andrew Hawkins. Douglas is a good player, but he might not add to what Hawkins and even Taylor Gabriel do. Hartline might.

The point, too, isn’t that the Browns receivers can’t play. They can, and they (Hawkins, Gabriel, Travis Benjamin) give everything they have. They play with heart, effort and professionalism.

But to think the position doesn’t need upgrading via depth also isn’t realistic.

The Browns always talk about “driving competition" at every position, so adding more capable players will do just that. Drive competition and let the playing time sort itself out.

More players will be released, more opportunities will be available, but it’s clear the Browns can address the receiver spot this offseason — if they choose to address it. They will have more than $50 million in salary-cap space. Money isn’t an issue. How the money is doled out is, but many NFL teams seem to be able to do that and win.

Adding a veteran free agent or two — be they Ohio State guys or guys from Guam — would help. So would drafting a receiver -- with Louisville's DeVante Parker a personal preference.

The position suddenly wouldn’t look so barren.
CLEVELAND -- The Browns hosted free agent quarterback Josh McCown for two days this week, and though the Buffalo Bills are pushing to sign him, the Browns believed they were still in the negotiation game as of Thursday night.

McCown
McCown's camp has talked with a few teams in the last 24 hours. The Browns are believed to be one of them. No deal is imminent.

It's natural to assume the Browns, if they sign McCown, won't re-sign Brian Hoyer or make a bigger play for a Sam Bradford or Mike Glennon.

I'm not necessarily doing that.

McCown is simply a good player to have on the roster, starter or not. There are a few reasons for this. McCown has seen a bit of everything in 12 years. He's started 49 games and watched from the sidelines for many more. He's got a good relationship with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. At worst, McCown helps the Browns' transition and becomes a good influence for younger quarterbacks. At best, he starts and wins games.

The Tampa Bay experiment went terribly wrong for McCown, but it's noteworthy that the Bucs' offensive line was brutal at the beginning of the season and offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's leave of absence in September disrupted continuity. McCown didn't play well, throwing 14 interceptions to 11 touchdowns, but he was dealt a losing hand in Tampa. He's had success as a starter in the past.

Even if McCown signs something close to his two-year, $10-million deal with Tampa a year ago, that wouldn't hamstring the Browns, who have $53.77 million in cap space as of this week. If they wanted to make additional quarterback moves, they can.

McCown is a versatile quarterback option, that simple.

For as much as the NFL discusses quarterback play in absolutes, the Texans won nine games with the Ryan Fitzpatrick-Ryan Mallett-Case Keenum-Tom Savage combination. The Browns won seven of their first 11 last season with Hoyer. There are no quarterback home runs available for Cleveland, but that doesn't mean they can't make the AFC North interesting.
The book is called Everybody Fumbles.

Published in 2014, it is the ultimate statement by Earnest Byner, the former Cleveland Browns running back involved in the play that has gone down in Browns history as merely “The Fumble.”

[+] EnlargeEarnest Byner, Brian Brennan
AP photo/Mark DuncanEarnest Byner's fumble in the 1988 AFC Championship Game haunted him for over a year until he left Cleveland.
Byner’s miscue at the goal line late in the January 1988 AFC Championship Game in Denver came as he was about to score to tie the game. It still hurts Browns fans, and it left Byner feeling like he was drowning.

But in time he recovered.

Byner now wants to make sure another player does not go through what he did for as long as he did. Byner watched the end of this season's NFC Championship Game and saw the Green Bay Packers' Brandon Bostick misplay an onside kick, helping Seattle complete an improbable comeback.

When Byner heard Bostick talk after the game and then a couple of days later, saying that he had let an entire team and fan base down, Byner knew he had to reach out -- even though he had never met Bostick and had never talked to him.

“I didn’t want him to feel like he was alone,” Byner said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Bostick made Byner’s role clear in a first-person story written on SI.com on Thursday, a story in which Bostick revealed he still lives with his mistakes and that he received death threats on Twitter.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s the first thing on my mind,” Bostick wrote. “There are nights when I dwell on it before falling asleep. Sometimes the thought creeps up on me when I’m lifting weights, or eating dinner, or sitting on my couch at home."

"That’s one of the reasons I’m calling him and we’re talking,” Byner said. “I’m trying to make it so it’s not a difficult process for him."

Bostick was supposed to block on the kick and let teammate Jordy Nelson catch the ball. Instead, Bostick tried to catch it and lost it.

Byner heard Bostick’s anguish after the game and reached out through Packers assistant coach Sam Gash, who played for the Ravens when Byner was an assistant coach in Baltimore.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bostick
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesEarnest Byner reached out to Brandon Bostick immediately after the tight end botched the onside kick in the NFC title game.
“With the way social media is now, the weight and how much he hears it, it all happened to him a lot quicker than it did me,” Byner said. “It took me four or five months. It made me struggle after four or five months.”

Byner would hear people yell, “Hey don’t fumble.” He’d hear other barbs, snide remarks. He’d notice people looking at him, then looking away. He felt love from many Browns fans, but the weight from the negative, he said, became heavier every day.

“It was almost like a drowning,” Byner said.

Byner played for the Browns for one season after the fumble but was not himself. He said it took a trade to Washington to bring him out of his dark state.

“It took a spiritual conversation for me to actually get past the fumble,” Byner said. “I’m not preaching to [Bostick]. But to me the spiritual impact is crucial. The spirit has a way of freeing you up a lot.”

Since then, Byner has helped several players in several sports. Bostick is the latest, as the two have talked several times since the championship game. The ex-Brown feels that Bostick will benefit from being released by Green Bay. Going to Minnesota will help him start fresh.

“The next step,” Byner said, “is to get together. I need to look him in his eyes. I need to feel what he’s feeling. That way I can make a difference in the process. Not just that process, but in his life. Because the better the person, the better the player you will have.”

As Byner says when describing his book on a video on his website earnestbyner21.com: “Mistakes are critical to learning, understanding what happened and how it happened. And being able to go to the next level. Being able to ultimately become a champion, not just in sports, but also in life.”
CLEVELAND -- Ahtyba Rubin played 13 games last season, hitting the 100-game mark in Cleveland after seven years with the team, playing out his four-year, $26.5-million deal.

Rubin
He wasn't healthy for 13 games. Not even close. Rubin said on Thursday he "really wasn't right the whole year."

Playing hurt -- as a result, not able to maximize his ability on the field -- could affect his free agency. There's a good chance the Browns will move on from Rubin after his 28-tackle, one-sack performance last season.

The way Rubin saw it, sitting wasn't an option. He wasn't playing for March dollars, he said.

Rubin, who twice injured his ankle during the season, is working out in Florida and expects to make a full recovery. He wore a protective boot for a while but did not need surgery.

"I didn't even think about my scenario -- if you're able to play, you should play," said Rubin about 2014. "I never even thought about not playing. I've just got to do the best I can now, making sure I'm in complete football shape when that time comes and perform at my best."

Rubin first injured his ankle in an early-season practice going against Alex Mack, Rubin said. The problem persisted, and Rubin got injured again in Week 16.

This will be Rubin's first time hitting the open market. He's played seven years and wants to log many more.

"This is a new situation for me," Rubin said. "I'm just letting my agent take care of everything. I want to get a good 12, 13 years in there."

Whether with the Browns or elsewhere, Rubin said he believes his team will get more of the player who earned the contract extension in 2011.

"I know what I can do," Rubin said. "For me to be struggling [last year], it was frustrating."
video
Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer may not believe in taking a wide receiver high in the draft, but the rest of the NFL world does.

Many mock drafts have the Browns pigeonholed into taking a wideout with the first of their two first-round picks, 12th overall. Almost all have them taking a wideout either 12th or 19th.

A consensus seems to be growing that the Browns won't be able to take the two top wideouts; Amari Cooper of Alabama or Kevin White of West Virginia are expected to go in the top 10.

That leaves a logical and appealing choice at 12: DeVante Parker of Louisville.

That's the player ESPN's Todd McShay has the Browns taking in his third mock draft Insider. And it makes good sense. Adams is a 6-foot-3 receiver who had 43 catches in six games after he returned from a broken foot. He averaged 142.5 yards per game and topped 200 against Florida and 180 against Kentucky. He is a logical, talented pick, and the Browns would do well to bring him to Cleveland.

The other general thinking from draft analysts is the Browns will use the 19th pick for a right tackle to replace or compete with Mitchell Schwartz. For whatever reason, the thinking is the team needs to upgrade at right tackle. Thus, McShay has them taking offensive tackle Ereck Flowers of Miami with their second first-round pick.

However, this does not jive with the Browns' feelings on Schwartz. The team does not believe he is a weak link.
"I thought Mitchell [Schwartz] had a good year for us," coach Mike Pettine said at the combine. "Had some plays he'd want to take back, but we feel good about where our offensive line is."

Pettine doesn't do a lot of dancing when he evaluates players, so to assume the Browns need to update a position the coach doesn't want to upgrade might not mesh.

To me, it still makes more sense for the Browns to think defensive front with the 19th pick.
Roger Goodell’s praise of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam provides a breeding ground for cynicism.

Goodell made clear he is a “big fan” of Haslam and Cleveland is "fortunate" to have him.

Perish the thought that this Browns offseason has turned into a dumpster fire, and that this dumpster fire follows last offseason, when the CEO, general manager and coach all were fired after one season.

The list of football foibles goes on and on.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesCleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has a strong supporter in Roger Goodell, according to comments he made in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday.
But then there’s the Pilot Flying J rebate fraud scandal. That’s the Knoxville, Tennessee, company Haslam runs, the one that paid $92 million to settle a federal investigation into rebate fraud and shelled out $85 million more to settle lawsuits related to the same issue. In paying the $92 million, Pilot accepted criminal responsibility for its employees cheating small trucking companies by not paying promised rebates.

Haslam said he never knew anything about the fraud scheme, that he was shocked to know it was going on. He promised to take action, and he did.

But now he’s saying some of the same things about his football team.

The team didn’t know how deep Johnny Manziel's issues were. It did its homework on Justin Gilbert but didn’t know his problems. Haslam knew nothing about his general manager sending text messages to coaches during games, in violation of league rules.

The commissioner said this at the Canton Civic Center on Wednesday: “I think this community, and I know this is Browns country, I think they're fortunate to have Jimmy Haslam as an owner, and we're fortunate to have him as an owner in the league.”

Roll out the cynicism.

Goodell earned $44 million in 2014, according to the SportsBusiness Daily. Goodell earns that money because of the 32 owners, of whom Haslam is one. And Haslam was one owner who raised ticket prices this offseason, in some cases 30 percent. An increase in ticket prices leads to … more revenue.

But Goodell is also in charge of a league that is trying to settle lawsuits from former players whose lives have been severely affected by head injuries. The 1985 Chicago Bears were the subject of a heartbreaking report on HBO’s "Real Sports." A recent ESPN.com story by Jim Trotter detailed the heartbreak of depression prevalent in ex-players, in part brought on by head injury.

The man in charge of this league gave Ray Rice only a two-game suspension, and the commissioner said he didn’t know what happened in the elevator between Rice and his then-fiancee (now wife). When the video inside the elevator surfaced, there were cries for Goodell to resign. He resisted, and his owners supported him.

Why they did is no great secret: Goodell drives revenues -- to more than $9 billion last year. Because he increases these revenues, the owners, Haslam among them, reward him. Goodell visits Canton and talks about how lucky Cleveland is to have Haslam.

This isn’t to say that Haslam isn’t trying to win or that Goodell doesn’t genuinely like the Browns owner. It would be silly to say otherwise.

But it’s just as silly to be so gushing. Wouldn’t a simple phrase such as, Jimmy is one of our 32 owners, and we certainly hope that his efforts work for Browns fans, be just fine?

In making such a statement, Goodell reaffirmed the belief that he is the commissioner of ownership, not the entire NFL.
Describing the Browns' pass-rushing situation is fairly simple -- Paul Kruger was the team's only outside linebacker to record more than two sacks last season.

Mingo
Kruger
Sacks aren't everything. Effective edge pressure can be just as important if it leads to the defense getting off the field. But sacks equal money for players, momentum for the team and loss of yardage for the opponent.

The Browns were scheduled to meet with Jabaal Sheard's reps at the NFL combine, but Drew Rosenhaus said a few weeks ago that Sheard is likely to test the market. Sheard is a versatile option. The sack totals aren't there (he did play injured last year, though). He might be interested in returning to a 4-3 scheme.

That leaves the Browns with Kruger, Barkevious Mingo (who also played hurt) and clear-cut backups. Simply put, the Browns need to add at least one rusher through the draft or free agency.

Here are three options:

1. Draft a stud at No. 12 or 19: This draft is so deep at stand-up rushers that even if Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler Jr., and Vic Beasley go in the top 10, the team still has options. Kentucky's Bud Dupree is still a bit raw but has wildly high upside. Virginia's Eli Harold had a strong combine.

2. Make a play for top Tier 2 free agents: Justin Houston is likely staying in Kansas City, and Buffalo's Jerry Hughes might command a huge deal (he could be enticing to former Bills DC Mike Pettine, though). But after that there are plenty of options available. Pernell McPhee is a hot name in NFL circles -- possibly too hot. His market is rising. Somebody's about to overpay. Philly's Brandon Graham or Pittsburgh's Jason Worilds (who's not getting franchised, per colleague Scott Brown) could be available in that range of $6 million or $7 million per season. Brian Orakpo could be a good value pickup because injuries might prevent the former first-round pick from commanding top dollar.

3. Count on Mingo making the jump and add backup depth at a low cost or in the draft's middle rounds: Clearly the Browns would like more from Mingo than seven sacks in 30 games, but Mingo earned street cred in a few areas last year -- he played through a shoulder injury all year, got better against the run and seemed more active as the season progressed. His speed is still ridiculous. The Browns can play him in coverage or let him run laterally to chase down running backs. That's where he's at his best. If he can channel aggressiveness every week (sometimes he looks passive as a rusher), he can break out in his third season. Still a bit on the thin side, too.

Don't be surprised if Mingo and Kruger are the slated starters going into camp, with the team adding depth.
The past two days the Cleveland Browns spent time visiting with free agent quarterback Josh McCown, who lost 10 of his 11 starts last season in Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, the quarterback who has gone 10-6 as a starter in Cleveland waits for his private time with the team’s general manager.

The Browns have had no contact with Hoyer other than his postseason meeting with Mike Pettine and post-hiring meeting with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.

GM Ray Farmer did not even find time to have a cup of coffee with Hoyer’s agent, Joe Linta, at the scouting combine. The two had no contact at a place where typically teams and agents lay the groundwork if they are interested in their own free agents.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
David Banks/Getty ImagesJosh McCown was 1-10 last season as the starter in Tampa Bay.
Free agency opens March 10, with negotiations permitted starting March 7. If the Browns wish to do anything serious with Hoyer, there’s time. But not a lot.

“I know Ray and Brian want to get together,” Linta said. “Ray is very busy. I’m sure Ray will find the time between now and the start of free agency. Once those two get together we can move forward. Brian definitely knows how the coaching staff feels.”

Would Hoyer want to come back?

“Brian feels the Browns can be a playoff team and is excited about the possibility of staying,” Linta said.

The statement about the coaching staff’s feelings mesh with a report from ESPN’s Ed Werder on Tuesday. He said the coaches told Hoyer privately they would like him back.

Yet Farmer has yet to sit down with Hoyer after texting him shortly after the season about getting together.

McCown is, shall we say, an “interesting” person to bring to Berea because he illustrates perfectly the lack of front-line quarterback talent in the free-agent market.

If the Browns want to sell McCown as “the answer,” have at it. It would be selling yesterday's trash, though. And it would be a continuation of past years when other aging veterans sold as the answer didn’t even last one season. Those names are all on the back of "that jersey."

If the Browns want to present McCown as a backup/mentor who could work with another veteran (Hoyer or Jake Locker) and Johnny Manziel, then OK. That’s logical.

McCown is an excellent guy, a team player and a guy who has been around. He’s knowledgeable, and when he played well in relief of Jay Cutler two years ago in Chicago he never once tried to pretend he was anything other than the backup.

Tampa Bay signed him last season to be the starter, and it didn’t work.

He threw 14 interceptions with 11 touchdowns and went 1-10 as the starter -- with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as his receivers.

The result shouldn’t have been surprising. McCown started five games in 2013 only because Cutler was hurt. From 2008-12 he had two starts.

McCown has never started more than 13 games in a season, and that was in 2004. His overall record as the starting quarterback is 17-32; his overall rating 76.1.

How this translates into any kind of upgrade over Hoyer follows typical Browns logic of the past 15 years that anything new is better, just because.

McCown over Hoyer is simply not an upgrade.

Yet the Browns meet with McCown, fly him in and take him to dinner all while the general manager has yet to find time to have a face-to-face with the guy who played for the team last season.
The Cleveland Browns need a quarterback, and one option that has been floated is acquiring St. Louis’ Sam Bradford. Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, is coming off a second ACL surgery.

The idea sounds great. Bradford rides into town and solves everything. Except it’s simply not realistic at this point, and the odds of it happening are minuscule.

Here are the reasons:

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Scott KaneSam Bradford has had input this offseason in several St. Louis coaching hires.
Everything the Rams have done since this offseason has been tailored to keeping Bradford, and, assuming he’s healthy, making him the starter. Coach Jeff Fisher recently even said the team will add a quarterback in the offseason, but it would not be about “challenging” Bradford.

The team’s new offensive coordinator came from within, as Fisher promoted quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti. It was done with input from Bradford after the quarterback and coach sat down for what Fisher called a “lengthy discussion.” Fisher said when promoting Cignetti that continuity and stability meant the same system for Bradford, which was a plus. Fisher even admitted that had Bradford objected to Cignetti, the hire would not have been made. Cignetti’s comment on his hiring: “We’re looking forward to Sam moving forward … getting Sam back healthy will greatly increase our chances of winning.”

Bradford was also involved in the hiring of quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke. Prior to choosing Weinke, Fisher set up a dinner meeting between Weinke and Bradford. The Rams made their two most significant offensive hires in an inclusive way with their quarterback. Doing so and then trading him is not logical. (Aside: Weinke is like Kevin O’Connell in that neither has coached, but both have worked privately with quarterbacks. Perhaps it’s time to temper the cynicism on O’Connell.)

Bradford has remained completely dedicated to the Rams. General manager Les Snead said at the combine that he told Bradford to take time away from the team after his second -- and potentially spirit-killing -- ACL tear. Bradford returned within two weeks. Since the season ended, he has not missed a day. He wants to stay with the Rams.

A new contract is not a huge issue. Bradford’s salary-cap number for 2015 is close to $16 million; his salary is $12.95 million. The Rams could hold Bradford to the number, or they could sit down with agent Tom Condon and work out a deal that reduces the base but allows Bradford to make that up in incentives. An agent who recognizes where his player wants to be can make this happen.

Snead said this at the combine: “I think in our process here, let's take it in these phases. Let’s get Sam healthy. And then when he's healthy, let’s let him go compete. And I think the guy's got a chance to be a heck of a starting quarterback. Let's insure the position. And that just gives us options in case we do have bad luck.”

He also said this of the notion of trading Bradford: “I don't know that that solves our riddle. That's breaking news is what that is -- you know what I mean? Do you want to trade for Sam? Do you have a deal? He's a good player. If some team was interested I certainly don't blame them. But I'll stick to what I said earlier -- deleting him is not the answer.”

None of this sounds like a team willing to give up on a guy.

Perhaps the only way would be if a team makes a ridiculous offer that might include two first-round picks. Is it worth the Browns giving up that much, then committing $50 million in the next four or five years? For a guy coming off his second ACL surgery?

The Browns tried to acquire Bradford twice before, in the year he was drafted and in the year Robert Griffin III was in the draft. St. Louis stood by Bradford.

It certainly appears that the Rams are going to stand by him again.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Couple items on the Browns' free agency process out of the NFL scouting combine:

Hoyer
QB pursuit: There are no firm updates on the Brian Hoyer picture, save this: Both sides are waiting for GM Ray Farmer and Brian Hoyer to meet face-to-face. That meeting has placed contract talks on pause.

Hoyer said publicly he's awaiting the results of the NFL's investigation into Ray Farmer's game-day texting, which could involve Hoyer. It's possible feelings will be hurt. If Hoyer is to stay in Cleveland, an air-clearing talk with Farmer could be the catalyst.

Farmer told reporters about Hoyer that it takes "two sides" to make a deal, which signals the Browns' willingness to bring Hoyer back -- at the right price. That might not be Hoyer's price.

Shorts
WR pursuit: Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III is interested in returning home to Cleveland, which has the free agent on its radar as March 10 approaches.

The 6-foot Shorts, who went to Collinwood High School and Mount Union, finished last season with 53 catches for 557 yards and one touchdown in 13 games with Jacksonville, and also dealt with a hamstring injury during the season. Shorts' biggest production came in 2012, with nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns.

At receiver, Shorts would be a complementary piece to a high draft pick or another free agency signing.
video
INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard at the NFL combine on Friday:

1. Browns have begun interviews with in-house free agents: Many teams aren't talking hard numbers yet because free agency doesn't launch until March 10, but the Browns have been sitting down with reps for cornerback Buster Skrine, linebacker Jabaal Sheard and more. The buzz is still that Jordan Cameron won't be back. Sheard and defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin are unlikely to return, barring an unforeseen late swing. The Browns will want Skrine back, but Skrine will have a nice market for himself. He had a good season, and the Browns might not be interested in a bidding war. The biggest ball to drop is with Brian Hoyer, whose agent talked with the Browns in January, but it's uncertain when negotiations will relaunch.

2. Did Desmond Bryant play his way out of a pay cut or restructure?: Bryant's five-year, $34-million deal pays about $6 million in 2015. If Bryant underwhelmed in 2014, he could have faced issues around this time. But I'm told Bryant feels confident that's not an issue after a productive season. Bryant's five sacks and 49 tackles aren't outlandish numbers, but Paul Kruger told me during the year that Bryant was downright dominant at times up front. The Browns are not saddled with bloated deals. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor is due $5.5 million in the final year of his rookie deal. After missing 11 games to knee problems last year, the Browns could approach Taylor about his contract or outright release him.

3. DeVante Parker could be intriguing option for Browns: The team had an informal meeting with the smooth wide receiver from Louisville. The 6-foot-3 Parker is considered a first-round prospect and a good route-runner, which is what the Browns need in a post-Josh Gordon era.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Mike Pettine met with the media on Wednesday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the Cleveland Browns:

  • Browns face serious problems with Johnny Manziel: The Browns basically have two quarterback plans -- one with Manziel, one without. The latter is the only reliable option until Manziel returns from treatment, and even then it's uncertain what the team will be getting. Pettine made clear that the organization is proud of Manziel and wants him to come back refreshed. That doesn't mean he'll be equipped to start NFL games. There's no guarantee his on-the-field ability can get it done. If the Browns felt remotely confident Manziel would start in 2015, they wouldn't be scouring the earth for quarterback help.
  • Marcus Mariota is still in play, no matter what the Browns say: The Browns are exploring all options at quarterback, they say, which means Mariota's name will come up a lot inside the Browns' facility. New quarterbacks coach Kevin O'Connell just worked with him, so his opinion will be noted. Having two first-round picks will make a trade tempting, where even if the team doesn't want to mortgage the future, Mariota must be at least considered because there is a wide gulf between Jameis Winston/Mariota and everyone else.
  • GM Ray Farmer is fortunate he didn't burn bridges for good: Pettine admitted Farmer's texting to football staffers on game days -- an act that would violate NFL communication guidelines -- was hurtful to him. Of course, Farmer questioning game-day operations undercuts the coaching staff at the core. But Pettine stressed that Farmer apologized to him for the mistake and the two are ready to move on. The two still agree on philosophical football and how to build a team. That's big. Pettine was always going to take the high road, but this could have gotten ugly. Pettine seemed to tease that Farmer, in his Thursday interview scheduled at 10 a.m., would clear up some things.
  • The Browns are throwing smokescreens about wide receiver: Pettine used the age-old NFL adage that seems to apply to receivers every year -- you can get quality wideouts later in the draft. It's such a deep position. Deep, yes, but true difference-makers go high for a reason (Hi, Odell). Alabama's Amari Cooper, West Virginia's Kevin White and Louisville's DeVante Parker could give the Browns exactly what they need, reliability on the outside. At least one should be available at No. 12. Farmer has made clear he's not keen on spending big on receivers, but sitting idle worsens the chances of the next quarterback to have any semblance of success.
  • DL or OG is a bigger need than RT: Pettine said he thought Mitchell Schwartz had a good season, so if Farmer feels the same way, that could open a lane for the Browns to fortify their defensive front somewhere in the first round and get a talented offensive guard somewhere in the first three rounds. Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton would make some serious sense at No. 12. For edge-rush help, there's plenty of that -- Missouri's Shane Ray or Florida's Dante Fowler.
Leave it to Twitter to unleash the snark about the Cleveland Browns new logo.

The team alerted its Browns Backers clubs that the new logo will be unveiled on Tuesday, though the clubs might see it on email correspondence prior. The team is replacing the iconic orange helmet.

The new logo is part of the team’s “rebranding,” which will include new uniforms to be released near the draft.

That led one part of the Twitter masses to let loose with the sarcasm. Here are a few examples:

SPONSORED HEADLINES