AFC North: Joe Haden

BALTIMORE -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
  • Whitner
    Fed up: A similar theme came from different voices, especially veterans: The Browns need every player to be accountable and distraction-free. Players wouldn't mention names, but the implications were clear after a weekend of headlines with Josh Gordon (suspended for missing walk-through), Johnny Manziel (fined for being late to treatment) and Justin Gilbert (inactive after showing up late to a meeting). "I've been assured we are going to bring guys in and get guys off this bus that don't really want to be here and do what they are supposed to do," safety Donte Whitner said. Corner Joe Haden added after a long pause: "Everybody’s got to be all-in. Everybody’s gotta try to fight for this one goal."
  • Shaw gets street cred: Quarterback Connor Shaw's numbers weren't outrageous (14-of-28, 177 yards, one interception), but he was steady all day and avoided big mistakes, which is all the Browns could have wanted from an undrafted rookie and former practice-squad player making his first start. His interception came when the Browns were down late. He also fumbled early in the game. "He's a warrior, and I think he showed that today," receiver Andrew Hawkins said. "We couldn't be more proud of the way Connor conducted himself." Added Shaw: "I felt comfortable out there. ... Winning would have made it so great today."
  • Rookie RB shows up: Terrance West had an erratic rookie season but capped it with a 94-yard rushing performance at Baltimore on 18 carries. He added his fourth touchdown of the season. West had four games of fewer than 15 rushing yards this year but countered with three games of at least 90. "It had ups and downs, a roller coaster, but hey, man, we keep moving forward," West said. "I’ve got to grow up. I’ve got to lead. Focus more. Next year, I’m going to be a vet. Everybody will step up to the plate.”
CINCINNATI -- A.J. Green was adamant last week about putting on a show during his final four games of the regular season.

 "It' what you do in December," the Pro Bowl receiver said. "Anything before this really doesn't matter."

If what he did on Dec. 7 can be repeated on the Dec. 14, 22 and 28, then the Cincinnati Bengals may do just enough to hold onto their AFC North lead and advance into the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.

Then again, maybe not. After all, the Bengals did lose last Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers despite Green's 11-catch, 224-yard day. Still, one has to imagine the more times Green has performances like his most recent one, the better his team's chances at collecting wins will be.

But truthfully, this wasn't some one-game phenomenon for the fourth-year wideout. Across the past four weeks, he has gotten back to his old game-changing self, using his breakaway speed and apparently healthier right big toe to juke past, spin on and completely confound defenders during arguably the best stretch of his career.

In the past four games, Green has 33 catches on 47 targets for 529 yards and three touchdowns. Only Atlanta's Julio Jones, with 575 yards, has more receiving yards the last four weeks.

Green also has catches of 81, 56 and 38 yards during that stretch, with those receptions coming on play-action Go or Post routes. In the last month, he also has set a single-game career high in catches (13) and a single-game career high in yards (Sunday's 224).

"He's definitely got a little edge to him right now," said Clint Boling, a Bengals offensive lineman and Green's former college teammate at Georgia.

For Green, there's no better week to enter with an edge. At FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland on Sunday, he will be facing a cornerback who has mostly owned him going back to their days as competitors in the SEC. When Green was at Georgia, Browns corner Joe Haden was at Florida and was one of the few defensive backs to have any shred of success against Green.

Since the pair have been in the NFL, Haden has been Green's biggest headache.

In the past two Bengals-Browns games, Green has been held to just 30 yards on five catches and 15 targets while matched up with Haden, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In their six meetings, Haden also has held Green to three or fewer catches four times. Green's receptions percentage (the average the number of catches per target) is significantly lower when facing Haden, too. Versus Haden, his receptions percentage is 46.9 percent. Overall, it's 58.2 percent.

Last week, though, Green had success against another corner who has troubled him over the years. Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor had few answers as Green caught eight passes on nine targets against him. One of those was the 81-yard touchdown reception that came when he blew past Taylor and put a one-move juke on a safety to glide in for the score.

"The confidence is back," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "When the plays have been there, he's made them. He's made big catches, big runs after catches, big plays. That's the type of player he is, so you've got to keep giving him these opportunities to make these big plays."

Even still, Green's offensive coordinator wants to see more.

"He's done some really good things, but I think there's more in there. I really do," Hue Jackson said. "He's just scratching the surface of what he can be. My challenge to him is you've got to do that, but do it better. That's just the way it's got to be."

W2W4: Browns vs. Bengals

November, 6, 2014
CINCINNATI -- A few storylines to watch Thursday night when the Cincinnati Bengals host the Cleveland Browns at Paul Brown Stadium:

Green v. Haden VI: Along with the 82nd installment of the "Battle of Ohio," we also will see the sixth NFL edition of Green v. Haden, the receiver-cornerback matchup featuring Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Joe Haden. Both players have had their share of wins in the rivalry, with Haden appearing to get the best of Green in Bengals wins. In Bengals losses, it has mostly been the other way around. Green has 14 catches for 186 yards, two touchdowns and nine first downs in meetings against Haden the Bengals have lost. In wins, he has just six catches for 158 yards, one touchdown and four first downs. Overall, Haden plays Green better than other cornerbacks do. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Green's receptions per target, targets per route, receptions per route, air yards per target and yards after catch are all lower when he faces Haden, compared to when he's matched up against any other cornerback. With Green playing for the second straight week through a toe injury that has bugged him all year, this matchup could help dictate the outcome of the game.

A repeat for Hill? After filling in admirably for starting running back Giovani Bernard last week, rookie Jeremy Hill has a chance for a repeat performance this week. The big question is: will he? Hill rushed for a career-high 154 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He banged up his left knee during the Bengals' 33-23 win over the Jaguars, one that was powered in large part by his 60-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run. Hill said all week that his knee feels fine and he is hopeful for another breakout performance when he faces the Browns' hole-filled rush defense. Cleveland, like Cincinnati, ranks 30th in the league in rush defense, allowing 139.6 yards per game. With the Browns' offense playing well the last four weeks, particularly in the second half, it may be incumbent on the Bengals' offense to employ a heavy dose of the run in an effort of eating clock and playing keep-away from them. If that's the case, Hill won't be the only ball carrier Thursday. He'll get a little relief from Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead.

Battle for field position: In addition to the time of possession battle, the Bengals and Browns also will be fighting for field position. The most direct way to affect field position is to play well on special teams, something Cincinnati has done all season. Punter Kevin Huber leads the league in percentage of punts inside the 10- and 5-yard lines, and he also has the highest net punting average. On the return side of things, cornerback Adam Jones has put the Bengals in good field position both following kickoffs and punts. While fellow corner Leon Hall's (concussion) absence may force the Bengals to finesse a few of Jones' return opportunities -- Brandon Tate may have to take a couple over the course of the game to keep Jones fresh -- he'll still have several chances.

Leah Still could give jolt: There will be no shortage of emotion Thursday night as 4-year-old Leah Still, daughter of defensive tackle Devon Still, will be in attendance. Doctors in Philadelphia cleared her to fly to Cincinnati to watch her father play, all while she continues her fight with Stage 4 pediatric cancer. The sight of her on the video board between the first and second quarters when the Bengals present a $1.25 million check to advance pediatric cancer research efforts at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Medical Center should give the home crowd even more life.

Browns vs. Bengals preview

November, 6, 2014

This rivalry is starting to get more significant.

Credit both the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals for better talent evaluation practices in recent seasons that are beginning to turn their organizations into real power players in the NFL.

The Bengals are the furthest along that path, having made three straight playoff appearances and winning division titles in two of the past five seasons. Last year, the Browns showed flashes of success before a team-wide reorganization this offseason put them in what appears to be a much better position for tangling with the best of the AFC North. At 5-3, the Browns are one win from their highest win total in seven seasons. The Lake Erie tide has begun to turn.

Here to break down the matchup is ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon and Bengals reporter Coley Harvey:

McManamon: Coley, Cincinnati seems to just keep on keeping on. Two new coordinators, and the team is winning. How have Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther helped or changed anything?

Harvey: It is amazing to think the Bengals are 5-2-1 when you put it that way, Pat. But in all honestly, many Bengals fans aren't sure either coordinator has done much to help his side of the ball. There is greater optimism for what Jackson is building on offense, though, considering how well the unit has operated without the services of A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. Mohamed Sanu filled in wonderfully for Green in the parts of four games the Pro Bowler missed, and rookie Jeremy Hill went off last week in place of Bernard, who is expected to be out again Thursday. Cincinnati's offense has laid one egg -- a 27-0 loss at Indianapolis -- but has otherwise featured creative looks and a renewed interest in running the ball. Guenther's defense hasn't been as good primarily because Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the leader of the unit, has finished only two games this year because of head, neck and knee issues. He's out Thursday after getting a knee scoped last week. Injuries have made it too soon to say how much Guenther's addition has helped the defense. But the potential is there.

Pat, I know you've been asking the Brian Hoyer doubters to take a seat all season. What has been the one thing you can point to about his play that has made him get the team to 5-3?

McManamon: Hoyer doubters should take a seat, Coley. There are still good seats available for them. As to his play, on the stat sheet, I'd point to the interceptions. Hoyer has thrown four all season, and his interception percentage of 1.6 percent ranks sixth in the league. He has been avoiding crucial mistakes and taking care of the ball. Off the stat sheet, I'd have to credit his preparation. Hoyer studies like he is taking his third bar exam. He pores over details, prepares for situations and plays and tries making sure he understands what he's seeing and what will work. Combine that with his steadiness and it's not hard to see why he's won three games with fourth-quarter comebacks. Hoyer's poise, steadiness and care with the ball have been huge for the Browns.

From afar, it seems that one guy who has really stepped up this season has been Sanu. The Browns have had trouble with big receivers this season. What has he done that has made him so effective?

Harvey: Simply put, he's played. Last year, Sanu turned into the No. 3 receiving option behind a healthy Green and surprising newcomer Marvin Jones. When preseason injuries sidelined Jones and eventually landed him on injured reserve and toe problems caused Green to miss three weeks, Sanu had no choice but to be the next man up. It all goes back to the offseason. Hoyer's study habits are a lot like Sanu's workout habits. He's always had great hands, but he focused this preseason on making difficult catches in practice look easy. Several rookies I've talked to mentioned how awestruck they were when they first saw Sanu pull in a jaw-dropping one-handed catch or have an over-the-shoulder grab that would make Willie Mays envious. That play has translated into games. Now that Green is back, the Browns and other defenses have two big targets -- former Brown Greg Little makes three -- to defend.

People in Cincinnati are still curious about Andrew Hawkins. Had he been able to re-sign here, he likely would be the No. 3 receiver right now. How important has Hawkins been to Cleveland's offense both on the field and in the locker room?

McManamon: Hawkins has been vital -- to the point I named him the team's midseason MVP this week. I wouldn't go as far as to say he's a leader because there are several veterans on the offense who lead, such as Hoyer and Joe Thomas. But Hawkins has been a find, and he's been key to the 5-3 start. He was signed to do what the Bengals planned to do with him: be the third wideout. But Josh Gordon's suspension put Hawkins in the starting lineup. Despite the fact he's never started before this season, he has responded by playing every game and leading the receivers in snaps while leading the Browns in receptions and receiving yards. He's also shown a toughness and a work ethic to admire. Without Hawkins, the Browns would not be 5-3.

A year ago, Coley, the Browns talked big about a meaningful game in Cincinnati then were embarrassed as the Bengals scored 31 points in a quarter. Do the Bengals take this one seriously, or do they figure eventually the same old Browns will appear?

Harvey: The Bengals believe the Browns are legitimate. Veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals' version of Thomas, said it best earlier this week when he compared the AFC North to the SEC. "We've seen every year even the worst team in the division and the best have a tough time beating each other no matter what their records are," the former LSU Tiger said. Trust me, the Bengals are taking this game seriously. Little, as you well know, definitely is. The former Brown who was signed by Cincinnati last month said "somebody has to pay" for him being cut by the Browns in May -- even after it became apparent Gordon would be facing a multigame suspension. Combine all of that with the appearance of Leah Still, the 4-year-old cancer-fighting daughter of defensive tackle Devon Still, and you will have an emotional night at Paul Brown Stadium. For the Browns, this could be one of the more hostile "Battle of Ohio" crowds in Cincinnati in recent years.

Since 2011, this rivalry has hinged, in part, on one key matchup: Green vs. Joe Haden. Green will play Thursday despite a toe injury. Hobbled or not, what has it meant to Haden to consistently lock down a receiver the likes of Green?

McManamon: A tremendous amount, though I would say Green has won his fair share of this competition. Haden likes Green, and more important, he respects him. He continually talks about what a good guy Green is and how well he plays. There is tremendous respect between the two, and given that they both are among the best at their positions, it's one of the most interesting and entertaining rivalries in the sport. Haden values every opportunity he has to play Green, which means he greatly values being able to limit the damage Green can do.

PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown probably won’t catch as many passes on Sunday as he said “We’ll see” on Thursday during a brief interview in front of his locker.

The good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers: Brown said “We’ll see” 10 times by my count -- and this was in a span of about five minutes and in between tidying up his pearly whites.

Brown at least smiled as he gave us very little other than a reminder on the importance of flossing, and that can be interpreted in one of two ways.

Brown might not have wanted to say anything that will catch the attention of Joe Haden. The Cleveland cornerback could well stake out the Steelers' player entrance Sunday morning so he can start following Brown as soon as the Pro Bowl wide receiver arrives at Heinz Field.

And certainly his antenna is already up when it comes to Brown.

Or Brown is simply ready for the talking to stop and for the games -- the real ones, that is -- to begin.

My guess is the latter reason since Haden didn’t exactly shut down Brown last season.

Brown caught 15 passes for 179 yards and one touchdown the two times he matched up against Haden. The two will go mano a mano again Sunday when the Browns visit the Steelers for a 1 p.m. ET game.

“To me, that’s one of the better matchups of the year,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “You get one of the best cornerbacks in the world against one of the best wide receivers in the world.”

Haden has the strength to jam wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and the speed to also run with them. Haden, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season, shadows the opponents’ top wide receivers, which is why he and Brown will see a lot of one another.

Brown, for his part, will try to be as elusive in the Steelers’ opener as he was on most things pertaining to it on Thursday. A sampling:

Brown when asked if there are receiving numbers he would like to hit this season after catching 110 passes for 1,499 yards in 2013: “We’ll see.”

Brown when asked if he can come close to his production in 2013: “We’ll see.”

Brown on whether the Steelers will use the no-huddle extensively from the start of season...

Oh, never mind.

We’ll see.

Browns vs. Steelers preview

September, 4, 2014
Johnny Manziel and Ryan Shazier USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on these rookies in Week 1: Cleveland's Johnny Manziel and Pittsburgh's Ryan Shazier.
The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers renew their long-standing rivalry Sunday at Heinz Field.

And something has to give in the game in which Johnny Manziel is expected to make his NFL debut. The Browns have lost 10 consecutive games at Heinz Field, while the Steelers haven't won a season opener since 2010.

ESPN NFL Nation Browns reporter Pat McManamon and ESPN NFL Nation Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the 1 p.m. ET game.

Brown: Pat, how many times have you written the surname Manziel since the Browns drafted Johnny Football in early May? Well, let's get the obligatory Manziel chatter out of the way. How do you see the Browns using Manziel on Sunday and how much do you expect him to play?

McManamon: As for the first part, Scott, let's say more than five and less than 10,000, but just barely less. I would be surprised if Manziel does not see the field for a play or a series in each half. The Browns and coach Mike Pettine have been coy about how he'll be used, but he does bring a different element than Brian Hoyer, and the Browns could put him on the field the same way the Steelers first used Kordell Stewart. Certain down-and-distance situations might be good for the read-option, or certain spots on the field might be good for a quarterback who can move. I don't think Manziel will play a lot, but I do think he'll play in the right spot, as judged by the coaching staff.

Scott, a slow start doomed the Steelers last season. How determined are they to avoid that slow start again, and how much bad luck is it for the Browns to draw the Steelers in the opener?

Brown: For the record, I am not going to start calling you Pat McFootball no matter how many times you privately lobby me to do so. Take a picture with the Biebs in it and we will talk. With that order of business out of the way, I will say the schedule-makers did not do the Browns any favors by having them open in Pittsburgh. I suspect the Steelers will publicly downplay the notion that this is a must-win game, but in reality it is. The Steelers cannot start slow again this season, and with road games against the Ravens and the Panthers looming, they have to beat the Browns. As hard as it is to win in the NFL, nothing is more served on a platter than an opponent that hasn't won in Pittsburgh in more than a decade and has an offense riddled with question marks. Did I mention Ben Roethlisberger, who has never forgiven the Browns for passing on him in the 2004 NFL draft, has lost just one time to Cleveland?

Getting back to the Browns' offense, who do the Steelers have to worry about beating them with wide receiver Josh Gordon out for the season?

McManamon: Nobody, really. The Browns will try to run the ball and use tight end Jordan Cameron creatively, but there is no real outside threat even close to the threat Gordon provided. And Cameron better get used to consistent double coverage. It's almost unfair to throw a quarterback into a game with these circumstances. Running back Ben Tate probably will be the offensive bell cow. He'll be featured prominently in the game plan. But the Steelers stop the run in their sleep. This game will be a serious challenge for the Browns' offense and offensive coaches.

Speaking of offense, how has and how will the marijuana possession charges against Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount affect the team, if at all, this weekend?

Brown: It is a footnote to this game. Not to minimize the stupidity that the Steelers' top two running backs showed -- and they are worthy of all of the unflattering nicknames that have surfaced on social media, among other places -- but the issue has presumably been dealt with from the Steelers' end. If Bell and Blount had been suspended for the season opener, we would have seen Roethlisberger throwing a ton of passes and a one-dimensional offense. But with both Bell and Blount slated to play against the Browns, the Steelers' offense will be at full strength.

I am real interested in seeing whether the Steelers try to set up the pass through the run or vice versa. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin predictably gushed about Cleveland's defense at his news conference earlier this week, and certainly that unit is the strength of the Browns. Will that defense be as good as advertised?

McManamon: Let's tap the brakes on this "good defense." Nobody knows yet. The defense has new names -- and they are good names to have -- but they might not be improved. Also, a defense that was supposed to be good a season ago made a habit of blowing late leads. The weak spot this season is the same as last -- cornerback opposite Joe Haden. First-round pick Justin Gilbert is going through significant growing pains, and Buster Skrine is coming off a thumb injury. The Browns wanted Isaiah Trufant to be the nickelback, but he's on injured reserve. Smart teams pick at weaknesses; it would be surprising if the Steelers don't pick on the second corner. The other concern, which has been an ongoing issue: Will the defense wear down because it's on the field too much due to the offense struggling?

Staying with defense, Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier is an Ohio State guy, and there's been a lot of positive press on him throughout preseason. Has he been that good?

Brown: He has, but the caveat, of course, is that Shazier has yet to play in an NFL game that counts. That changes Sunday, and most telling about the progress Shazier has made is the fact he will become the first Steelers defensive rookie to start a season opener since Kendrell Bell in 2001. There will be the inevitable growing pains as the first-round pick adjusts to the speed of the game at this level. Probably the biggest concern with Shazier is whether he will consistently be able to shed blocks since the 6-1, 237-pounder is not the biggest linebacker. The Browns' offensive line is one of their biggest strengths, so it will be a good opening test for Shazier. I think the kid is going to be a star, and I predict he will win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
NFL folks are wont to say that drafts can't be judged the night of the draft, but instead three or four years down the line. At that point a team should have an idea of the quality of the players it selected.

In that light, this week we're evaluating the Cleveland Browns drafts of five, four and three years ago. The 2009 draft was run by Eric Mangini, and '10 and '11 by Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren. In 2010, Heckert was working with Mangini as the coach, in 2011 with Pat Shurmur.

Yesterday: 2009

Today: 2010.

[+] EnlargeJoe Haden
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesJoe Haden is the only player left on the Browns from the 2010 draft class.
The picks (round/overall pick): CB Joe Haden (1/7), S T.J. Ward (2/38), RB Montario Hardesty (2/59), QB Colt McCoy (3/85), OL Shawn Lauvao (3/92), DB Larry Asante (5/160), WR Carlton Mitchell (6/177), DE Clifton Geathers (6/186).

Mel Kiper then: “Haden is a fluid, physical cover corner who should start immediately who addresses a weakness.” ... “Cleveland clearly liked T.J. Ward, but could have gotten him later than No. 37.” ... Montario Hardesty could be a really good back, but he's also been hurt and again, it didn't seem necessary to trade up for him.” ... Colt McCoy was “a great value pick ... whom I thought they could have grabbed at No. 38.” “Carlton Mitchell ... could be a late sleeper.” --- From Kiper's ESPN Insider evaluation the night of the draft.

Starters remaining: One, Haden.

Others to note: Ward will start in Denver, Lauvao is penciled in as a starter in Washington; both left Cleveland via free agency this offseason.

Evaluation: One starter from eight picks is not optimal. At all. The case could be made that had the Browns retained Ward and Lauvao, they'd have three starters, but the case could also be made that elephants can fly. The present Browns regime did not believe in the two players enough to try to keep them. This reality in part illustrates the problems the Browns have had in trying to build a winning team: Coaching and front office changes lead to new personnel evaluations which lead to jettisoning high picks from the previous regimes. The one remaining player on the roster from the '10 draft is Haden, who is everything a seventh overall pick should be. He's learned from mistakes, and grown up in front of Cleveland's eyes. He now is a leader who happened to make the Forbes list of the top 100 paid athletes thanks to his new contract extension. But after Haden, there are busts galore. I consider late-round picks bonuses, but the Browns got nothing from the three guys taken in Rounds 5-6. In Rounds 2-3, Hardesty and McCoy were busts; Hardesty could never stay healthy (a problem he had in college) and McCoy is now slated to be a career backup after going 6-15 as a starter in Cleveland. Ward played well for the Browns, and seemed to be growing every season. But the team essentially let him go in favor of Donte Whitner. Lauvao could turn out to be a strong player in the long run; he signed with Washington after many in Cleveland could not wait for him to go. For the Browns, Haden is the only morsel left from this class, and though he's a very good player who could be on the verge of being great, that's not nearly enough from a draft class.

Grade then: C, per Kiper.

Grade now: D+. It would be lower if Haden were not so good.

It's always good to retain a team's good, young players, and that's what the Cleveland Browns did in signing Joe Haden to a five-year contract extension worth $68 million.

Haden is a good, young player who believes in the Browns, who wants to be a Brown. He also showed the greatest progression in maturity and attitude that I think I've ever seen from a player in one year.

In 2012, Haden was suspended for four games. He clashed with then-coach Pat Shurmur. He was a regular in the wee hours at the casino downtown.

A year later, the light had gone on.

Haden was a pro, a team leader, a stand-up guy. He said marriage, faith and a dose of reality from the suspension changed him. Whatever happened, the difference was remarkable.

The Browns rewarded him lavishly. A total of $45 million is guaranteed. Of that,$23 million is fully guaranteed, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and $22 million is guaranteed against injury.

It's a huge amount of money for a guy less than two years removed from a four-game suspension.

Clearly, the Browns believe in their investment.

In Haden, they get a very good cover corner who is on the cusp of greatness because of his dedication, quickness and desire. Consider that Haden has 64 combined interceptions and pass breakups since he was drafted, the most in the NFL since 2010 (when he was a rookie) and twice as many as any other member of the Browns in that time. If Haden improves half as much this offseason as he did last, the Browns will have a top-four corner for the next five years.

They also get a stand-up guy who's not afraid to admit his mistakes. Witness his reaction to giving up the game-winning touchdown to Jacksonville -- “What was I thinking?”

Those are all good things.

It's interesting. A few days after the news broke that Josh Gordon faces a one-year suspension, the Browns extend a guy who also has been suspended in his career.

The really half-full view?

This could be a good sign for the long-term future for Gordon.

Revis trade doesn't materialize

March, 12, 2014
The Browns pursued cornerback Darrelle Revis via trade, but nothing was completed because Revis would not agree to a pay cut, according to several reports.

The Browns made an effort, though.

The odd thing is Revis may wind up taking a bigger pay cut (he would have made $13 million in Tampa Bay), but he'll be able to choose the team that pays him.

The Bucs are expected to release Revis this afternoon to avoid paying a $1.5 million roster bonus. At that point any team in the league can sign him, including the Browns. The chatter has him going to New England.

For the Browns the challenge in signing him increases due to the competition.

However, the Browns now can officially sell Revis on joining a potentially outstanding secondary that would include him, Joe Haden and Donte Whitner. It's been a long time since the Browns could sell something that appealing.
The Cleveland Browns did not play contract games in signing linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

No roster bonus games, no “it’s really a one-year deal” funny stuff. The Browns committed to both players, and spent $15 million in signing bonuses to do so -- $6 million for Dansby, $9 million for Whitner.

Here are the details:

Dansby was given $6 million to sign and will receive a $4 million guaranteed base salary this season. He’ll be paid $4 million in 2015 with half that guaranteed -- thus he signed for $12 million in guaranteed money. The final two years of the deal call for $5 million each year.

Total contract: Four years, $24 million.

Whitner received a $9 million signing bonus and a $2 million base salary this season that is guaranteed. He’ll be paid a $4.5 million base salary in 2015 that is guaranteed on the 15th day of the league year. Barring catastrophe, Whitner will be on the team both seasons, and thus is guaranteed $15.5 million.

Whitner's contract calls for $6.2 million in 2016 and $6.3 million in 2017.

Total contract: Four years, $28 million.

Clearly, since there are no machinations in the deals, the Browns believe in these guys.

And clearly, it’s understandable why they and their new teammates are smiling in this photo from Joe Haden’s Twitter feed (@JoeHaden23) that shows Jabaal Sheard, Josh Gordon and Haden welcoming them to the Browns:

The most expensive Browns in 2014

February, 28, 2014
The release of D'Qwell Jackson leads a wandering mind to wonder: What players will cost the Cleveland Browns the most money this season?

[+] EnlargeJoe Thomas
AP Photo/David RichardJoe Thomas' $10.9 million base salary is the highest among offensive linemen in the league.
Here they are, in terms of their cash cost, which equals base salary plus any bonuses.
A few thoughts:

Yes, Paul Kruger is indeed the second-highest paid player on the team.

Kruger’s base salary is the fourth highest among linebackers in the league, behind only St. Louis’ James Laurinaitis ($10 million), Jacksonville’s Paul Posluszny ($7.45 million) and Pittsburgh’s LaMarr Woodley ($8 million).

Yes, Campbell ranks fifth on the Browns. And Bess sixth.


It will be shocking if either Campbell or Bess is with the team in 2014.

Four of the top seven highest paid were signed in the Joe Banner-Mike Lombardi era: Kruger, Bess, Campbell and Bryant.

Greco’s $1.7 million roster bonus is due the fifth day of the league year, which would be March 16.

Thomas has the highest base salary ($10.9 million) among the league’s offensive linemen, and his cash cost for 2014 ranks second among linemen to Philadelphia’s Jason Peters’ $12 million. The contract extension Thomas signed in 2011 included $29.5 million in guaranteed money. reported that Rubin could be on the cut list due to his salary. We’ll see.

Here are the 10 most expensive Browns as they fall under the salary cap, with prorated signing bonuses included in the calculations:

  • Thomas, $12.3 million
  • Haden, $8.9 million
  • Kruger, $8.2 million
  • Rubin, $8.175 million
  • Bryant, $4 million
  • LB Barkevious Mingo, $3.715 million
  • Taylor, $2.575 million
  • Grego, $2.43 million
  • QB Brandon Weeden, $2.204 million
  • Campbell, $3.25 million
The Pro Bowl is a week removed, but the lessons for a young player can and should linger.

That is the main benefit for the Cleveland Browns, that a young player can mingle and learn from the best in the game -- provided the entire group doesn’t treat it as a Hawaiian vacation, which admittedly is a tough challenge. In this year’s Pro Bowl, the six Browns Pro Bowlers had the extra advantage of having Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders as their team leaders.

The gimmicked-up game saw the NFL bring in the Hall of Famers to pick players, and evidently at practice they were both present. The Browns' official website has videos of Rice spending time with Josh Gordon and Sanders coaching up Joe Haden.

It’s not high-stress stuff, but in these brief videos, both Hall of Famers teach a few of the nuances to two Browns. It might be a short time, but it also might be an important few minutes. It's definitely interesting stuff.

With Gordon, Rice talks about getting into a route, and running a route. He tells Gordon “a lot of stuff is about the sell.” Then he talks to Gordon about keeping his base the same, which means he keeps his hips in the same position no matter where he is in the route. The idea: If a player adjusts, stands up or turns a certain way, it tells the defensive back he’s getting ready for the ball or tips the route. In the every-second-makes-a-difference world of NFL coverages, that second can matter.

When Rice runs a “sluggo” (slant and go), his hips stay locked in the same spot, something the average fan might not notice, but shows the amount of practice and work it takes to perfect the skills. It definitely earns Gordon’s admiration.

“You look good right there,” Gordon said.

Sanders’ conversation with Haden contained some of the typical Prime Time stuff, but also was instructive.

After a brief discussion of footwork on press coverage, Sanders tells Haden that after studying him he noticed one thing he needs to improve. He summed it up as “every play,” meaning Haden has to play every play like it’s his last.

“Sometimes you’ll take a nap for a play and then you’ll say, ‘Damn, they caught one,'” Sanders said. “Now you’re mad for the rest of the game over a little out.”

The difference between being good and great, Sanders said, is playing every play like it’s third-and-5, like “it’s on the line.”

He pointed out Haden plays that way against guys like A.J. Green, but in other games he lets somebody makes a catch “that we don’t even know the name on the back of the jersey.”

Haden listens -- why wouldn’t he?

“You gave me exactly what I needed to hear,” Haden said. “You’re watching the film."

And when Sanders invites Haden to Dallas to work with him this summer, Haden promises he’ll be there.

As Gordon said: “I’m just trying to learn from the best.”

A look at the AFC North

January, 7, 2014
The lone AFC North team in the playoffs made another early exit Sunday when the No. 3 Bengals lost to the No. 6 Chargers, 27-10, at Paul Brown Stadium. With all four division teams now in offseason mode, here is a quick look at them by order of finish in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals

2013 record: 11-5, 3-3 in division

Key free agents: DE Michael Johnson, OT Anthony Collins

Biggest question: Have coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton taken the Bengals as far as they can?

Biggest reason for hope: Despite losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the Bengals have a very good nucleus. Rookie Giovani Bernard showed enough to think his time splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis is over.

Why they might disappoint: Dalton has faltered too many times in big games to think he can take the next step, and just making the playoffs is no longer good enough in Cincinnati.

Overall state of the franchise: The Bengals find themselves at a crossroads, but they have little choice but to stick with Dalton -- for now -- unless they want to draft a quarterback in the first round and hand over a veteran team to him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

2013 record: 8-8, 4-2

Key free agents: OLB Jason Worilds, WR Emmanuel Sanders

Biggest question: Will the Steelers re-establish themselves as Super Bowl contenders while re-tooling their defense?

Biggest reason for hope: The offense will be able to mask some of the issues the Steelers have on defense if it builds on its strong second half of the 2013 season.

Why they might disappoint: The defense could get worse before it gets better if younger players don’t emerge in the secondary and Worilds signs elsewhere.

Overall state of the franchise: The Steelers are facing a lot of uncertainty, but a 6-2 finish and the way the offense has come together point to them returning to postseason play in 2014 after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Baltimore Ravens

2013 record: 8-8, 3-3

Key free agents: TE Dennis Pitta, LB Daryl Smith

Biggest question: Did the Ravens suffer through the dreaded Super Bowl hangover or are they in decline?

Biggest reason for hope: Joe Flacco is a franchise quarterback, and there is still plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.

Why they might disappoint: The Ravens, like the Steelers, are clearly in transition on defense. Two cornerstones of that defense -- outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata -- no longer dominate on a consistent basis.

Overall state of the franchise: Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are as good as any general manager-coach tandem in the NFL, and they have to be given the benefit of the doubt even though the Ravens slipped this season.

Cleveland Browns

2013 record: 4-12, 2-4

Key free agents: C Alex Mack, S T.J. Ward

Biggest question: Will a new coach and a quarterback finally stabilize an organization that has floundered, often spectacularly, since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999?

Biggest reason for hope: There are some pieces in place, most notably wide receiver Josh Gordon, cornerback Joe Haden and left tackle Joe Thomas, and the Browns have a pair of first-round picks, including the fourth overall selection.

Why they may disappoint: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden are the quarterbacks the Browns have drafted in the first round since 1999. Why should Browns fans think they will get it right in this draft?

Overall state of the franchise: The Browns dumped coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season, and unless they find the right replacement and, oh yeah, a quarterback in the draft, the Browns will continue to bottom feed in the AFC North.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

December, 29, 2013

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:

What it means: The Browns set a new standard of futility in a season of futility. For the first time in team history, the Browns lost seven games in a row to end a season. Although there was a lot of chatter about the future of Rob Chudzinski, this kind of season does not reflect well on anyone with the team, from the owner through the CEO to the GM to the coach to the players. Call it a collective flop. And to think there was a point when some thought the Browns might win the division.

Chudzinski chatter: The way the season ended led to a lot of speculation about unhappiness and dissatisfaction in the front office, which led to gamelong buzz about Chudzinski and whether he might be let go after the season. The Browns initially declined to comment on the rumors but by the fourth quarter put out a statement that said: "Our focus is on the game today. We will not discuss any evaluation of the season until this upcoming week."

Stock watch: Browns fans can enjoy life again: The talk is again about the draft. The team that has gone six years in a row with at least 11 losses and has averaged four and a half wins per season in those seasons can point its fans to the most exciting time of year. That's the draft, when fans annually regain belief in anything related to an orange helmet.

Josh and the flu: Josh Gordon played the season finale with the flu. It showed. After every play, he got up the way Jim Brown used to -- slowly and with discomfort. Chudzinski said after the game that Gordon needed IV fluids before the game. Gordon finished with seven receptions for 80 yards.

Corners out: The Browns started the game without Joe Haden at cornerback. They finished without Buster Skrine. With both corners out, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' passing game had to contend with Julian Posey and rookie Leon McFadden. That is a tough challenge for a defense.