AFC North: Mike Shanahan
Browns general manager Mike Holmgren believes Cleveland had no shot at making the trade.
In a conference call with Browns season-ticket holders today, Holmgren said "a very close relationship" between the Rams and Redskins prevented Cleveland from moving two spots up in the draft. Holmgren didn't go into specifics about the relationship, but it's well-known that Rams coach Jeff Fisher and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan are close friends.
This is a very serious accusation from Holmgren, and he wouldn't speak publicly about this if he didn't feel strongly about its validity. If you doubt the closeness of Shanahan and Fisher, there's an article in USA Today from five years ago about the NFL's version of bosom buddies. Fisher and Shanahan bonded in the 1990s in San Francisco, where Fisher was the 49ers' defensive backs coach for two years (1992-93) while Shanahan served as the offensive coordinator for three (1992-94).
Let's be clear about this: If this is true, Shanahan and Fisher didn't violate any NFL rule that I know about. But they are guilty of poor sportsmanship. I could understand a team trying to avoid helping out a division rival. But if the Browns gave the best offer, they deserved the pick.
The Redskins moved into the No. 2 spot by sending the Rams this year's picks in the first round (sixth overall) and second round as well as first-rounders in 2013 and 2014. There were reports that the Browns offered three first-round picks but not this year's second-round one. Holmgren said the reports about the Browns' offer were incorrect, saying Cleveland made "every bit the offer" as the Redskins.
While no one knows whether those future first-round picks would be better from the Redskins or Browns, a similar offer would favor the Browns because they were offering the fourth overall pick while the Redskins could only give the No. 6 pick.
“Honestly, when it didn’t happen -- I think there are reasons that I can’t go into right now -- but there is a very close relationship between the people getting the deal done and the people who offered," Holmgren said in the conference call. "And I’m not sure anything we offered would have been good enough. We were very, very aggressive and it didn’t work."
In other words, Holmgren says don't blame the Browns for failing to get RG3. You can point the finger -- or Dawg bone, if you prefer -- squarely at Shanahan and Fisher.
Should the Cincinnati Bengals give into Carson Palmer’s trade demands?
After eight underachieving seasons in Cincinnati, Palmer wants out and everyone from his agent to teammates to his realtor believe Palmer is absolutely serious. So how should the Bengals handle this situation?
Cincinnati is consistently one of the NFL's more downtrodden franchises and has been through this before. In the past, players such as Takeo Spikes, Corey Dillon and Chad Ochocinco have expressed the desire to get out of Cincinnati and couldn't leave on their terms.
But Palmer's situation is different for two reasons. First, he's the franchise quarterback, the most important player on the team. Second, he's threatened to retire if he's not traded, which is something Spikes, Dillon and Ochocinco never did. These two factors up the ante tremendously in terms of putting pressure on the Bengals.
If Palmer, 31, holds firm on his demands, that leaves Dan LeFevour and Jordan Palmer as the other quarterbacks on Cincinnati's roster. The Bengals cannot start the 2011 season with either of those players under center. As more time goes by with uncertainty, it becomes more likely the Bengals must do something to get quarterback help in the draft or free agency.
In my opinion, the Bengals should trade Palmer while they can still get decent value for him. Cincinnati will be rebuilding for the next two years anyway -- with or without Palmer -- and there are plenty of teams in need of a good quarterback.
But the Bengals are standing their ground, hoping Palmer will have a change of heart. That's a dangerous assumption with free agency potentially starting next month and the NFL draft coming in April.
Are concerns about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco legit?
As we continue the subject of quarterbacks, we move over to Baltimore. Flacco is getting drilled this offseason by media and fans for not leading the Ravens past the divisional round. Baltimore entered last season as a Super Bowl favorite and by those standards the team -- and particularly the offense -- underachieved.
Now people are starting to doubt Flacco. He has struggled in the playoffs, recording just one passer rating above 90.0 in seven career postseason games. It's no secret an organization is tied into the success and development of its quarterback. But are the expectations of Flacco, in his third season, too high too soon? The answer is, yes.
Flacco has become a victim of his own early success. He advanced to the AFC title game as a rookie and has had expectations of getting to the Super Bowl thrust upon him since.
Last season, Flacco set career-highs in passing yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) for the Ravens (12-4). But it's the second-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that stands out in most people's mind.
Flacco likely must get past rival quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh for the Ravens to take that next step. But there is no shame in losing to the eventual AFC champions in the postseason.
Young quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman are viewed in a much more favorable light in their cities. Flacco has had as much career success and put up equal or better numbers than all of them. He deserves a break.
What will the Steelers do at cornerback?
As their Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers proved, the Steelers must add quality depth in the secondary. The Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints provide the blueprint of how to beat Pittsburgh's vaunted defense: spread the Steelers out with multiple receivers.
The Steelers simply don't have enough good cornerbacks to defend three- and four-receiver sets. This also takes Pittsburgh's strongest players-- its linebackers -- off the field in favor of players such as William Gay and Anthony Madison.
Now that linebacker LaMarr Woodley received the franchise tag, veteran cornerback and pending free agent Ike Taylor is Pittsburgh's No. 1 priority. Taylor is Pittsburgh's best corner, but he's also 31 and the Steelers must gauge how much money and how many years to give to him.
The draft will also be important. Previous draft picks at corner such as Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett and Crezdon Butler have not panned out for the Steelers, who typically address this position in the middle rounds. It's time Pittsburgh invests a high draft pick at this position to increase the probability of finding a future starter.
Do not be surprised if Pittsburgh retains Taylor in free agency and spends its first- or second-round pick on a cornerback in April to fix this issue.
Are the Cleveland Browns fine without an offensive coordinator?
Pat Shurmur of the Browns has a lot on his plate this year. Not only is he a first-time head coach, but Shurmur is also taking over the role as offensive coordinator in his first season with Cleveland.
Is this a good idea?
After a brief search, the Browns decided to leave the position vacant. Shurmur is a former offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams and didn't want to give up those responsibilities after becoming a head coach.
A head coach's first responsibility is to manage all 53 players. But Shurmur clearly will give more special attention to his players on offense. That's a major reason the Browns hired experienced defensive coaches such as Dick Jauron and Ray Rhodes to manage the other side of the football.
President Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have both done a good job so far in Cleveland. But I have reservations about creating this type of setup with a rookie head coach on a rebuilding team.
Washington is in need of a defensive tackle after dealing with the Albert Haynesworth fiasco. Haynesworth was involved in a public feud with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and was eventually suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. Washington's immediate interest in Rogers is a sign the team is searching for a replacement.
When healthy and motivated, Rogers is one of the NFL's most dominant defensive linemen. He had his best year in 2008 with Cleveland under former head coach Romeo Crennel but had two lackluster seasons under former Browns coach Eric Mangini.
Rogers was the biggest name of the six players released by the Browns on Wednesday.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
- Recently fired head coach Mike Shanahan could have a suitor in the Cleveland Browns.
Morning take: For 14 seasons, Shanahan had complete control as coach and GM of the Denver Broncos. Would he want the same in Cleveland?
- After a three-game absence, Baltimore Ravens rookie tailback Ray Rice (calf) will return for Sunday's wild card game against the Miami Dolphins.
Morning take: This is good news for Baltimore. The Ravens have missed Rice's speed, quickness and ability to catch passes out of the backfield.
- New England Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award almost unanimously. But the only other player to get a DROY vote was Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers.
Morning take: Did someone accidentally check the wrong box? Rivers played seven games this season.
- Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark (shoulder) is eyeing a return in the divisional round.
Morning take: With the daily monitoring of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (concussion), Clark has been a forgotten injury. But Clark is an important cog who could help the defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The Cleveland Browns better move fast.
|Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images|
|Broncos owner Pat Bowlen could make it difficult for Cleveland to land its ideal targets.|
There is a new glamour job available with the Denver Broncos. This came after the team surprisingly fired Mike Shanahan Tuesday night following a late-season collapse.
Prior to this move, Cleveland was competing with teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions for candidates. The Browns were considered on equal footing with this group. But now the Browns have some serious competition from the Rocky Mountains.
Denver is considered an A-plus destination with a highly respected owner in Pat Bowlen. Shanahan was the second-longest tenured coach in the NFL, which garnered a lot of respect around the league for Bowlen's emphasis on stability.
As time goes on, the Browns and Broncos likely will share some of the same targets on their wish lists.
For instance, what if Denver now covets New England Patriots GM Scott Pioli, who is Cleveland's first choice? Pioli would have to take the time to seriously compare the pros and cons of the two teams.
Also, what if the Broncos choose to entertain coaching candidates Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels or Steve Spagnuolo, which are more possibilities for Cleveland? Which team do you think is more attractive to these coaches?
The Browns do not want to get in a one-on-one power struggle with the Broncos. There is little comparison between the two organizations when it comes to success and stability, and those are two very important factors.
It's difficult to ignore the fact that the Browns are hiring their fourth coach in 10 years, while Denver had only Shanahan for the past 14 seasons.
So the Browns better make a final decision soon -- very soon -- before the Broncos begin their overtures and interviews. Cleveland doesn't want this hiring process to get to a point where attractive candidates start comparing its resume with Denver's.