First, apologies to those who sent questions a week ago. Technical difficulties prevented the MailBag from appearing (read: I got busy and ran out of time). I tried to go back and find the questions, but evidently messed something else up. Clearly it was a tough technological week.

On to the Mailbag:
 

Browns check out Johnny Manziel

April, 19, 2014
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Johnny Manziel worked out for Cleveland Browns officials Saturday in College Station, Texas, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Manziel, who has been widely projected as a high first-round pick in next month's NFL draft, also will visit with the Browns this coming week, according to the source.

Although they did not attend his pro day at Texas A&M, the Browns recently have been linked with Manziel, the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who has emerged as one of the most polarizing prospects in this year's draft class.

Manziel recently was tabbed as the No. 4 overall pick to the Browns in ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper's latest mock draft. Veteran Brian Hoyer, who is attempting to bounce back from a serious knee injury, is the only quarterback currently on Cleveland's roster.

Manziel also reportedly scored a 32 on the Wonderlic test at February's NFL scouting combine, potentially boosting his draft stock. The Wonderlic is a 50-question test administered to all combine participants that measures cognitive ability. A score of 20 is indicative of "average" intelligence and roughly equivalent to an IQ of 100.

Several teams have met with the former Texas A&M star, including the Houston Texans, who own the first overall pick, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are picking third.


(Read full post)


Draft factoid: Manziel and QBR

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
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Draft day looms ever closer. As it approaches, it seems appropriate to start your day with a tidbit or two each day on draftable guys -- with an eye toward those the Cleveland Browns might select. All information is courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

Johnny Manziel led college FBS quarterbacks in Total Quarterback Rating in 2012 and finished third in 2013. The significance? Every player who led the nation from 2008 through 2011 is an NFL starter, including Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Russell Wilson in Seattle. Wilson also has that ever-elusive ring.
Khalil Mack remains a very large mystery when it comes to the Cleveland Browns' draft plans.

Mack was the standout linebacker for the University at Buffalo whose draft stock in the eyes of NFL types has remained consistently high.

Merrill Hoge calls Mack the best football player -- not workout warrior or speed demon -- in the draft, and those projecting the picks consistently have him in the top 10, with some putting him top three or four.

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesLinebacker Khalil Mack returned this interception for a touchdown against Ohio State.
Browns coach Mike Pettine described Mack this way at the NFL owner’s meetings: “Explosive athlete. He's a guy that tested extremely well, but he's not a tester. He's not a combine warrior. He's a guy that the tape backs it up. He can play on the ball, he can play off the ball, he plays violently and he's played some of his better games against better competition.”

Pettine said his nickname once was Blunt Force Trauma. Mack seems to fit that mold. He’s a 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker who can rush the passer and drop into coverage, a pretty rare combination of skills in this day of specialization.

Would the Browns take Mack?

Why not?

Before they do, they have to believe two things. The first is that the top quarterbacks are not good enough to take with the No. 4 overall pick. The second is that they can find a receiver lower in this receiver-deep draft to pair with Josh Gordon as opposed to using the No. 4 pick on Sammy Watkins (who remains the preferred choice in my draft corner, though Mack is a not-very-distant second).

Mack brings a lot to the table, but the main concern is he stood out in the MAC, which will never be confused with the SEC. Pettine even admitted the MAC is “perceived to be a lesser conference.”

“But then you see him play against Ohio State ...” Pettine said.

Mack dominated, with nine tackles, 2 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown. That game is Mack’s argument to the “lesser conference” criticism.

Mack and Jadeveon Clowney in the same draft almost harkens back to 1999 when running backs Ricky Williams and Edgerrin James were eligible. Williams was considered the sure thing, but Bill Polian took James first, and he turned out to be the better player. Mack might in the long run be the better overall player.

Mack is touted as an outside linebacker, and with his pass-rush ability he could even line up at end. But Pettine said he would not limit him.

“I think when you have a special guy like that, I think his home base will be outside, but we'll look to move him all around to take advantage of his ability,” Pettine said.

ESPN.com Senior Editor Chris Sprow has worked with Mel Kiper Jr. for five years, helping Kiper with reports and information. He went to the Ohio State-Buffalo game and focused specifically on Mack. He points out that the balance with Mack is this: If he’s a great pass-rusher, he’s a top-five pick. But if he doesn’t develop into a great pass-rusher, a team then is using a pick on a very solid outside linebacker. Mack’s coverage skills and his ability to play in space are excellent, but the pass-rush skills are what put him over the top.

We don’t know what the Browns will do if Mack is available, but it almost seems like a Draft Day/Kevin Costner kind of scenario. Maybe the Browns would look at Mack as their Vontae Mack -- a guy simply too good to pass up.

The fact that their names are the same is pure coincidence.

A single point to ponder

April, 18, 2014
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All that criticism toward the Cleveland Browns for passing on Pro Days seems a tad muted now that they have plans to hold private workouts for all the top quarterbacks, and to have all of them visit the team in Berea.
Draft day looms ever closer. As it approaches, it seems appropriate to start your day with a tidbit or two each day on draftable guys -- with an eye toward those the Cleveland Browns might select. All information is courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.

Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde averaged 3.1 yards after contact per carry, one yard more than the average. That’s a statistically significant improvement over the pack, and shows Hyde's ability to run through tackles. He gained five yards on 57 percent of his carries, and failed to gain yards on just 12 of his 208 carries. The young man can run with the football.
Alex Mack's contract is a big win for the Cleveland Browns (insert "thank Jacksonville" crack here).

That's the word from an NFL Insider familiar with the workings of NFL contracts, a wise individual with no agenda who noticed Wednesday's post on Mack's contract that detailed the Browns can get out of the deal after three years, which the insider said is one year too late.

“The Browns can let him go after two years if they want,” said wise individual said. “There's nothing stopping them.”

[+] EnlargeAlex Mack
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY SportsCenter Alex Mack will make $18 million guaranteed in the first two years of his new deal.
Why would the Browns do that? They wouldn't if Mack is healthy and playing well and they can afford him. But if he's slipped at all and the team's cap situation is tighter, Mack would be 30 and he'd have given the Browns seven good years.

At that point, the wise and unbiased individual said, it may be a good time to force a pay cut or cut ties.

Mack played his first five years on a rookie deal that paid him a reported $14.6 million, or an average of $2.92 million. The first two years of this new deal will pay him $10 million and $8 million guaranteed, which the wise individual said is way too high for a center.

But it means Mack will make $4.6 million per year for seven years, which the wise individual described as good for a center from a team standpoint.

Especially a Pro Bowl center.

Mack does have an injury protection guarantee for the third year, meaning if he's hurt in the second year and can't pass a physical for 2016 he is paid the $8 million.

But Mack has been healthy, so when the third year of the deal rolls around it may well come down to another negotiation. Mack may wish to stay in Cleveland, the Browns may wish to give him a pay cut. Mack may balk, or he may feel so good about the team at that point he may go along. The flip side is true as well; Mack may be playing so well the Browns may accept another year at $8 million. And Mack himself can void the final three years if he chooses to do so.

Bottom line: There will be another negotiation after the 2015 season.

The decision becomes the team's completely in the final two years, with roster bonuses of $2 million prior to 2017 and '18.

The Browns assured themselves of keeping Mack until he's 30, and Mack will become a wealthy young man.

But, as this insider said, it's a clear win for the Browns.
The three top quarterbacks are all on the board for the Cleveland Browns when they make their first first-round selection in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s Jr. Mock Draft 4.0 Insider.

It’s no surprise Kiper has the Browns taking one at that spot. Everyone and their cousin seems to believe the Browns absolutely have to have a quarterback with the No. 4 pick.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Kevin CostnerDale Robinette/Summit EntertainmentIn portraying the Cleveland Browns' general manager, Kevin Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr. is obsessed with pleasing the fans above all.
Fair warning: Spoiler alert.

The most cutting reviews of "Draft Day" suggested it was nothing more than a big-screen NFL infomercial, a modern-day NFL Films-like effort to glorify and dramatize what is now a $10 billion industry. That interpretation piqued my interest in ways that a movie about draft trades and team building did not.

So as I plunked down my $5.50 this week -- no free screenings for this hack -- I wanted to know: How does the NFL see itself? Or at least, what would the NFL look like if it could leverage its own portrayal?

After all, the NFL received a rights fee and a percentage of revenues for allowing its logos and team names to be used in the film, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell. It also exerted editorial control in at least one instance: Star Kevin Costner told reporters that the league nixed a scene in which angry fans hung a team official in effigy.

The league didn't write, direct or produce the film. In fact, director Ivan Reitman is the same guy who brought us "Animal House." Still, the NFL's cooperation and tacit approval was vital to the extent of the realism that its logos, access and cameos provided. The chief defender of the NFL shield, commissioner Roger Goodell, appears frequently.

Now then: What does an NFL-endorsed movie show us? Basically, a general manager who wants to please fans and players who aren't the character risks they might otherwise seem.

Costner’s Sonny Weaver Jr., the Browns’ fictitious general manager, wants nothing more than for the team to have a great draft because, as we hear a radio host intone, sports are all Cleveland has. Weaver’s goal is to lift up the city and its people with draft excitement. Any and all distractions must be set aside. Making good with his secret pregnant girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) must wait. Sorry. Spreading his father’s ashes must go on without him.

There is nothing subtle about the intent and motivation of high-ranking team officials in this movie. The fictitious Seattle Seahawks general manager, Tom Michaels (played by Patrick St. Esprit), is shaken when he sees fans protesting a trade outside his office window. Weaver leverages the presumed fear of fan rejection -- and the glory of their appreciation -- in several negotiations. Browns owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) is driven mostly by the adoration received in making a draft splash; ensuing profits are presumed but go unmentioned.

The rousing final scene of the movie, in fact, is set at the Browns' draft party. Molina, Weaver and the Browns' coach (Denis Leary's coach Penn) appear on stage with the team's top two draft picks. There is no greater reward, we sense, than making your fans happy.

None of the players in "Draft Day" are angels, of course, but the two selected by the Browns are overtly exonerated by circumstances. The malfeasance, we're shown, was not their fault.

One player's reputation as a hothead is debunked upon further review of game tape. At first glance, he appears to have thrown a ball into the stands, was subsequently penalized, and then ejected for bumping an official during a protest. We soon learn he had, in fact, simply handed the ball to his dying sister, excusing his subsequent tantrum, in Weaver's eyes. We then understand why this player spends draft morning driving his nephews to gymnastics practice.

The second player -- a running back portrayed by the Houston Texans' Arian Foster -- blurts in one of his first lines that he is not a gang member. He acknowledges he was involved in a violent fight, but we are strongly led to believe he didn't start it and that his hospitalized antagonist was an adult who should have known what he was getting into.

Meanwhile, the Browns pass on drafting a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback largely because he is too slick and his teammates don't appear to like him. Instead, they stick with an incumbent who has worked hard to improve his strength during the offseason and who is so passionate about winning that he trashes Weaver's office upon hearing rumors he might be replaced.

And that, we're told, is what the draft and playing football are all about. It's about team and sacrifice and heart and the whole being more important than the parts. It's why one of the great evils of "Draft Day" is trading away future draft choices. One player can't be better than three. (It's odd to hear this addressed most frequently by Leary's character, given how rarely NFL coaches worry about the state of the team two or three years hence.)

I can only presume this underlying theme explains why the impropriety of Weaver impregnating his salary-cap manager (Garner) is never addressed. They're both on the same team, right? They worked together to have a great draft, didn't they? What's the problem? (Fortunately, she tells Weaver repeatedly that she is not upset with his inattention.)

I'm no film critic, so this post isn't meant to tell you whether "Draft Day" was good or bad, or whether you should see it or not. I watched the movie through the lens of product portrayal. The movie tells us that the NFL draft is all about making fans happy, with players who aren't as bad as they're being made out to be and with a team concept that emphasizes the whole over the parts. (What it's not about: Medical issues of any kind. No injury histories and not a single doctor was invoked in this film.)

"Draft Day" comes at a time of great paradox in the industry. Its business has never been more prosperous, yet debate on its future remains fierce. How does that look when you can buy Hollywood influence? I can think of no better way to express the answer than through the lyrics of "Born to Rise," a little ditty featured in the closing credits that puts the best of "Rocky" training montages to shame:

What you know about standing up when the odds get stacked?
Time stands still, ain't no turning back
When everything you're worth is under attack
What you know about heart? What you know about that?
Write it off as criminal, a place to cast a stone
On and on we carry on when one is not enough.

Draft day looms ever closer. As it approaches, it seems appropriate to start your day with a tidbit or two on draftable guys -- with an eye toward those the Cleveland Browns might select. All information is courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.

Fresno State receiver Davante Adams was reliable where it mattered most: In the red zone (inside the 20). Adams led the FBS in receptions (131) and touchdowns (24), but he also led the FBS with 27 receptions and 12 TDs in the red zone. Quarterback Derek Carr completed 71.1 percent of his passes when throwing to Adams in the red zone, 57.4 when throwing to anyone else. Adams also led the FBS with 13 receiving TDs of 20 yards or more.
It has been widely and accurately reported that Alex Mack can void the final three years of his contract and become a free agent after two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

Mack
But the Browns also can escape either of the final two years of his deal. So both sides have some leverage.

A close look shows that the Jacksonville Jaguars really gave the Browns little to consider about matching the offer. It pays Mack well for two years, but it has no signing bonus, and though Mack can leave after two years -- he'll be 30 at that point -- the team can also let him go after three and thus not pay the final two.

Mack did receive fully guaranteed salaries of $10 million and $8 million in 2014 and 2015, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System.

He then can choose to stay or become a free agent again. What does he want to see these next two years that would keep him a Brown? Wins, he said.

If he stays, the third-year salary of $8 million is also fully guaranteed, which means he’d receive $26 million guaranteed.

After that, though, it’s up to the team.

Mack is due a $2 million roster bonus in the offseason before 2016, and another $2 million before 2017.

If the Browns pay either roster bonus, they keep Mack and also pay him a $6 million salary, a relative pittance if they feel Mack’s play warrants the roster bonus. That makes his salary-cap cost in both seasons $8 million.

But if they choose not to pay the bonus, the final two years or year would be wiped out and Mack would then become a free agent.

So Mack’s deal could be five years, it could be three or four at the team’s discretion, or it could be two years at his.

Total value of the deal if he stays all five years with the Browns: $42 million.

NFL Nation Buzz: Cleveland Browns

April, 16, 2014
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ESPN.com Browns reporter Pat McManamon discusses the team's plan with rehabbing quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Draft day looms ever closer. As it approaches, it seems appropriate to start your day with a tidbit or two each day on draftable guys -- with an eye toward those the Cleveland Browns might select. All information is courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.

The best of the draftable quarterbacks against the blitz last season was Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. He completed 70.1 percent of his 117 passes against the blitz, for an average of 11.0 yards per attempt. Teams blitzed him on 27.5 percent of his throws. Second was Zach Mettenberger of LSU (10.4 YPA), and third A.J. McCarron of Alabama (10.9 YPA). No other draftable quarterback had a yards per attempt above 10 against the blitz. When it came to being under pressure, Bridgewater again ranked highest. He completed 53.5 percent for 7.2 yards per attempt. Blake Bortles averaged 7.8 yards per pass, but he completed 50.7 percent. Derek Carr had the poorest percentage under pressure -- 30.9 percent. Johnny Manziel was at 44 percent.
Cleveland Browns fans complained the past few years as the team sat idly by while free agency raged. The Browns fiddled while free agents burned holes in owners’ pockets.

Or something like that.

Since the 2014 version of free agency began, the Browns have spent $55.8 million in guaranteed money.

That’s the highest total in the AFC North, and following the matching of Jacksonville’s offer to Alex Mack, ranks third in the league in guaranteed money spent since March 11.

Which means the Browns rank third to the Bucs and Broncos in guaranteed money, with most of it going to Mack ($18 million reported, though the number has not been confirmed), linebacker Karlos Dansby ($12 million) and safety Donte Whitner ($13 million). The Browns started free agency with a glut of cap space, and they’ve not been shy about using it.

And they’ve spend more than $50 million in guaranteed contracts without even addressing the quarterback position.

Second in the division in spending are the Baltimore Ravens at $36.3 million, though their total does not include re-signing Dennis Pitta just before free agency began. That signing brings the Ravens' guaranteed money total to $52.3 million -- still short of the Browns.

Most of Baltimore’s money went to Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe ($19 million).

Take away those two re-signings and Baltimore’s guaranteed total of $18 million is more like a team that feels good about itself.

Same for the Bengals, a team that has made the playoffs three years in a row and feels it’s close to something good. Cincinnati has spent just $7.3 million in guaranteed money, the fourth lowest total in the league.

Pittsburgh? The Steelers never go overboard in free-agent spending and this year is no different. Their total of $8.7 million is just ahead of Cincinnati.

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