Cleveland Browns: Shawn Lauvao

In the final in a series of post-1999 draft assessments, we present a starting 22 for the Cleveland Browns from players taken in the draft since the team returned in '99 (which is actually a starting 23 because there were three-four and four-three defenses, which means we have to include two DTs, two DEs and two ILBs).

In some ways, the starting 11 on offense and (12) on defense shows why the Browns have struggled so badly, with one playoff appearance, one playoff game, two winning seasons and 12 double-digit loss seasons in the last 15. The talent level is not exactly overwhelming.

Since 1999, by unofficial count the Browns have drafted eight quarterbacks, 11 running backs, two fullbacks, 17 wide receivers, seven tight ends, five offensive tackles, nine guards, four centers (including a long snapper), seven defensive ends, eight defensive tackles, 16 outside linebackers, six inside linebackers, 19 cornerbacks and 10 safeties.

Here's the starting 11/12 for each side of the ball, with the 2014 draft excluded:

OFFENSE:

Quarterback: Tim Couch

Also considered: Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Luke McCown, Spergon Wynn.

I can hear the cackles, but among those drafted Couch had the most wins (22), touchdowns (64), and most yards (11,131). Check the list of other quarterbacks drafted. Find any better than Couch there?

Running back: William Green

Also considered: Lee Suggs, Jerome Harrison

Green edges out the other two, though an argument could be made for any. Not that any of them were sterling. Green lasted four seasons and in the last one that knife jumped out of the box and landed in his back. His 2,109 yards are the most by any drafted Browns back since '99.

FB: Lawrence Vickers

Also considered: Owen Marecic

Vickers was a Romeo Crennel favorite from Day 1 and has gone on to have a solid pro career. We could have done without the fullback option passes, though.

WR: Kevin Johnson, Josh Gordon.

Also considered: Braylon Edwards

Gordon
Gordon
Edwards should have dominated this position with his ability, but he could never get out of his own way. Johnson had flaws, but he finished with more receiving yards and games played than Edwards, though Edwards had more TDs (28 to 23). Gordon makes it based on his spectacular 2013 season, and on the fact that the Browns snagged him in the supplemental draft. However, it's become evident why many teams were wary of him.

TE: Jordan Cameron

Also considered: Kellen Winslow

Winslow could have been spectacular if not for his motorcycle accident. As it was he was pretty good, but he ended his time in Cleveland as a headache. Cameron does a lot right, has improved every year and could be on the verge of stardom.

OT: Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz

Also considered: Nobody

Thomas
Thomas is the only no-brainer on the list. Schwartz should be fine in the long run.

OG: Jason Pinkston, Shawn Lauvao

Also considered: Nobody

Tough position because teams don't draft guards high. Most starters are guys like John Greco or Jim Pyne who work hard and don't say much. Those guys did not come via the draft, though. Pinkston and Lauvao are two who did.

C: Alex Mack

Also considered: Jeff Faine

Mack and Faine are two similar players. Smart, aggressive, tough, able to move. But Faine's career was short-circuited by trade after the Browns signed LeCharles Bentley. Mack's career as a Brown is entering its prime years.

DEFENSE

DE: Courtney Brown, Jabaal Sheard

Also considered: Nobody.

How tough is it to find a defensive end who can rush the passer? Ask the Browns. Brown's career was short-circuited by injury, and Sheard is listed as an end because that's where he'll be this season and where he's spent most of his time since he was drafted.

DT: Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor

Also considered: Gerard Warren

Rubin and Taylor are the real deal, unlike Warren, who was a lot of bluster in Cleveland and wouldn't have been with the Browns were it not for the fact that Butch Davis overruled his scouts and chose "Big Money" over Richard Seymour.

OLB: Kamerion Wimbley, Chaun Thompson

Also considered: Rahim Abdullah, Ben Taylor

Like at end, there's not a plethora of overwhelming choices. After Wimbley it's pretty much a roll of the dice. To this day, it's hard to comprehend why the Browns ever traded Wimbley.

ILB: Andra Davis, D'Qwell Jackson

Also considered: Nobody

Two very good players who contributed for several years. Neither were great, but both were good for the team on and off the field.

CB: Daylon McCutcheon, Joe Haden

Also considered: Anthony Henry, Eric Wright

Haden
McCutcheon and Haden have contrasting styles, but both were effective. McCutcheon was a small but physical guy who got the job done with smarts and savvy. Haden is bigger, faster and more athletic; he's more of a pure cover corner.

S: T.J. Ward, Brodney Pool

Also considered: Sean Jones, Chris Crocker

Ward is the better of the big hitter types, Pool the better of the rangy guys.

Free-agency primer: Browns

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Key free agents: C Alex Mack (transition), S T.J. Ward, G Shawn Lauvao

Where they stand: The Cleveland Browns have a ton of salary-cap space and a ton of needs. The team hopes the transition tag keeps suitors from signing Mack, but they could have ensured he’d stay in Cleveland by simply paying another $1.6 million and making him the franchise player. If he leaves, that means the Browns have added another need to others that include safety, guard, inside linebacker, running back and receiver. They could go in any direction they choose in free agency, but given the strength of the draft at receiver, that is probably one area they will bypass.

What to expect: The Browns should be active on the free agent market. They have cap room, they have needs and they have an owner in Jimmy Haslam who has made no secret he feels this offseason is critical to the team’s future. Guessing what positions the Browns focus on might be foolish, but clearly they need help at safety, and they could go after Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd. They also need help at linebacker after the release of D'Qwell Jackson, and they need help at guard. The biggest splash might just come at running back, though, where a guy like Houston’s Ben Tate might appeal to Mike Pettine’s physical approach. As for the much-needed and discussed quarterback spot, look for the Browns to bypass free agency and look to the draft.

Cast your vote on your top priority for the Browns in free agency.
A mid-January rundown on the Cleveland Browns six upcoming unrestricted free agents, with the proviso that much can change in the next six weeks in terms of signing and re-signing players (with 2012 salary cap costs are in parantheses):
  • RB Willis McGahee ($489,000) -- Age has sadly crept up on McGahee, who gave everything he had but in the final couple games was replaced by Edwin Baker. McGahee is a character who would play well in a lot of cities, but his best days on the field seem behind him.
  • C Alex Mack ($5.03 million) -- It would seem that replacing a Pro Bowl center is not easy, but Mack is from California and the vibes as the season went on were that he would not be back. The team never made much of a move to re-sign him, and Joe Banner believes in paying certain amounts for certain positions. Center might not be a position where he wants to spend.
  • G Shawn Lauvao ($1.497 M) -- Lauvao seems like a guy who could be a serviceable guard, but the Browns seemed to sour on him as the year went on. Their machinations indicate Lauvao is not a priority.
  • G/T Oniel Cousins ($800,000) -- Good guy, interesting guy. Every team needs a guy like this, a guy who can step in and play in several spots. It does not seem Cousins will be filling that role in Cleveland any longer, though.
  • S T.J. Ward ($1.198 M) -- Ward is an enviable spot. He’s a Pro Bowl alternate whose physical style might fit well with several teams. San Francisco jumps out as one, and Ward might enjoy playing where he attended college. Ward does like Cleveland, though, so if the Browns make him a competitive offer he may return. But Joe Banner did not re-sign Brian Dawkins in Philadelphia. Dawkins was older than Ward and had less left, but it might indicate safety is not considered an “expensive” position.
  • PK Billy Cundiff ($555,000) -- The Browns showed how they value kickers when they let Phil Dawson walk a year ago.
The Browns are projected to have between $35 and $40 million in salary cap space this offseason.

Jordan Cameron in, Joe Haden out

December, 29, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- The Browns will have tight end Jordan Cameron in the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they will not have cornerback Joe Haden. No doubt Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will notice that rookie Leon McFadden is playing corner.

Other lineup changes prompted by injury include rookie Garrett Gilkey and John Greco (back from a sprained knee) starting at guard; Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston are both out with concussions. On the defensive line, Phil Taylor is out with a concussion. Ishmaa'ily Kitchen will replace him at noseguard, with Billy Winn starting at end.

Thomas: Alex Mack has great value

December, 27, 2013
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Take a good look at the Cleveland Browns' offensive line on Sunday.

It’s debatable how many linemen will be back. If it weren’t so hard to completely retool, the case could be made that the Browns will have four new starters in 2014 to go with left tackle Joe Thomas.

That’s a stretch, of course, and a good deal of speculation.

But the Browns haven’t seemed enamored with their guards all season, there’s been a lot of rumblings about the inconsistencies of right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and center Alex Mack is slated to be a free agent.

[+] EnlargeAlex Mack
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns have the salary-cap space to match likely any offer for standout center Alex Mack.
Nothing is known, of course, and there is a game yet to be played. But Mack’s potential departure seems the most significant. With Maurkice Pouncey injured, there is a lot of talk that Mack is one of the three or four best centers playing.

“Cleveland’s a very easy place to come back to,” Mack said. “I like the coach. I like the players. I have a house here. Without a doubt it would be easy to come back.”

But Mack, like safety T.J. Ward, also has the opportunity to decide where he wants to play, and since he was Eric Mangini’s first-round pick the team has gone 23-56. The Browns could place the franchise tag on Mack -- they have the salary-cap room -- but the new CBA calls for him to be paid the average of the top five offensive linemen, not centers. That number will approach $10 million, and Joe Banner’s history has not been to overpay.

Thomas feels it’s important to keep Mack with the Browns.

“Very few people really understand how many things the center is actually responsible for,” Thomas said. “Obviously the quarterback has the ball in his hands and he’s the guy who ultimately makes the decisions. But when it comes to setting the protections and setting the blocking in the run game, nobody has more on their plate than the center.

“[Mack is] probably the best that I’ve seen and has to be one of the best in the NFL at understanding the mental side of the game and getting everybody on the same page blocking wise.”

Guard Shawn Lauvao was drafted the same year as Mack, and the feeling is the team will let him get to free agency.

“You take it with a grain of salt,” Lauvao said. “If they want to bring me back, so be it. If they don’t, I feel like [free agency is] a great opportunity.”

The Browns do have John Greco signed for next season, and he could play center. Schwartz is still playing under his rookie contract. But the team discussed trading for Eugene Monroe of Jacksonville during the season.

The team’s wild card is Chris Faulk, a 6-foot-6 and 323-pound player recovering from a serious knee injury he hurt in his senior season at LSU. The Browns signed him as an undrafted free agent and want to take a long look at him for next season.

Free agency could be waiting for Ward

December, 25, 2013
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T.J. Ward is well aware Sunday could be the last game he’ll play as a Cleveland Brown.

Ward, center Alex Mack and guard Shawn Lauvao all will be unrestricted free agents after the season, and the Browns have made little move to sign any of them.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Ward
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsBrowns strong safety T.J. Ward tackles Patriots QB Tom Brady in their Week 14 game.
Ward and Mack have had solid seasons -- Ward said he thinks he's had a Pro Bowl type season -- and Lauvao fought back from a preseason ankle injury to start the past 11 games. Ward said it’s impossible to block out the fact his future is uncertain after the game.

“I've spent four years here and I’ve given a lot to this team, the city and they've given a lot to me,” Ward said. “You can't completely block it out.”

None of the four have played for a team that has won. In every season they've been with the Browns, the team has lost at least 11 games.

Yet Ward said he'd love to stay.

“I think we have the pieces here to win and that's what I’m looking forward to,” he said.
At the same time, free agency allows a player to maximize his earnings, and even have a say in where he plays.

“It’s an opportunity," Ward said. “An opportunity I haven’t had. It’s exciting, kind of, but who knows.”

If past is precedent, the Browns may not make a great effort after the season to sign any of the three. Joe Banner let Brian Dawkins leave for Philadelphia, and he's never seemed inclined to pay a lot of money for players at the positions these three play.

It’s interesting. The Browns have a lot of needs to fill, and if they don’t sign Ward and/or Mack (Lauvao seems more or less gone) they'll have created other holes.

“I want to play in the playoffs here, I want to bring this city a championship,” Ward said. “I’ve been doing everything in my power to help this team win so I definitely want to see that through.”

There’s no doubt Ward means it.

But if players can do anything quickly, it’s turn the page.

It happens every offseason.

Inactives: Spiller in, Weeden No. 2

October, 3, 2013
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Brandon Weeden will be the backup quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, and running back C.J. Spiller is active and will play tonight for the Buffalo Bills. That's the fallout from the team's inactives list, which were just released.

Browns inactives include quarterback Jason Campbell, which makes Weeden the backup to Brian Hoyer. Also inactive are injured linebackers Quentin Groves (ankle) and Jabaal Sheard (knee) as well as defensive lineman Billy Winn. Newly-acquired running Fozzy Whittaker will not play, nor will offensive linemen Martin Wallace and Patrick Lewis. Shawn Lauvao is active, and likely will start at right guard. Lauvao has not played since injuring an ankle in training camp, and his replacement, Oniel Cousins, had mixed results, especially in pass protection. Lauvao's return means the Browns have their first-team offensive line in place for the first time this season.

Buffalo will not have safety Jairus Byrd active. He practiced the past two days, but his foot injury will sideline him. Other inactives include cornerback Stephon Gilmore, kicker Dustin Hopkins, cornerback Ron Brooks, offensive lineman Sam Young, receiver Marquise Goodwin and tight end Chris Gragg. Both Spiller and running back Fred Jackson will play through pain, Jackson with a knee and Spiller with an ankle. It's likely the Bills will give Tashard Choice more carries than any back.

Browns links: More wrong turns

September, 17, 2013
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A look at what's happening on the Cleveland Browns' beat:
  • Wide receiver Greg Little returned home from the loss in Baltimore and was cited by police early Monday morning for three traffic violations in a single stop, according to The Plain Dealer. This is the third time he’s been cited since April.
  • Injured right guard Shawn Lauvao was involved in a single-vehicle accident Monday morning, The Akron Beacon Journal reported. Lauvao was heading to the team’s training facility when he went the wrong way on a ramp closed for construction. He tried to turn around and went over a curb and an embankment, according to the report. A team spokesman told the paper that no alcohol was involved and Lauvao wasn't injured.
  • Wide receiver Josh Gordon, who returned from a two-game suspension, confirmed Monday that he's facing a banishment from the NFL for at least a year if he violates the substance-abuse policy again. "I think that's what it is," he told The Plain Dealer. "I believe so."
  • If you want to find hope with the Browns, Vic Carucci of the team's official website suggests you look at the defense. "More specifically, the front seven in which the team’s new leadership made its biggest investment in talent to go along with the hiring of defensive coordinator Ray Horton," Carucci wrote. "Based on what they’ve shown in the last two weeks, they have the makings of a dominant group."
  • Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo played 35 percent of the Browns' defensive snaps (25 of 63) in his NFL regular-season debut, according to The Akron Beacon Journal.
A look at what's happening on the Cleveland Browns beat:
  • Quarterback Brandon Weeden didn't sugarcoat what it means not having No. 1 wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is suspended for the first two games. "I'm not going to lie -- it hurts," Weeden said, via The Plain Dealer. "He's a talented player. He's a guy that we're going to rely on for the 14 games after he comes back to be a big emphasis in this offense. But that being said, my confidence in the other guys who are going to step in there is just as high. They're great players, have a lot of ability and they're going to do a lot of things to help us win. It's not an ideal situation, but I've got a lot of confidence in the guys that are taking his spot."
  • Billy Cundiff believes there is a positive in replacing a kicking icon like Phil Dawson. He's familiar with the situation, being the kicker to replace Matt Stover in Baltimore when others had failed. “I think it’s a good thing to come in after a guy who’s played at such a high level, because the bar’s set really high and you've got to bring your game up,” Cundiff said, via ESPN Radio in Cleveland.
  • Browns rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo was limited again during practice Wednesday as he continues to recover from a bruised lung, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Guard Shawn Lauvao (ankle) has been declared out. Defensive end Desmond Bryant (back) was limited in practice.
  • Cornerback Joe Haden said there's a reason why he's optimistic about the season. “Just the talent of the players that we have in the locker room is better than we’ve had before,” Haden told the team's website.

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