NFL Nation: George Kokinis
Four teams -- the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders -- are expected to seek permission to speak to Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta for their general manager openings. In many ways, DeCosta has become the Jeff Fisher of front-office searches.
The Colts have already received permission to talk to DeCosta, according to WBAL's Gerry Sandusky, the team's radio play-by-play announcer.
DeCosta has long been considered the successor-in-waiting to Newsome, the team's only general manager, who turns 56 in March but has never publicly hinted at retirement. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti has rewarded DeCosta for his loyalty -- he removed his name from the Seahawks' general manager search in 2009 -- with an increase in pay and responsibility.
"I think Eric knows how highly regarded he is in Baltimore, but when you have a guy as successful as Ozzie Newsome in the job, there's not a ton of promises that you can make," Bisciotti said in March 2010. "I think Eric is smart enough to see what happened with Phil [Savage] and George [Kokinis], and he'll probably limit himself to consideration of just a handful of jobs. His relationship with Ozzie is just as solid as any relationship I've seen in the NFL. He's so happy in his job that I think it will take a perfect job to get his serious consideration. Eric is going to make a great GM someday."
The problem for the Ravens is that the perfect job could be coming DeCosta's way. With four teams in the mix, the competition for DeCosta might result in a deal that he can't refuse.
DeCosta officially became Newsome's right-hand man in the war room in 2005, when Savage left for the Cleveland Browns' general manager job. One team official said DeCosta sets up the draft and Newsome makes the final decisions.
What makes DeCosta attractive to so many teams is his age (40), track record and a thoroughness that highlights his desire for better results.
"We even grade our lunches," DeCosta once said. "If I say it's a 6.2 lunch - all the guys know what that means: pretty good, but not great. A 7.5 is like the Pro Bowl; if I say the soup is a 7.5 today, everybody runs to get the soup."
- Are the Pittsburgh Steelers lacking discipline? Their first-team defense uncharacteristically had four personal fouls Sunday in a 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos. Two were by second-year cornerback Keenan Lewis, who was subsequently benched and earned a spot in coach Mike Tomlin's doghouse. Lewis also made a bad situation worse by reportedly punching through a glass sign after the game. If you add cornerback Ike Taylor's fight last week against the New York Giants that cost him $10,000, Pittsburgh is having problems keeping its cool lately.
- I'm noticing an unusual amount of players losing their helmets this preseason. The two most high-profile occurrences were with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Sunday with Steelers linebacker James Farrior. Both players suffered cuts to the head and were knocked out of the game. These are not isolated incidents. I've seen several preseason games this summer where helmets are dangerously flying off at an alarming rate.
- Baltimore's pass protection is not as sharp as expected. The Giants recorded five total sacks against the Ravens Saturday and the pocket overall wasn't consistently solid. At times, it was miscommunications. Other times New York simply outplayed Baltimore up front. We're not convinced Tony Moll is the answer at right tackle. Giants defensive end Justin Tuck had his way with Moll on several occasions. Baltimore tackles Oniel Cousins and/or Jared Gaither need to get healthy quickly.
- We liked what we saw from Haruki Nakamura covering receivers in the slot. For a safety, he has pretty quick feet to keep up with receivers and make plays on the ball. Nakamura is considered an experiment in the slot until Baltimore's secondary gets healthy. But based on his performance, it's looking pretty good so far.
- The Cleveland Browns have an update on safety Nick Sorensen. The bad news is he suffered a concussion Saturday against the Detroit Lions. But the good news is he is improving. Sorensen was not at practice Monday, and according to Browns coach Eric Mangini he will be resting for "a while."
- Speaking of Mangini, this will be his first year putting together a 53-man roster with new president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. Cleveland currently has a mix of players leftover from the previous Mangini-George Kokinis regime and the new Holmgren-Heckert regime, setting up an interesting dynamic this week. Mangini will have his input and opinion on who stays and who goes, but Heckert and Holmgren will have the final say.
- Cincinnati's receiver position is somewhat clearer now with Antonio Bryant's release. Cincinnati has a lot of depth at receiver, where six (maybe seven) could make the team. Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell are four locks. But at least two roster spots remain open for receivers Quan Cosby, Jerome Simpson, Matt Jones and Dezmon Briscoe. An educated guess is Cosby is in, making it a three-way tossup between Simpson, Jones and Briscoe.
The move has been speculated for months after Kokinis was fired by the Cleveland Browns as general manager. Once the Browns reached a grievance settlement, it paved the way for Baltimore to re-hire Kokinis, who worked closely with Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore/Cleveland for 18 seasons.
Also on the Baltimore front, ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting the team is close to signing former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Shayne Graham, who is an unrestricted free agent.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: recent history.
With a consistently great defense in place, the Ravens have put a lot of effort recently into improving their offense. Offensive tackle Michael Oher (2009), quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and guard Ben Grubbs (2007) -- all starters -- were Baltimore’s past three first-round picks. The Ravens also had major success with former second-round pick Ray Rice and former fourth-round pick Le'Ron McClain. Both running backs made the Pro Bowl this past season. Expect Baltimore to continue to search for more offense high in the draft this year, as the team attempts to take its passing game to the next level.
The reigning AFC North champs helped build their defense through the draft the past three years and will now focus on improving the offense. Recent draftees such as cornerback Leon Hall (2007) and linebackers Keith Rivers (2008) and Rey Maualuga (2009) are starters for Cincinnati's defense. If the team has similar success on offense this year, the Bengals will be in good shape. Cincinnati currently needs help at tight end, receiver and guard. The Bengals may patch some of those holes in free agency. For example, receiver Terrell Owens is visiting Cincinnati Wednesday. But it will be important to fill any remaining offensive holes in this year's draft.
This is the third regime drafting for Cleveland in three years. Former general manager Phil Savage was fired after the 2008 season. Former general manager George Kokinis followed but was fired in 2009, paving the way for new president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert. A major reason the Browns are in the basement in the AFC North is their inability to draft impact players. Only five players selected in the past three drafts are steady starters, and only one (Joe Thomas) has made the Pro Bowl. With the No. 7 overall pick and 11 total picks, Holmgren needs to find impact players who can help erase the talent gap and turn around the Browns.
The Steelers are a veteran-laden team, so most of their picks the past three years have provided a delayed impact. Recent high picks such as Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and Rashard Mendenhall all had to wait at least one year before getting their turn to be productive. Receiver Mike Wallace, last year's third-round pick, was a rare exception. Pittsburgh president Art Rooney II recently said it's vital for the team to develop its younger players more quickly. After missing the playoffs, the Steelers have a relatively high pick at No. 18. That player could turn out to be a rookie starter, particularly if the pick addresses the cornerback position or the offensive line.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 28. This week: 32.
|Kevin Hoffman/US Presswire|
|Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini has been navigating a quarterback carousel.|
Disappointments: The quarterback carousel in Cleveland between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn has been a major disappointment. Coach Eric Mangini spent the entire offseason evaluating the two and said he planned to stick to his decision. But after Quinn won the job in the preseason, Mangini reneged and benched him after only 10 quarters. Anderson’s performance was even less inspiring as he had the lowest passer rating of any starting quarterback in the league. Cleveland is going back to Quinn for Monday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns have to see what the former first-round pick can do this season.
Surprises: When you fire your general manager eight games into a new regime, that is a huge surprise. George Kokinis was let go by the Browns during the bye after a short and mostly uneventful stint in Cleveland. Kokinis had the official title of GM. But it was pretty clear early that Kokinis was not getting final say on the roster decisions when the team kept bringing in former New York Jets players during free agency. Naturally there was some butting of heads behind the scenes and in the end Kokinis lost his job. Now the Browns are in search of a new personnel leader.
Outlook: The Browns are going to be hard-pressed to win games in the AFC North. So their best chance to turn things around probably is winning outside of the division. The Browns have games on their schedule against the Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders that on the surface seem winnable. But the Browns have to play a lot harder and a lot smarter during the second half. Don’t think for one second that these games aren’t important. Browns owner Randy Lerner will be watching his team very closely to determine if this group is headed in the right direction.
BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini met with the media Tuesday.
Obviously the hot topic was this week's firing of general manager George Kokinis, which Mangini addressed briefly.
"The decision that was made was difficult personally and professionally," Mangini said. “George is a friend of mine and I respect him. I wish him and his family well. I can tell you that, for a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out...This was the best decision in order to move forward."
Mangini would not field questions from the media on the subject. It's possible that there may be legal ramifications involved as some details of Kokinis' sudden firing remain unclear.
The Browns are in the process of adding help on the personnel side to replace Kokinis. Mangini didn’t seem opposed to the idea on Tuesday.
Cleveland is on a bye until Nov. 16 when the Browns host the Baltimore Ravens (4-3).
The Cleveland Browns released a statement Monday night on the firing of general manager George Kokinis:
"Cleveland Browns general manager George Kokinis is no longer actively involved with the organization. In response to rumors and reports that Kokinis was escorted out of the building today, the Browns deny those reports. In the interest of protecting the parties involved we will withhold further comment."
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- There is a running joke in northeast Ohio that the Cleveland Browns should wear green jerseys this year and rename themselves the Cleveland Jets. That came after new head coach Eric Mangini acquired seven of his former players from New York last offseason.
On Wednesday the Browns acquired two more former Jets in receiver Chansi Stuckey and special teams ace Jason Trusnik in exchange for former Pro Bowl receiver Braylon Edwards. It was the second trade in six months between Mangini’s current and former team.
Currently nine of Cleveland’s 53 players are made up of former Jets—or 17 percent of Mangini’s roster. Technically it’s in general manager George Kokinis’ contract to make roster decisions. But it’s very evident Mangini is calling the shots with so many players being shipped in from New York.
The results have been sub-par. Players such as safety Abram Elam, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and linebackers Eric Barton and David Bowens are all contributors but none have made enough impact to help the Browns (0-4) win a game this season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
If you're a New York Jets fan and would like to express your gratitude, mail your thank-you notes to:
|James Lang/US PRESSWIRE|
|The Jets traded up with the Browns in this year's draft to select Mark Sanchez at No. 5.|
Attention: Eric Mangini
76 Lou Groza Blvd.
Berea, Ohio 44017
The New York Jets pulled off another trade with their former head coach's new team. The Browns have a general manager, George Kokinis, but Mangini most certainly was involved to a high degree in trading receiver Braylon Edwards to the Jets on Wednesday morning.
This, of course, isn't the first time the Jets and Browns brokered a major deal. The Jets made a five-for-one deal to acquire Cleveland's fifth overall draft pick for the purposes of selecting Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez.
So the Jets have acquired the third overall pick from the 2005 draft and the fifth overall pick from this year. And what, really, have they parted with?
Cleveland, clearly in a rebuilding mode, is collecting draft picks for the future. New York is tweaking their roster to win this year.
What the Jets have gotten from dealing with the Browns
- Mark Sanchez, quarterback: The Sanchise won the job in training camp and, despite some rookie mistakes, has the Jets 3-1 and tied for first place in the AFC East.
- Braylon Edwards, receiver: He had off-the-field problems and was erratic in the Browns' offense, but he's the big-play receiver the Jets were lacking.
- Brett Ratliff, quarterback: He's third on the depth chart behind Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
- Chansi Stuckey, receiver: Stuckey was the Jets' No. 2 receiver, but didn't seize the job out of camp as much as he was a better option than David Clowney.
- Jason Trusnik, linebacker: A depth player and special-teamer, he was undrafted out of Division III Ohio Northern and has an injury history.
- Abram Elam, safety: Elam starts for the Browns but would have been a backup for the Jets behind Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard.
- Kenyon Coleman, defensive end: Coleman starts for the Browns.
- 17th overall draft pick (Sanchez trade): The Browns turned another trade, giving the pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who took quarterback Josh Freeman, for picks Nos. 19 and 191. The Browns then dealt No. 19 to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nos. 21 and 195.
The Browns drafted starting center Alex Mack at No. 19, cornerback Coye Francies at No. 191 and running back James Davis at No. 195. Francies is a backup, while Davis is on injured reserve after a promising preseason.
- 52nd overall draft pick (Sanchez trade): The Browns kept the pick and selected defensive end David Veikune, who now is a backup inside linebacker.
- Two undisclosed draft picks (Edwards trade).
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|The starting quarterback, Brady Quinn, was new, but the story was the same for the Cleveland Browns.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
CLEVELAND -- There are only so many secrets the Browns can hide from their opponents.
Energy and effort can only carry a team so far. The same goes for desire and preparation.
But eventually, the most talented team will prevail more often than not in the NFL, and that was certainly the case in Cleveland’s 34-20 season-opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
If we learned anything in the debut of Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, it’s that the Browns simply don’t have the horses to run in this 2009 race.
|AP Photo/Tony Dejak|
|Browns coach Eric Mangini doesn't have enough talent to field a contender.|
The Browns did some nice things early. They fed off the home crowd. They played a near-perfect first half. But the team in purple had Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.
Cleveland had … well … you get the point.
The Browns were left with no answers because there aren’t any on their roster.
Peterson rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns against the Browns. Favre managed the game efficiently with 110 yards, one touchdown and a 95.3 passer rating in his Vikings debut. Minnesota defenders registered five sacks.
By approximately 4 p.m. Sunday, the disparity in talent between these two teams was clear.
“With a team like Minnesota, who is talented across the board, and with a player like Adrian Peterson, there can’t be any [mistakes],” Mangini said.
As Mangini alluded, for the Browns to consistently win this season they will have to play very efficiently for four quarters. That is a very hard thing to do in the NFL every week.
Cleveland did well against Minnesota for one half. The Browns were scrappy defensively, quarterback Brady Quinn led the offense to a pair of field goals, and Joshua Cribbs scored a touchdown on special teams.
The Browns did just about everything right and the result was a 13-10 lead at intermission. Then Minnesota flexed its muscles and asserted its will to the tune of 24 unanswered points to start the second half.
“Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, I mean, come on now,” Cribbs said, giving the better team credit. “They have very talented guys on their team as well.”
After weeks of speculation and secrecy, Quinn became the third Week 1 quarterback for Cleveland in as many years. He completed 21-of-35 passes for 205 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Quinn managed the game well enough in the first half. But his two turnovers (one pick, one fumble) in the second half helped contribute to Minnesota’s dominance.
Quinn’s interception was a miscommunication with receiver Braylon Edwards, who had only one catch for 12 yards. Quinn threw the ball outside when Edwards finished his route inside. Either way, Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin was waiting near the sideline to make the easy pick. Both Edwards and Quinn took the blame for the gaffe afterward.
As the offense unraveled, so did the defense in allowing 155 second-half rushing yards by Peterson. The gritty first half from Cleveland was a total team effort and so was its second-half demise.
“We will be critical of ourselves watching film and prepare for Denver next week; that’s all you can really do at this point,” said a disappointed Quinn. “It’s the first game of the season, but there are 15 more.”
For the most part, Cleveland is stuck with this roster for the remaining 15 games.
The new regime of Mangini and general manager George Kokinis gutted a team that went 10-6 two seasons ago and brought in 23 new players. Seven of those players are former New York Jets that Mangini felt comfortable with to help change the culture, and 16 additional players came via the draft and free agency.
Of all the new arrivals from New York, safety Abram Elam had the biggest impact with eight tackles and a sack.
None of the rookie draft picks had much of an impact. First-round pick Alex Mack got the start at center for an offensive line that gave up five sacks. Rookie receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie combined for one reception, and first-year tailback James Davis rushed for only five yards on four carries.
Despite the many changes, the first offering of the 2009 Browns looked very similar to the many losses of the 2008 Browns.
It’s probably not what Cleveland wants to hear, but a new challenge could arise to avoid the same losing mentality from taking over, which has happened often since its return to the NFL a decade ago.
“Last year has nothing to do with this year,” Mangini said sternly. “Next year will have nothing to do with this year, either. What we control is right now with this group of guys, with the way we work and by the way we prepare. That’s what affects right now. It’s consistently going to be emphasized because it’s right.”
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Cleveland Browns general manager George Kokinis released a statement Tuesday night following the latest developments surrounding the future of veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth, who received a 30-day jail sentence after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter.
- "The Browns are very conscious of the seriousness of the charges to which Donte' Stallworth plead guilty to today," Kokinis said. "We are continuing to evaluate the situation and will make the decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the Cleveland Browns."
|Cleveland spent its first-round draft pick on California center Alex Mack.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
As the Browns try to play catch-up in the AFC North, they must first close the gap in the trenches with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and AFC rival Baltimore. Cleveland was 0-4 against those two teams last season, losing by a combined score of 106-43, primarily because they were physically manhandled on offense.
Realizing this, the new regime in Cleveland had no reservations making a center its signature pick of the 2009 NFL draft. Mack was widely regarded as the best interior lineman available. The Browns coveted him so much that they opted to trade out of the No. 5 overall pick, then trade two more times before taking the University of California product at No. 21 -- a little higher than most projected.
If Mack begins his pro career by pushing around huge 3-4 nose tackles such as Ngata and Hampton next season and instantly brings smashmouth football back to Cleveland, no one will care how early he was picked.
"I pride myself at being an aggressive run blocker," said Mack, who is listed as 6 feet 4, 311 pounds. "I think that's a fun thing to do when you get to run the ball and really get to impose your will on a defense."
|G Fiume/Getty Images|
|After trading down three times in the first round, the Browns finally selected Cal center Alex Mack at 21.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
BEREA, Ohio -- The 2009 NFL draft was held in New York City, but the central hub for trades and significant movement Saturday was in northeast Ohio.
The Cleveland Browns were the most active team on the first day of the draft, passing on highly-coveted players such as USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji early, and later Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin and USC linebacker Clay Matthews in the first round.
"We bumped back, we bumped back, and we bumped back again," Browns first-year general manager George Kokinis said with a smile Saturday night.
Entering the weekend, it was clear Cleveland didn't covet any particular player at the top of the draft more than adding depth. As a result, the Browns added a total of seven new players Saturday to a team that finished 4-12 last season.
Cleveland turned over 13 percent of its 53-man roster in a single day. That percentage will only increase Sunday with four more draft picks on the way.
But it's one thing to gain additional picks. It's another thing to draft the right players.
For the next several months, expect many questions to linger about Cleveland's first-day selections.
A center was the first pick of the Eric Mangini era. The new Browns coach mimicked his former mentor Bill Belichick by trading down with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles in a flurry of shrewd moves. But the end result turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic.
Mack is considered by many to be the highest-rated center in this year's draft. He is a solid player by all accounts and very smart. But most projections had him going somewhere between No. 25 and No. 40. Add in all the aforementioned flashy talent Cleveland passed over at other positions, and it certainly opens the team's first pick for debate.
"I like it because I'm on the team now, [so] I think it was a good move," Mack said Saturday. "Hopefully we get another great class, because we can do a good job and get to work."
"With Alex, he's an outstanding player, he's an outstanding person and he should be a good player for a long time," Mangini added.
Similar to Mack, Robiskie also could be considered a reach early in the second round. But he does fill a major need at receiver, as does Massaquoi, who was a top target for quarterback and No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford at Georgia. Following the release of veteran receiver Joe Jurevicius and the pending legal trouble with Donte' Stallworth, it's apparent Cleveland was concerned with its receiver depth.
"I'm anxious to get up there with Robiskie and the other guys up there," Massaquoi said. "I just want to go out there and put together some wins."
Veikune is listed as 6-2, 252 pounds and has potential to play the hybrid defensive end/linebacker role in the Browns' 3-4 defense. He was the first defender drafted this year for a Browns unit that struggled last season and finished 26th in the NFL.
At least on paper, the 2009 Browns will look nothing like the 2008 Browns.
Cleveland's roster has been dramatically altered from last year's 4-12 team via free-agent signings, the draft and multiple trades. But whether the Browns' win total also changes significantly next season depends a
lot on the production of these four first-day draft picks.
|Paul Spinelli/Getty Images|
|After being traded to Tampa Bay and signing a new, hefty contract, Kellen Winslow will be one of the most prominent faces of the Buccaneers' new regime.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas and James Walker
When head coach Eric Mangini and general manager George Kokinis took over in Cleveland and head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik were hired in Tampa Bay, the four men instantly began re-shaping their franchises.
No move was bigger for either team than the deal the Browns and Buccaneers made for tight end Kellen Winslow at the start of free agency. In exchange for a second-round pick this year and a fifth-round choice in 2010, the Bucs got Winslow and the Browns got rid of him.
There are two ways to look at this deal. Cleveland got rid of a potential headache because Winslow was looking for a new contract and might not have fit with the new regime. On the flip side, he might be a perfect fit in Tampa and the Bucs already have turned around and given Winslow a new six-year contract worth $36.1 million.
The trade comes with potential positives and negatives for both teams. James Walker and Pat Yasinskas take a look at who might be the winner in the Winslow trade.
Why didn't Winslow fit with Cleveland? How does he fit in Tampa?
James Walker: When the Browns changed regimes, the writing was pretty much on the wall for Winslow. Mangini and Kokinis wanted to start over -- completely. Cleveland quickly went on a purge where it traded or released veterans such as Winslow, receiver Joe Jurevicius and offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer. The Browns also didn't retain in-house free agents such as safety Sean Jones and veteran linebackers Andra Davis and Willie McGinest. To put it bluntly, there aren't many players on Cleveland's current roster that Mangini is enamored with, because he wants to win or lose with his players. Winslow had trade value so the Browns didn't pass up the opportunity. He was also in his sixth year and wanted a new contract, so that played a factor as well. Winslow's skill sets could have fit with the Browns on the field, so I doubt this particular move had much to do with talent. But in terms of personalities, Winslow is not shy about speaking his mind, while Mangini often likes his team shrouded in secrecy. This oil-and-water combination probably would not have worked anyway. So this was a good separation for both sides.
Pat Yasinskas: Tampa Bay is starting over, too, and one team's trash is another's treasure. The new contract should make Winslow happy and he's landing in an offense that's going to be built largely around his skills. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski will build a downfield passing game around Winslow and wide receiver Antonio Bryant. While Winslow's outspoken nature caused him some problems in Cleveland, that shouldn't be an issue with the Bucs. Morris is only 32 and excels at relating to players. Morris also isn't one of those coaches who tries to control his players' actions and words at all times. He lets them be individuals and Winslow will be allowed to be himself. The change of surroundings also give Winslow a fresh start and that could help more than anything. Although there will be lofty expectations because of the contract, he won't be under the microscope as much as he was in Cleveland. Tampa Bay fans are intense, but this isn't a situation like Cleveland, where Winslow's high draft position meant anything less than perfection was failure.
How will the Browns replace him and how will the Bucs use him?
|Jerome Davis/Icon SMI|
|The Browns will attempt to replace Winslow with a committee of tight ends, including free-agent signee Robert Royal.|
James Walker: The Browns no longer have a tight end with 80-catch potential on their roster. So they are hoping to replace Winslow's production by committee. Cleveland signed former Buffalo Bills tight end Robert Royal, who could be a serviceable starter but never had more than 33 catches in a season. The Browns also have veteran Steve Heiden returning from a serious knee injury and second-year player Martin Rucker, who is still learning but has some potential. If the three tight ends can contribute a combined total of 50-60 receptions next season, I think Cleveland's coaching staff would be happy with that type of production. The tricky thing is Winslow's ability to create mismatches in the middle of the field would have made life much easier for Cleveland's quarterbacks, particularly Brady Quinn, who often likes to check down to his short and intermediate options. If Quinn is the starter, I think he is going to miss Winslow's presence the most. Winslow has tremendous hands and was one of the few consistent weapons in Cleveland's offense the past few seasons who showed up ready to play every week. So how will Winslow be utilized in Tampa's offense, Pat?
Pat Yasinskas: James, while Cleveland is going away from having a pass-catching tight end as a big part of the offense, the Bucs are going in the exact opposite direction. Tight end wasn't a big part of the offense in former coach Jon Gruden's system, but it will be with Morris and Jagodzinski. They've scrapped Gruden's West Coast offense and will go with a system that is supposed to balance the run and the pass. The Bucs don't yet know if Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich will be their quarterback. But they do know they want the quarterback throwing often to Winslow and Bryant. The Bucs have plenty of depth at tight end with Alex Smith, John Gilmore and Jerramy Stevens on the roster. Those other three tight ends will get some playing time and they'll be asked to take on some blocking duties in the running game. But Winslow wasn't brought in here to be a blocker. He'll line up at tight end, but he'll also get some snaps in the slot and out wide. It's a pretty safe guess that the Bucs will be looking to get somewhere around 80 catches out of Winslow.
Did the Bucs overpay with the $36.1 million contract extension?
Pat Yasinskas: There's no doubt Tampa Bay went overboard in giving Winslow a new six-year deal that makes him the highest-paid tight end in history. In theory, that kind of contract should go to the league's best tight end. Winslow hasn't qualified as that -- yet. But the Bucs based this deal on his enormous potential. Yes, it's true he hasn't ever fully reached his potential.
The Bucs are banking Winslow can stay healthy and be the best tight end in the league. They're going to make him a focal point of the offense and his acquisition was the first big move by Dominik and Morris. The contract is a further statement about how huge a role the Bucs want Winslow to play.
James Walker: After watching Winslow the past three seasons, I think he's going to do well in Tampa, and the change of divisions will help his production to the point where fans could forget the extension.
Nothing against your NFC South, Pat. But Winslow had to face the top-flight defenses of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens four games a year and still put up very good numbers. He had tremendous battles with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and Ravens safety Ed Reed, and those two players often said Winslow was one of their toughest matchups annually. I would guess Winslow is licking his chops looking at some of the safeties and linebackers in the NFC South, compared to the personnel he had to face earlier in his career. As you mentioned, Pat, health is the only question.
As far as your contract theory, contracts are relative to the current market. Two years ago Daniel Graham of the Denver Broncos was the highest-paid tight end. Last season it was Dallas Clark of the Indianapolis Colts. And those are not the league's two best tight ends. A year from now someone else likely will become the highest paid at the position, because that's how the market works.
How will this trade work out?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2008 STATS REC YDS TD AVG LNG 43 428 3 10.0 30
Pat Yasinskas: After firing Gruden and releasing Derrick Brooks, the Bucs were lacking star power. The Glazer family, which owns the team, likes star power and they got some flash in Winslow. He instantly gives the team a big name and his personality should help liven up a locker room that didn't have a true spirit last season. Yes, the price tag was steep and there are plenty of other needs the Bucs could have filled if they kept their second-round pick. But they would not have gotten an instant star in the second round. They get that in Winslow and, for better or worse, he'll be one of the front men for this new regime.
James Walker: For the Browns, they will probably use the additional second-round pick (No. 50 overall) on either a receiver or a running back. Cleveland's offense was abysmal and ranked No. 31 out of 32 teams in the NFL in 2008. The Browns used four different quarterbacks and couldn't get anything established on the ground or through the air. So help at running back or receiver makes the most sense. This is particularly the case if the Browns trade No. 1 receiver Braylon Edwards. There have been talks involving at least one team in the New York Giants. The Philadelphia Eagles also are a possibility. In addition, Donte Stallworth's legal situation makes the receiver position a priority. The Browns need all the help they can get. So there is some pressure on Cleveland to select the right player with this pick, particularly since the team gave up one of its best players.
|Kellen Winslow speaks to the media after being traded from Cleveland to Tampa Bay.|
Pat Yasinskas: Things could change in the long term if the Brown
s hit big with their draft picks. But there's no question the Bucs are the winner in the short term. They got a very good player, who still has the potential to become great. If he does, the price tag won't be that big a deal. I've always thought NFL general managers treat draft picks too preciously and are too hesitant to part with them. I'm glad Dominik broke that tradition because I believe that any pick beyond the first round is just a guess anyway. There's no guessing with Winslow. We already know the guy is good. Yes, he had some injury problems and has been a little controversial at times. But there's no question he's one of the most talented tight ends in the league. Now, he'll get his chance to produce.
James Walker: Although I have no problem with Cleveland starting from scratch, I do also believe Tampa got the most of this trade. It will pay immediate dividends for the Buccaneers, because they get a proven commodity. No tight end Tampa would have drafted this year comes with the game-breaking ability of Winslow, particularly if they chose to draft a tight end in the second round or lower. The Browns now have two second-rounders (No. 36 overall and No. 50) to plug an additional hole. But as I mentioned, they have to nail the pick first to get value in return for this trade. With a first-year general manager leading his first draft, there certainly are no guarantees. A fifth-rounder in 2010 is pretty much a non factor. It won't help Cleveland next season, and statistically there is a little probability a fifth-round pick could ever significantly help unless the Browns found a gem. This is a "win-now” league and Tampa helped itself the most to win in 2009. The Browns might be able to help themselves with this trade down the road. Maybe.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Team needs: Linebacker, receiver, defensive line
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Because it's unlikely Aaron Curry will be on the board, the Browns should consider defensive lineman Brian Orakpo (above).|
Plan B: If Curry is off the board, the Browns could turn their attention to Texas linebacker/defensive end hybrid Brian Orakpo. New head coach Eric Mangini needs versatile players for his 3-4 defense. Orakpo also brings a pass rush, which was a major weakness last season in Cleveland. Do not completely rule out Cleveland looking at receiver. It recently released receiver Joe Jurevicius and starter Donte Stallworth is facing legal woes that have put his career in jeopardy. With top receiver Braylon Edwards a big name on the trading block, Cleveland will need someone to throw to in '09.
Scouts Inc. take: "Their needs are many. Going across their offense, the Browns need receivers now. I think receiver all of a sudden is a huge need and Michael Crabtree might be a great pick for them. They need a running back-in-waiting. But they really need a pass-rusher. Their pass rush is atrocious, so Orakpo makes sense for them, putting him on the other side of Kamerion Wimbley. I think Wimbley has proven that he is not a No. 1 pass-rusher. He could be OK as a complementary guy. But he's been disappointing when the attention is rolled in his direction. So Orakpo or Crabtree makes the most sense, but they need a lot." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Contractually, first-year general manager George Kokinis has final say on the 53-man roster. But based on the team's moves in free agency -- acquiring four Jets last month -- it's clear that new coach Eric Mangini is pulling many of the strings behind the scenes. The company line is that both Mangini and Kokinis will work together as an equal tandem.
Now on the Clock: Seattle Seahawks.