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The NFL Draft. Quite possibly my favorite event on the sports calendar every year. Is it because that’s when Browns fans have the most hope? Probably – but I love it nonetheless.

In 2014 the Browns have 10 picks including five selections in the first three rounds so they are positioned to make a huge impact on the team. That is if Banner and Lombardi don’t screw things up! I’m here to make things easy for them so here’s the plan.

First, I’ve said it for months, the Browns need to find a way to get Johnny Manziel. Period. Will he be there at #4? That’s debatable. I honestly think he may go #1 but if the Texans take Teddy Bridgewater then there’s a chance. If they think they need to move up to #2 with the Rams I try to offer a third this year and a third next season and see what happens. Either way let’s say the front office does something right and gets my man Johnny Football.

Next, with the #26 pick they need to target a WR to pair with Josh Gordon. I really like Mike Evans from Texas A&M and Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt. I’m also intrigued by Kelvin Benjamin from FSU but he doesn’t appear to play hard every play and we already have that with Gordon.

With the #35 overall pick, #3 in second round, I look at a MLB or my favorite RB in the draft – Tre Mason. It is clear when he plays he has a gear no one else has in college football. He also runs hard and can catch the ball too. Reminds me of LeSean McCoy and that’s the kind of RB the Browns have been missing. Pair him with Dion Lewis and we have a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield.

If Tre Mason is gone I love Shayne Skov the MLB from Stanford. He’s fast, hits hard and is a leader on defense. I might even look at Ryan Shazier from the Buckeyes who knows how to make plays.

In the third round I look at guard and corner with those two picks. The Browns guards are slow and undersized and can’t generate enough movement to establish a running game. At corner, Buster Skrine played much better in 2013 but he’s still better suited as a nickel corner long-term.

So after day two of the draft the Browns have a QB, WR, RB, CB, and MLB. Pair these guys with the pieces currently in place on offense (Gordon, Cameron, Benjamin) and defense (Haden, Mingo, Taylor, Ward) and that’s the making of a core of young players the team can finally build around.

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Anyone who knows anything about sports knows the Cleveland Browns have been a trainwreck since 1999. Numerous different regimes have tried to get things right and none have done so yet. The time has come to offer my solutions. If the so-called expert front office staff members who’ve worked for the Browns can’t get it right could a football junkie, self-proclaimed NFL Draft expert, life-long Clevelander and Browns fan like myself do any worse?

First things first, a Head Coach. I don’t think Chud was given a fair chance in Cleveland. Name any other NFL coach who could do much when they are rolling out three different below-average QBs during the year? However, the past is the past so I won’t dwell on what’s been done.

My first phone calls to find a new coach would be Marty Schottenheimer and Brian Billick. I know Schottenheimer has been out of the game for a few years but his last season coaching the Chargers he went 14-2! Also, while the league lasted only a couple years, he actually coached a UFL team as recently as 2011 (he actually won the league championship) so it hasn’t been that long. His one downfall is he can’t win in the playoffs, but if he could get the Browns even close to the playoffs he’d be a savior!

With Brian Billick all he did in his nine seasons as head coach of the Ravens was go 24 games OVER .500 and win a Super Bowl! In addition, he won without a franchise QB and let’s just say that’s been a little problem in Cleveland lately.

Those guys may not be perfect solutions so if you don’t like those options my other phone call would be to Stanford Head Coach David Shaw. He’s turned down other options previously so I would begin the conversation with “How would you like to triple your salary?” Shaw wins creatively with a pro-style offense which he molds around his personnel and his players love him and play hard for him.

So, once I have my head coach on board I turn my attention to the roster…

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Well, tonight is like Christmas night (or Rosh Hashanah for my Jewish friends) for many NFL fans and especially those of us Browns fans. The Browns had two first round picks in the NFL draft and a huge opportunity to improve the team which has struggled since coming back to Cleveland in 1999. So, with the picks of RB Trent Richardson from Alabama and QB Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State how did the Browns do improving their team?

First, let’s discuss the Browns trading up to take Trent Richardson at #3 instead of #4. When I first heard about the trade the first thing I heard was that they gave up three picks to move up one spot. When I heard that I squirmed for a minute but said “As long as it isn’t a 2nd or 3rd round pick I’m ok with it.” It ended up being the second of two 4th round picks, a 5th and a 7th. When I found that out I was ok because we were getting our guy for sure and weren’t going to let Tampa or St. Louis move up to snatch him away from us. Also, the next thing I looked at was what “value” did we give up to move up one spot. Using the Trade Value Chart moving from three to four should cost 400  additional points. The value of the picks we gave was only about 115 points so in theory we got a bargain! Plus, the Browns still have 10 picks in the draft – plenty of picks to improve the team.

Next, Richardson fills a HUGE hole on the Browns. Do Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty or Chris Ogbonnaya scare any defenses? Hell no. Does Richardson – absolutely. He’s going to be an immediate starter for the Browns and a top five or ten RB in his first season.

Now on to the much more controversial pick of Brandon Weeden at #22. First, let me say I like Weeden as a potential NFL QB. As a Minor League pitcher he threw in the upper 90’s so he has a great arm. He made tons of throws at Oklahoma State so has plenty of passes under his belt.  However, think about this…

Brandon Weeden is 28 and will be 29 during this season so any NFL team who would want to maximize his value would want him to play right away in the hopes of getting 8-10 years out of the guy. If you look at every team before the draft started how many teams fit the criteria of needing a starting QB for the 2012 season? The Dolphins could have been one of them but they took Ryan Tannehill at #8. The other team who was considered to be looking for a QB was Kansas City but they have a starter and wouldn’t have chosen until after the Browns in the 2nd round. Any other teams come to mind? No. So why would the Browns think they’d need to take him at #22? I’d almost argue that Weeden may have slipped to the 3rd round if the Browns didn’t take him in the 2nd round!!! Again, I like Weeden and will be rooting for him to be a success…sooner rather than later.

Had the Browns passed on Weeden they could have taken the second best tackle in the draft, Riley Reiff, the best guard in the draft, David DeCastro, or the best WR left on their board (who knows who this is but maybe Stephen Hill, Ruben Randle or even Alshon Jeffery). If the Browns can get Hill, Randle or Jeffery in Round 2 then I think the pick if Weeden looks a lot better. The other direction the Browns may look in the 2nd round may be RT with both Cordy Glenn and Jonathan Martin still on the board.

Overall, I’m happy with the 1st round of the draft for the Browns and am almost as excited for the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft tomorrow!

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In about a month the Browns will have two very large decisions to make with the #4 and #22 picks in the NFL Draft. They also have a high pick in the second round at #37 overall. The Browns won a whopping four games in 2011 so needless to say they need help in all areas of the team. However the offense was terrible in all facets of the game and needs to be addressed if the Browns are ever going to put a competitive team on the field.

Based upon what the Browns have (or haven’t) done in free agency I think they will target offense with at least two of their first three picks in the draft. Their biggest need on defense was finding a defensive end to play opposite of Jabaal Sheard and they found a serviceable player in Frostee Rucker. He’s not Mario Williams, but he is a decent short-term solution. With that signing they can focus on offense in the draft.

What I think the front office needs to consider with the first two picks are these two questions. “Do we want to come away from the draft with the hands-down best RB in the draft by a landslide, Trent Richardson from Alabama and the third or fourth best WR (Kendall Wright – Baylor, Stephen Hill – Georgia Tech) OR would we be better off with the top WR in the draft, Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State and the second, third or fourth best RB in the draft (Doug Martin – Boise St., Lamar Miller – Miami, David Wilson – Virginia Tech)?”

With the Browns lack of success from their WRs taken in the second round (Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Andre Davis, Quincy Morgan, & Dennis Northcutt) they may decide it’s time to pull the trigger on one early.

To see what I’m predicting will happen, not what I would do personally, check out my mock draft by clicking the link below.

http://www.neilstein.com/march-25-mock-draft.html

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The Cleveland Browns have missed out on the chance to draft Robert Griffin III due to a blockbuster trade between the Redskins and Rams late last week. My personal opinion, after seeing what the Redskins had to give up in order to move up in the draft (three first round picks and a second round pick), is that I’m glad the Browns didn’t pull the trigger on a similar deal and mortgage their future on a player who’s never thrown a pass in the NFL. The Browns and their fans would have loved to get RGIII, but that’s in the past so today we look ahead at the Browns Plan B for the off-season.

Free agency begins today, Tuesday, at 4:00 PM and the Browns can begin improving their team with a handful of free agents. While Browns fans would love to get Peyton Manning, Vincent Jackson, and Mario Williams it’s simply not going to happen. However, here are a handful of guys I would target if I were spending their $19 million.

#1 – RT Eric Winston – Texans – Winston was cut on Monday but has been a starter for the Texans for five straight years and hasn’t missed a game. The Browns right tackles have not only missed a ton of games due to injury, but they’ve also seemed to forget to show up for the actual games when they step on the field on Sundays too.
#2 – LB David Hawthorne – Seahawks – Hawthorne is young (26) and has averaged over 100 tackles per season for the Seahawks for each of the past three seasons. He can come in and play strong side linebacker next to D’Qwell Jackson with Chris Gocong on the other side. Scott Fujita is a great locker room guy, but has lost a couple steps.
#3 – WR – Hines Ward – Steelers – Settle down and hear me out…Ward may only have one or two years left but if you look at the receivers on the Browns roster as of today Hines Ward would be the #2 receiver for the team from day one and he’ll be a bargain. The only receiver on the roster who’s better than Ward is Greg Little and Ward would be a great mentor for the young, inexperienced receivers already on the team and for those who may join the team six weeks from now (Justin Blackmon?).
#4 – RB – Peyton Hillis – Hillis had his fair share of issues during the 2011 campaign, but the media tends to blow things out of proportion. The Browns will let him test the market in the hopes that he can determine his market value, bring that proposal back to the Browns and hope the Browns can make a slightly better offer. The Ravens are known for doing this and it’s painful to say, but the Browns could learn something from Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens.
#5 – DE – Jeremy Mincey – Jaguars – Never heard of him? He doesn’t put up gaudy stats like some DE’s, but on a terrible Jaguars defense it’s easy to focus on the few good players that they do have. Mincey is relatively young, 28, is a workhorse who doesn’t miss many plays, and can see a big increase in his stats playing opposite Jabaal Sheard and next to Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor in the middle.

One other player to keep an eye one, who’s not a free agent – yet, is QB Kevin Kolb from Arizona. Kolb may get cut this week as he is due a $7 million bonus. If he gets cut I think the Browns would be foolish if they don’t consider bringing him to Cleveland. I’d rather take Kolb over Matt Flynn as Flynn is going to demand a huge contract after only playing two regular season games. Kolb has a bigger body of work and while he’s been a little up and down, he has a history with Tom Heckert and Andy Reid and the Eagles liked him enough to be the QB of the future until he went down and in came Michael Vick.

The next area where the Browns can improve this off-season is the draft, and despite not getting RGIII the Browns will get an outstanding player with the #4 overall pick. For those of you who don’t know, I follow the draft religiously. I think at #4 the Browns must take either the convention pick, WR Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma St. or my sleeper for this pick, DE/OLB Melvin Ingram from South Carolina. Some people may call me crazy for putting Ingram in this spot but I see him as this year’s Von Miller. His motor doesn’t stop, he’s slightly undersized for a “typical defensive end” and he dominated the Senior Bowl. Also, the most important position in a 4-3 defense is right defensive end and last year the Browns trotted out Jayme Mitchell and Emmanuel Stephens at RDE in 2011. Then, we move on to picks #22 and #37 for the Browns. I think with the first three picks the Browns need to get a WR and DE for sure. At #22 I would look at receivers Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech or Alshon Jeffrey from South Carolina. Jeffrey had a down senior season but his QB’s were terrible. Hill has huge upside but not big stats coming from a run-first offense at GT. If the Browns go WR at #4 then at #22 they can look at defensive ends Whitney Mercilus from Illinois, Courtney Upshaw from Alabama or Nick Perry from USC. Of these guys, I like Upshaw the most but he may be gone.

At #37 it’s difficult to imagine who’ll be there at that pick right now but some names to consider: QB Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State, RB Doug Martin from Boise State (I love this guy – he’s a taller Maurice Jones Drew), Safety Harrison Smith from Notre Dame, or OT Bobbie Massie from Ole Miss. 

So there you have it…the medicine to fix the Browns once and for all. I’ll settle for just one of Mike Holmgren’s paychecks as my payment for this advice to him and Tom Heckert. Time will tell what happens, but until then, we can all be excited for the start of free agency and the continued pursuit of Peyton Manning.

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Cleveland fans lost arguably the best player in the NBA only a couple short years ago when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach and the Miami Heat. What if Cleveland is paid back in the form of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Peyton Manning, spurning a lucrative offer from the Miami Dolphins in South Beach to come to Cleveland?

Obviously these two scenarios are much different as LeBron James was peaking when he turned his back on his hometown whereas Peyton Manning is on the downside of his career and is coming off a major surgery which cost him the entire 2011 season. Nonetheless, the excitement and passion that the signing of Manning would bring to Northeast Ohio would rival the anger and spite that the exodus of LeBron caused when he stabbed the Cavs and his fans in the back.

To take this unlikely scenario one step further, what if Manning came to the Browns and somehow found a way to help bring the Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl victory to Cleveland? In an area starving for a winner, a Peyton Manning-led championship would temporarily erase the memories of “The Fumble”, “The Drive”, “Red Right 88”,  and “The Decision”. Nothing could ever happen in sports to erase those memories (except maybe a Grand Slam of championships with the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers all winning in the same season) but Peyton Manning would forever be immortalized in the eyes of every sports fan in Northeast Ohio.

Could this happen? Absolutely – because the Browns are one of the few teams who not only need a quarterback, but they also have plenty of salary cap room where they could overpay and sign Manning to bring him to Cleveland. He won’t come here for a discount, but if he gets the Browns to the playoffs is he worth $15 million a year? If Manning wins them a Super Bowl I think every person in Northeast Ohio would say he’s worth $50 million!

Will he come to Cleveland? Realistically no, because the Browns don’t play in a passer friendly environment, don’t have quality receivers and run a very conservative offense. If the Browns would agree to open up the playbook and bring in a playmaker like Vincent Jackson, draft Justin Blackmon, or even bring in Manning’s go-to guy, Reggie Wayne, the offer gets a lot more appealing, but it’s still a reach. As a life-long Cleveland fan I’ve been brainwashed to give the Browns a 1% chance of signing Manning because good things don’t happen to Cleveland sports teams. However, to quote Jim Carrey (Lloyd Christmas) from Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

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Here in Cleveland you can’t go 15 minutes without hearing about Robert Griffin III on the radio, TV or from the NFL fans in your office. I’d say about 75% of the people here in NE Ohio would love to see RGIII in Brown and Orange next season…but fans in Washington D.C., Miami, Seattle and even some in Buffalo, Kansas City and Denver want him in their city too. The question of the off-season so far is where will RGIII call home two months from now?

People tend to forget that something called Free Agency is going to take place starting about two weeks from now (March 13) and there are a handful of starting-caliber QB’s on the market this off-season.  Here are the QB’s who I could see a team looking at as a starter for 2012:

Peyton Manning – no explanation needed
Matt Flynn – two big games in Green Bay are going to earn Flynn two extra zeroes on his paycheck for 2012
Jason Campbell – played very well in Oakland until he got hurt
Kyle Orton – had two solid seasons in Denver on a team with a terrible defense – throws more TD than INT
Chad Henne – still young and has potential and upside still

Consider this RGIII suitors…what if two of the top four teams who are considered to be the front runners to pursue RGIII (Browns, Redskins, Dolphins and Seahawks) end up signing Manning and Flynn at the beginning of Free Agency? Immediately St. Louis loses a ton of leverage. That’s likely the reason you are hearing so much from St. Louis about their willingness to trade the pick. The value of that pick won’t be higher than it is right now when, in theory, there are four teams who are likely in the market for Mr. Griffin.

As a Browns fan, here’s the scenario I’d love to see happen as I’m one of the many who want the Browns to get RGIII. Miami decides to throw cash at Manning and they sign him once he’s cut by the Colts. Next, the Redskins decide they don’t want to mortgage their future (like they did for several years in a row) and give up the draft picks to trade up in front of the Browns so they throw big money at Matt Flynn and sign him. Now, the Browns main competition for Griffin is the Seahawks who draft 12th overall. If I’m the Rams I don’t want to face RGIII twice a year by trading the pick to the Seahawks, plus, I don’t want to drop down 12 spots in this year’s draft because I know I can get an impact player in LT Matt Kalil or WR Justin Blackmon if I pick 4th. One other thought…what if Seattle signs Orton, Campbell or Henne as their starter…now the Browns may be able to stay put at #4 and get Griffin without making the trade. It’s risky, and St. Louis may pull a fast one and draft RGIII knowing someone will want to trade for him, so that’s why I think the trade ends up happening. Either way the Browns can make the trade for a reasonable price (both first-round picks this year, a third in 2013 and one of their two fourth round picks this year) and give all of us Clevelanders another reason to think “Maybe Next Year” is finally here.

PS – Remember the Browns’ trade with the Falcons in last season’s draft? Do you know where Les Snead, new GM for the Rams, came from? That’s right…the Falcons, the same team the Browns made their first round trade with last season. Hopefully that familiarity helps in getting a deal done this year too.

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