- The Browns plan to slot Mychal Kendricks at weakside linebacker going into camp, per Zac Jackson of The Athletic (subscription required). Christian Kirksey played every snap at that spot last season and is signed long-term. Jackson doesn’t see him losing his job. The Browns believe Kendricks can play all three linebacker positions, but how Cleveland distributes playing time will be interesting since Jamie Collins — the league’s highest-paid off-ball linebacker — and 2017 Pro Bowler Joe Schobert are the other incumbents. It’s arguable Kendricks, long upset with his role in Philadelphia, had an easier path to playing time with the defending Super Bowl champions than he does with a team coming off an 0-16 season.
One of the most notorious draft busts in NFL history, not many remember Tim Couch‘s time with any team other than the Browns. But on this date 14 years ago, Couch signed a one-year deal with the Packers. After being selected first overall by the Browns in the 1999 draft, Couch started parts of five seasons in Cleveland. The team finally threw in the towel on him by releasing him in June of 2004. A week later, he signed with Green Bay.
Couch was already being hailed as the next great quarterback before he even entered college. ESPN once ranked him as the sixth-greatest high school player of all time. The heavily recruited Couch ultimately chose to play at Kentucky, where he went on to be a star. After three seasons at Kentucky where he set numerous records, Couch declared early for the NFL draft.
The Browns were preparing for their first season in the league as an expansion team after the original team left for Baltimore in 1996. They were looking for a quarterback to guide them as they started over and ultimately decided on Couch. Although Couch had his moments and even led the Browns to a playoff appearance in 2002, he mostly struggled. He threw for more interceptions than touchdowns and a sub-60% completion rate during his time in Cleveland. He was benched for Kelly Holcomb before ultimately being cut.
Couch’s time with the Packers ended up being brief. He struggled during camp and the preseason, in which he was often booed by the Lambeau Field fans, and suffered a shoulder injury. Just before the season was set to start, he was released by the team, effectively ending his NFL career.
His short run with the Packers was far from a glorious end to the career of one of the most high profile draft picks of his generation. The mention of Couch’s name is still enough to elicit shudders from Browns fans everywhere. It’s nearly impossible to find a list of the league’s biggest draft failures that doesn’t have Couch’s name on it, and his name will forever live on in infamy.
- During his tenure as Steelers offensive coordinator, Todd Haley worked with quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich and Michael Vick. However, the current Browns offensive coordinator say he may be working with the best grouping of signal-callers throughout his career. “This is probably one of the best – if not the best – quarterbacks rooms, in general, that I’ve had,” Haley told Patrick Maks of ClevelandBrowns.com. “The group, in general, is what I’m excited about. I think that it’s an intelligent, intelligent group, with ability to throw the football and make plays with their legs, some of them. When you have that, I think that good things happen. Competition is created in the room, even though they’re working hard together to help each other and get better as a group.” The Browns are currently rostering a trio of quarterbacks in Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, and Drew Stanton.
Browns offensive tackle Donald Stephenson has been suspended by the NFL. He’ll miss the first two games of the season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Stephenson skipped the Browns’ mandatory minicamp this week, which resulted in an 80K+ fine. The suspension will be even more costly as he’ll lose out on a pair of game checks.
In the interim, Stephenson will be eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games. He’ll be able to rejoin the team on Monday, September 17 after the Browns’ season opener against the Jets and their Week 2 contest against the Saints. His first game back should come on Sept. 20 when the Browns face the Jets in Cleveland.
Stephenson, 30 in September, saw his 2017 season with the Broncos cut short due to a torn calf muscle. He appeared in seven games with four starts before being shut down for the year. Stephenson’s 303 snaps were not enough to qualify for Pro Football Focus’ rankings, but in a larger sample, he would have graded out as the 12th-worst tackle in the league.
After signing a one-year, $2.5MM deal with Denver, Stephenson was slated to start the year as the first tackle off of the bench behind starters Shon Coleman and Chris Hubbard. He’s likely still in line for that role, though he’ll have to wait until Week 3 to see live action. For the first two weeks of the year, the Browns may lean more heavily on reserves Spencer Drango and Roderick Johnson for support.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Today’s minor moves:
- Signed: K Ross Martin
- Waived: LB DeMarquis Gates
- Signed: DB Michael Cirino
- Waived: DB Channing Stribling
- Multiple AFC West teams gave Donald Stephenson chances to be a starting right tackle, but he could not maintain the job in Kansas City or Denver. He’s now in Cleveland but was not present for the start of Browns minicamp, according to Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. Stephenson missed a sizable portion of Cleveland’s OTAs, per McManamon, as well and would be in position to incur fines for missing minicamp workouts. Hue Jackson said Wednesday this situation will be explained soon. Stephenson may not have a solidified roster spot, with the Browns having signed Chris Hubbard and drafted Austin Corbett in the second round. Shon Coleman is also in the mix for either the starting left tackle job or a swing role, which could make matters more difficult to stick with his most recent AFC franchise.
- J.W. Johnson, son-in-law of Jimmy Haslam, will now serve as Browns executive vice president, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. Johnson will assume those duties July 1. La Canfora reported last year Johnson was moving into a bigger role with the Browns. Johnson worked at CBS Sports for many years before spending four years at Haslam’s Pilot Flying J company earlier this decade.
Cornerback Howard Wilson is expected to miss the entire 2018 season with a torn patella tendon, the Browns announced on Tuesday. It’s an unfortunate setback for the 2017 fourth-round pick, who also missed his would-be rookie season with the same ailment. Wilson is expected to be placed on injured reserve in the coming days.
In 2017, the Browns traded up with the Broncos in order to select the Houston standout. The 6’1″ defender missed the bulk of his 2015 collegiate season with a torn ACL, but came back strong in ’06 as he intercepted five passes. After three serious knee injuries in four years, Wilson’s football future is in flux.
Fortunately for the Browns, they are not short on options at cornerback. The Browns’ revamped secondary will see free agent pickup T.J. Carrie start opposite of first-round pick Denzel Ward with newcomers E.J. Gaines and Terrance Mitchell among those in support at cornerback.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- After Duke Johnson signed his new contract yesterday, Josh Gordon is the next Browns player likely to be extended, opines Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland. While Grossi says he’ll have to first prove to GM John Dorsey that he can stay on the field, he “can see the Browns rewarding him with a multi-year deal to head off a possible huge payday in unrestricted free agency in 2020.”
Over the past week we’ve asked you which AFC West and NFC West team had the best offseason. Another division with a lively past few months has been the AFC North. All four teams drafted quarterbacks, and all four teams changed one of their coordinators. Here’s a quick recap:
The Browns had the most high profile offseason. Holding the number one and four overall picks, the Browns and their draft plans were the topics of endless offseason discussion. When the draft finally came, they ended up taking quarterback Baker Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward with those picks. They made a string of splashy trades, acquiring Jarvis Landry, Tyrod Taylor, and Damarious Randall. They were also very active in free agency, signing Carlos Hyde, Chris Hubbard, E.J. Gaines, and Drew Stanton among others. Cleveland did have some significant departures with Joe Thomas retiring, Isaiah Crowell signing with the Jets, and DeShone Kizer traded for Randall. They also added an offensive coordinator for the first time under coach Hue Jackson, hiring Todd Haley after he was not retained by the Steelers. It’s been a long time since there was a competitive Browns team, but with all the offseason moves GM John Dorsey has made, this should be the most talented Browns team in recent memory.
The Ravens joined the Browns in drafting a quarterback in the first round, taking Lamar Jackson 32nd overall. Joe Flacco remains the starter for now, but it won’t be long before Jackson is pushing him. After Dean Pees retired, the team promoted Don Martindale to replace him as defensive coordinator. The team released Jeremy Maclin and signed Michael Crabtree to replace him, also adding John Brown and Willie Snead to further bolster their receiving corp. They also signed Robert Griffin III, who will be fighting for a roster spot this summer. Other than that, they were mostly quiet during free agency, and didn’t make many trades. It will be virtually the same Ravens team taking the field in 2018 as they seek to build on their 9-7 record from last season when they just barely missed the playoffs due to tiebreakers.
The Steelers also drafted their potential quarterback of the future, taking Mason Rudolph in the third round. They notably let Haley walk due to years of disagreements with Ben Roethlisberger, replacing him by promoting quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner. They used their first round pick on safety Terrell Edmunds and took wide receiver James Washington in the second. Other than that, they were mostly quiet, not signing any well-known free agents other than linebacker Jon Bostic. The Steelers elected mostly to return the same team that has dominated the division in recent years.
The Bengals had the most low profile spring. They signed defensive tackle Chris Baker and signed Matt Barkley to replace A.J. McCarron as Andy Dalton‘s backup. They swapped first round picks with the Bills to acquire offensive tackle Cordy Glenn, who the team hopes will help shore up the offensive line deficiencies they’ve faced the last couple of seasons. They took center Billy Price in the first round, and lost their defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to the Raiders. They hired Teryl Austin away from the Lions to replace him. The Bengals will have to hope that Dalton can have a career renaissance and bring them back to being the team that made the playoffs five straight years not too long ago. They’re currently projected by many to finish last in the AFC North, but have the talent to potentially make some noise.
Which team do you think had the best offseason in the AFC North? Vote in PFR’s poll below and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!