Hue Jackson

Latest On Rift Between Browns’ Execs, Coach

Publicly, all of the Browns’ key players are saying the right things. But, with more and more stories coming out about discord between coach Hue Jackson and team brass, it’s apparent that something isn’t right in Cleveland. Hue Jackson (Vertical)

[RELATED: Browns To Start DeShone Kizer]

Jackson came to the Browns prior to the 2016 season with a vow to win right off of the bat and said the team would not rebuild, but “retool.” With that in mind, Jackson and his staff were miffed this offseason when the Browns shipped linebacker Demario Davis back to the Jets and released cornerback Joe HadenMary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com hears.

Through six weeks, Davis is third in the NFL in tackles with 53. Haden, meanwhile, is playing quality football with the Steelers. The Browns, still searching for their first win heading into Sunday’s game against the Titans, could use some players like that.

The rift between the coaching staff and the front office could result in a shakeup at the executive level, though the Browns deny reports of shopping for executives. Peyton Manning‘s name has come up as a potential GM candidate for the Browns, but Cabot hears that the QB’s recent trip to Cleveland was not for the purpose of discussing the job.

If Manning – a good friend of owner Jimmy Haslam – winds up as the team’s next GM, the Browns still might want to surround him with experienced execs. The Browns are currently guided by Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown (effectively the GM), Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, and Vice President of Player Personnel Andrew Berry. None of those three have a track record of assembling a winning football team and DePodesta’s background is in a different sport entirely.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Eyed Trubisky, Mahomes, 2018 QBs Over Watson?

For the second straight year, the current Browns front office is set to observe the team face a rookie quarterback upon whom it passed in that year’s draft. After Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott faced the Browns last season, Deshaun Watson will match up against the team he was often linked to in the pre-draft process.

But the Browns evidently had a multi-layered thought process behind moving past Watson, with Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reporting the team had Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Watson as their top three quarterbacks and likely in that order.

The Browns also bypassed Watson with their No. 12 pick in order to pick up a future 2018 first-rounder — their second high-2018 draft choice acquired from the Texans this spring — because of what’s being viewed as a superior class of quarterbacks likely set to be draft-eligible, Cabot reports. With two first-round picks and three second-rounders next year, the Browns would like to be “well-positioned” to draft a quarterback in the event DeShone Kizer is not their long-term solution. Considering Kizer was just benched for what Cabot notes will likely be for at least three games through the team’s Week 9 bye, that clock is ticking.

Cleveland may well have taken Mahomes, who had a private workout with the Browns before visiting the team in April, had the Chiefs not traded up to No. 10 and selected him, Cabot notes. Kansas City’s brass obviously shared the Mahomes-over-Watson line of thinking. The longtime Browns reporter adds some in the front office did want to draft Trubisky No. 1 overall, leading to “heated debates” before Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams‘ preferred player, Myles Garrett, went to Cleveland at No. 1 overall.

Jackson declined to say this week if he advocated for Watson, who has accounted for 10 touchdowns the past two weeks. The second-year coach also declined to speculate whether coaching Watson in January would have endeared him more to the team.

The Browns not viewing Wentz or Watson as the kind of game-changer they coveted is being scrutinized now that Kizer has been benched for 2016 practice squad signee Kevin Hogan, who has outperformed the second-round pick when summoned this season.

Viewing this demotion as a “temporary timeout,” Jackson anticipates returning to Kizer this season. The Browns are planning to obtain more evidence he’s the future to determine if the Notre Dame product is worthy of bypassing a signal-caller with all five of their 2018 first- or second-round picks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Brown, Ben

The Browns lost to the rebuilding Jets and are now 0-5 and, more importantly considering where this franchise stands in the NFL, 1-20 since their new power structure began its tenure. Consistent reports of friction between this team’s decision-making parties have come out of Cleveland, and Jimmy Haslam‘s patience may be wearing thin. The Sashi Brown/Paul DePodesta/Hue Jackson arrangement has yet to produce results, and Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes a league source predicted a major shakeup could come in the event of a Jets defeat. That happened, and the Browns benched starting quarterback DeShone Kizer for 2016 practice squad promotion Kevin Hogan in the process.

Haslam developed a deserved reputation for being impatient, abandoning previous regimes since taking over the Browns. But this one’s unique effort — placing an even greater premium on draft picks, at the expense of short-term results — has been allowed to persist thus far. However, Florio adds the perception by some around the league is the Browns’ obsession with draft picks doubles as a way for management to preach patience for future success — not unlike an MLB team stockpiling cornerstone high school talent and waiting several years for it to surface in the majors — while avoiding immediate responsibility for the on-field product.

With the Browns set to face the Texans and Texans before a Vikings tilt in London. A Patriots date follows that. Florio notes the London game could double as a Jackson firing window while adding the team could take the route the Lions did recently by firing GM Martin Mayhew and keeping coach Jim Caldwell. That would mean siding with Jackson over Brown. For his part, Jackson said postgame there was “no wavering support” from ownership, per Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com (on Twitter).

This franchise’s recent history points to a change happening soon. Here’s more from the AFC North.

  • Regarding Cleveland’s quarterback decision, Jackson did not say who he plans to start in Week 6. The second-year Browns coach indicated (via Nate Ulrich of ohio.com, on Twitter) he needed to watch film to decide between his second-round pick and Hogan, a Chiefs 2016 fifth-round who didn’t make the Kansas City roster out of camp last year. So instead of a Kizer-Deshaun Watson matchup next week, it could be Hogan in command. The Stanford product completed 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns today compared to Kizer’s 8-for-17, 94-yard, one-INT line.
  • Antonio Brown‘s outburst last weekend wasn’t solely motivated by frustrations on the field, with CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reporting the All-Pro wide receiver was upset by the Steelers‘ decision to remain in the tunnel for the national anthem instead of allowing players to make protest choices individually. Brown has strongly considered kneeling in protest during the anthem, but Ben Roethlisberger helped steer the team toward the stance of remaining in the entrance tunnel as a group during the anthem. Big Ben missing his top target for a would-be touchdown against the Ravens struck a chord with Brown, per La Canfora, who reports the wideout believed Roethlisberger’s decision not to locate him on that play was related to the two’s anthem-based argument. After a loss to the Jaguars today, Brown was diplomatic, saying (via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com) Roethlisberger was going to “bring the best out of us this week.”
  • Myles Garrett limped off the field in the fourth quarter of the Browns’ 17-14 loss but said he did not re-aggravate the high ankle sprain that kept him out for four weeks, Cabot tweets. The No. 1 overall pick described his ankle as merely being “very sore.”

Jimmy Haslam Conference Call Increases Tension In Browns’ Front Office

The rift between the Browns’ coaching staff and personnel department is something of an open secret, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes that the rift may have widened even more this week.

Jimmy Haslam (Vertical)

Per La Canfora, team ownership held a conference call with its scouts and football operations staff this week, and while the call was ostensibly intended to give the talent evaluators a vote of confidence, some within the organization have ascribed a very different meaning to it. Team sources said that the call was more of a “kiss of death” than anything else, and a sign that there could be another major shakeup on the way.

Owner Jimmy Haslam has stated that he wants to maintain continuity within his front office and coaching staff rather than engage in the same constant turnover that has plagued the organization for years. However, the Browns look to be heading towards another dismal season in 2017, and in response to questions as to whether the team could win this year or is again looking towards the future, head coach Hue Jackson said on Monday, “I think this team can [win]. I think we have to do some things better and work a little bit harder and make sure that we do some of the detail things right, but that question that you just asked, I think that is something you have to talk to [executive vice president] Sashi [Brown] about and the executive team.”

Those comments are what triggered Haslam’s conference call with football operations, and the fact that he felt compelled to have such a call at this point in the season have suggested to some that change could be on the way. As La Canfora writes, the Brown/Jackson partnership, such as it is, is looking increasingly untenable, and the team may have to show marked improvement in a big hurry (i.e. start winning a few games) to prevent Haslam from cleaning house.

Earlier this month, we saw yet another instance of discontent between Jackson and Brown, and Jackson’s comments this week suggest that things may only be getting worse.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

La Canfora’s Latest: McDaniels, Caserio, Luck, Bell

Although things could change very quickly, the 49ers are pleased with what they have seen from rookie head coach/GM tandem Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch during their brief tenures with the club. However, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports that San Francisco “intently pursued” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and player personnel director Nick Caserio this offseason and came very close to hiring both.

This does not sound much different than what we heard back in January, when McDaniels and Caserio were considered the runaway favorites to become the 49ers’ head coach and GM, respectively, and it was reported that McDaniels only withdrew his name from consideration when Caserio declined to interview with San Francisco. Both men have been very discerning when considering their next landing spot, and for good reason, considering their success and relative job security in New England. It is unclear as to why Caserio opted not to interview with the 49ers, but according to La Canfora, the possibility of a McDaniels/Caserio tandem in the Bay Area was even more real than it originally appeared. They remain a potential package deal, and they could leave the Pats in 2018 if the right opportunity arises.

Now for more from La Canfora:

  • The CBS Sports scribe reports that Browns head coach Hue Jackson is “irate” with the team’s decision to release Joe Haden, and that Haden’s release has intensified the tensions between the coach and the front office, specifically GM Sashi Brown. Jackson is particularly angry because the release had no football merit and, in his view, was clearly a salary dump even though Cleveland could have easily carried Haden’s salary on its books (although it was reported that the Browns did at least try to trade Haden prior to cutting him). We have heard previously that Jackson would get every opportunity to right the ship in Cleveland, but given the apparently shaky relationship that he has with the club’s personnel department, that may not be the case.
  • La Canfora writes that Colts QB Andrew Luck will miss several more weeks as he continues to recover from recover from offseason shoulder surgery. That is consistent with reports from earlier this week suggesting that Luck could be on the sidelines until sometime in October. Per La Canfora, Luck is expected to practice sooner rather than later and the plan is for him to ramp up his throwing regimen shortly. Indianapolis, of course, does not want to rush the face of its franchise, but if Luck cannot suit up for a few more weeks — and it would be unfair to expect him to perform to the best of his abilities immediately upon returning to the field — it is fair to wonder whether the Colts have any chance at a postseason push in 2017.
  • We heard back in August that Le’Veon Bell turned down a lucrative extension offer from the Steelers at the eleventh hour, and La Canfora writes that the star back would have actually received $18MM in the first year of the deal. However, the average annual value of the extension was $13MM over the first three years, and Bell has been adamant that his next contract pay him $15MM per year. Contrary to that August report, La Canfora says Pittsburgh officials never believed a deal was done, though they were optimistic given the strength of the offer. The two sides are expected to renew long-term discussions as soon as the season is over.

AFC Notes: Dolphins, Pats, Dupree

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill believes the team’s 2017 offense will be the best he has ever played with, and James Walker of ESPN.com agrees with him. On paper, Miami does boast a great deal of talent at the skill positions, but as Walker observes, the Dolphins still have some depth problems. Jay Ajayi was a revelation in 2016, but what happens if he should go down with an injury, or if he needs to be spelled from time to time as the season progresses? Could Kenyan Drake or Damien Williams step up? And can Leonte Carroo be counted on to complement Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker, or even carry the load if one of those players should get hurt? Will Mike Pouncey stay healthy for a full season. Of course, every team can ask itself similar questions, but for the Dolphins’ offense to take a step forward this year, it will need to stay healthy or else get contributions from unlikely sources.

Now for more from the AFC:

  • As Mike Reiss of ESPN.com observes, the Patriots don’t have many major position battles, but one to keep an eye on is at backup tight end. Of course, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen are entrenched in the top spots, but given Gronk’s health issues, the No. 3 TE could end up playing a significant role. As it currently stands, Matt Lengel and James O’Shaughnessy will compete with UDFAs Jacob Hollister and Sam Cotton for the job.
  • Steelers LB Bud Dupree was drafted with the thought that he could become the next great Pittsburgh pass rusher, and given the way he performed down the stretch in 2016, the team believes the third-year pro is ready to make the leap. As Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review points out, Dupree did not start his first game in 2016 until Week 14 — he began the year on injured reserve and was slowly eased back into action — but in that Week 14 matchup, Dupree played all but one snap and racked up 2.5 sacks (he ended the regular season with 4.5 sacks). He also recorded a half-sack in the playoffs while playing all but three snaps, so he appears primed for a breakout in 2017.
  • The Browns finished 1-15 last season, and most think they will be lucky to get to six or seven wins in 2017, but Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com says head coach Hue Jackson is not on a short leash. The team’s front office realizes it was again looking at a multi-year overhaul when it hired Jackson, and Jackson will get a chance to see it through (assuming he wants to, of course).
  • Some are wondering why Chad Henne is still on the Jaguars roster even though he does not have a pass attempt since 2014, but Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union has a succinct answer. O’Halloran says, “Henne has experience in many offenses. He has experience working with new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. And he has accepted being a sounding board for Blake Bortles. That’s why [he] is here.” Of course, as we heard last month, second-year player Brandon Allen could unseat Henne with an impressive preseason.

Hue Jackson Wants Browns To Draft Myles Garrett

While some members of the Browns organization want the team to select North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the first pick in the draft, head coach Hue Jackson isn’t among them. Jackson has thrown his support behind Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett, reports Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com.

Myles Garrett Browns

Considering both Jackson’s offensive background and the Browns’ lack of ideal quarterback options, it perhaps speaks volumes that he’d rather grab a defender No. 1 overall. He’s hardly alone in preferring Garrett over Trubisky, though, with one NFL personnel executive telling Cabot that “it’s not even close between Garrett and Trubisky.” However, Trubisky isn’t without his supporters – another personnel man informed Cabot he has more upside than Eagles signal-caller Carson Wentz, who went second overall last year after the Browns traded out of that spot.

The Browns have a second first-rounder, No. 12 overall, though it’s doubtful Trubisky will still be available when the time comes for them to make that pick. That means their bigwigs are going to have to make a choice between Garrett or Trubisky, which could be a problem. There’s “some discord” among the team’s decision-makers, with a clash potentially occurring between the old- and new-school members of the organization, multiple sources have told Cabot. Led by general manager Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer/former baseball executive Paul DePodesta, the Browns’ front office heavily emphasizes analytics. It doesn’t seem that everyone in Cleveland is on board with that, which bears watching for a club with a franchise-altering call to make in two weeks.

Photo courtesy of Pro Football Rumors on Instagram.

Hue Jackson Pushing Browns To Hire New GM

The Browns have a new defensive coordinator and there could be more major changes coming down the pike. Coach Hue Jackson has “told numerous associates in and out of the Browns organization” that he would campaign for the team to add a new general manager this offseason, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. La Canfora adds that Jackson has already compiled a list of candidates that he would like to be considered for the position. Hue Jackson (Vertical)

[RELATED: Browns Sign Eight To Reserve/Futures Contracts]

The Browns do not currently have a GM but Sashi Brown – the team’s “Executive Vice President of Football Operations” – acts as the team’s top decision maker for the roster. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Jackson isn’t thrilled with Brown’s work in the first year of their partnership.

No one expected Cleveland to do much in 2016, but everything has to be evaluated after a dismal 1-15 season. Under Brown, Cleveland amassed an impressive pile of draft picks, but Carson Wentz‘s strong rookie year has led many fans to question the decision to trade away the No. 2 overall pick.

If the Browns do pursue a GM, they might have some overlap with the Niners’ search.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jackson: Browns Not Making Thomas Trade

Joe Thomas trade rumors figure to surface again once the Browns’ season concludes, with the perennial All-Pro set to go into his age-32 season in 2017 on the heels of what could be a winless Cleveland campaign.

But Hue Jackson insisted an offseason Thomas trade is not going to occur, no matter how much sense it would make for a franchise that’s attempting one of the biggest grass-roots rebuilds in modern football history.

That is not happening, OK? — or I am going with him,” Jackson said, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “OK? I guarantee you that. I am going with him.”

Jackson also said the organization did not discuss trading Thomas at the deadline as it did last season, when the Broncos nearly acquired the six-time All-Pro for a Shane Ray-fronted package. But the first-year Browns coach charged with orchestrating this re-emergence said he would have objected if management attempted to push a trade through. Talk was the Browns wanted a second-round pick for the now-32-year-old left tackle, and although teams were interested, the interest did not reach the level it did in 2015.

I would have [put my foot down]. There is no question,” Jackson said. “Joe Thomas means a lot to me personally and a lot to this organization and this team and this city. He has done too much, and we need to keep him here. Joe is an asset to this organization is so many different ways.

Thomas is signed through 2018, due to make a nonguaranteed $10MM in both ’17 and ’18, so interest should resurface — potentially around draft weekend. Cleveland’s longest-tenured player has repeatedly expressed desire to stay with the team despite the franchise’s present status, and that remains as the Wisconsin product finishes out his 10th season.

I’m a Clevelander,” Thomas said, via Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN.com. “I’ve spent the majority of my adult life here. Every day when I come to work, it’s ‘Let’s turn this team into a consistent winner.’ Because it would be such a special story. It would be like when the Cubs won the World Series. … It’s so important for me to be here for the turnaround. I don’t want to just get a Super Bowl ring [by] being traded to a dream team. It would feel unsatisfying.”

Merrill reports Jackson did talk to Thomas after he voiced what many took as an issue with the Browns letting so much talent depart in free agency, most notably offensive linemen Mitchell Schwartz and Alex Mack, with Thomas telling the first-year coach he did not mean the comments to be controversial.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pollard Alliance Releases HC Candidates List

The Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation typically releases its list of recommended minority head coaching candidates in January. This year, we have an early preview of the list, courtesy of Tom Pelissero of USA Today. This year’s suggested candidates will include Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, Cardinals OC Harold Goodwin, and Vikings DC George EdwardsTeryl Austin (vertical)

Austin was a popular candidate for coaching vacancies last year but ultimately did not find a head coaching gig. After interviewing with the Browns, Dolphins, Giants, and Eagles, Austin indicated that he felt only two of the interviews were “legitimate” while the other two were only done to satisfy the Rooney Rule, which stipulates that a minority candidate must be interviewed for every job. Since the Browns hired a black coach in Hue Jackson, Austin presumably isn’t accusing Cleveland of interviewing him to fulfill the requirement.

The Bills installed Lynn as their OC in September after ousting Greg Roman. The Bills have been up-and-down this year, but they now stand at 6-6 despite injuries to key players. Lynn has had to run the Bills’ offense without star wide receiver Sammy Watkins for much of the year and teams will certainly take notice of his capable job despite the less-than-ideal circumstances.

Goodwin has made no secret of his desire to land a head coaching job. However, there are some factors working against him. First, the Cardinals offense has struggled this season. Secondly, despite rave reviews from those around him, Goodwin does not call the plays in Arizona, and that could deter interested teams.

Edwards was placed on the Pollard list for the first time last year and he returns this season. Like Goodwin, he does not call plays for his team despite the coordinator title. However, he comes with a strong recommendation from head coach Mike Zimmer and he did call the plays against the Cowboys when Zimmer was recovering from surgery. With Edwards at the wheel, the Vikings allowed just 17 points against one of the league’s most electric offenses.

The foundation also released a list of general manager candidates including Giants VP of player evaluation Marc Ross, Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales, former Lions GM and current Giants exec Martin Mayhew, and Eagles director of college scouting Trey Brown.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.