I can hear it now ...
It's exactly 8 p.m. ET in late April. Radio City Music Hall is jam-packed and buzzing. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell steps to the podium and makes the following announcement:
Just when you thought the downtrodden franchise's fortunes would change with the uplifting news that Jimmy Haslam had bought the team from absentee (and disinterested) owner Randy Lerner, the Browns were hit with a plethora of bad breaks. Just when you thought it was safe to stop thinking about Art Modell moving the team to Baltimore or Earnest Byner's fumble or the Tim Couch debacle ...
Joe Haden could miss four games
Haden is a budding star at cornerback. I love watching him play. However, Haden reportedly tested positive for Adderall, violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. The possibility does exist that he could postpone an instant suspension with an appeal. The potential suspension could also be cut down from four games. Precedent is fascinating here.
Any time that Haden misses will be a huge hit to Cleveland -- particularly if the suspension goes into effect immediately. The Browns open up the season at home against the Philadelphia Eagles, who feature the high-flying combo of quarterback Michael Vick and receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The two weeks that follow that present a pair of true No. 1 receivers, with a visit to the Cincinnati Bengals (A.J. Green) and a home game against the Buffalo Bills (Stevie Johnson). In Week 4, Cleveland hits the road to take on Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens for a Thursday-night game on NFL Network. Haden would be impossible to replace. He is that good.
Trent Richardson might need knee surgery
The rookie running back is visiting Dr. James Andrews on Thursday and will reportedly have arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee. I had to shake my head when I saw the surgical procedure described as "minor" -- knee surgery is knee surgery, and it's always a big deal. Not good for a power back whom the Browns traded up to select with the third overall pick in April's draft. Not good for the focal point of an offense. Especially not good for a young runner targeted to receive 25 carries per game in the rugged AFC North.
Don't forget, Richardson suffered a torn meniscus in the BCS National Championship Game and had surgery in early February. That procedure forced Richardson to miss the NFL Scouting Combine and, according to sources, caused him to slide down many draft boards. Cleveland obviously wasn't worried. But having two knee surgeries in the same calendar year before you take your first NFL snap? That's rather significant.
The fake McCoy
Rapoport: Embrace QB competition
For the record, I really like Brandon Weeden, even though as a baseball player he was a bargaining chip in the New York Yankees' ill-fated trade for Kevin Brown, which only changed history and the world as we know it. But I digress. Colt McCoy seemed surprised he wasn't given a fair shot to start. Earth to Colt: It was over the minute Cleveland used its second first-round draft pick on a ready-made 28-year-old quarterback who fits coach Pat Shurmur's system. I don't have a problem with making Weeden the starter. I actually like the fact he works exclusively with the first team to develop chemistry. My issue is that McCoy is even in training camp. After picking Weeden, the Browns should've traded McCoy to a team like the Eagles. Seneca Wallace is the ultimate backup. He's smart and knows he's in Cleveland to mentor Weeden and share his vast knowledge of the system. Wallace is still serviceable in a pinch, too, with a good arm and fine athleticism. Frankly, McCoy's complaining, meanwhile, hurts the all-important quarterback room. Plus, while I like Weeden, he will need time to adjust to life in the NFL, especially with ...
The lack of depth at receiver
Who's the target you trust? Who's the veteran, go-to guy? What, exactly, is the plan? Most scouts thought supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon was third- or fourth-round quality. Cleveland, though, surrendered its second-round pick in next year's draft, which I'm predicting could be No. 33 overall, to nab him! I like Greg Little's talent, but he is still a bit raw. Josh Cribbs is a weapon but not a wideout. Mohamed Massaquoi hasn't panned out. (But at least he isn't Brian Robiskie!) Reliable guard prospect Mitchell Schwartz was a solid second-round pick, but I argued that Cleveland needed someone like a Rueben Randle or Stephen Hill at receiver. And if the Browns had picked one of those cats, they wouldn't have had to reach on Gordon.
This goes back to planning. Over the last two offseasons, general manager Tom Heckert has had a need for a vet, someone familiar with the offense. Last offseason, free-agent receiver James Jones would've been ideal. In fact, Heckert told me in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he had interest in Jones. Too bad Cleveland didn't pull the trigger. (Jones ended up re-signing with the Green Bay Packers.)
The Mangini stench
Schein: Why Rex will get a ring
This team doesn't have a lot of talent. Fans can thank the Browns' old coach. Eric Mangini couldn't coach in his days with the New York Jets, but Lerner tabbed the personality-challenged Mangini to coach and run the team, too. A few months after taking the job, Mangini traded the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft to the Jets -- a pick New York used to acquire quarterback Mark Sanchez -- but failed to receive equal value in return, misjudging the talent on his former team. That kind of decision-making has set Cleveland back.
The Haslam distraction
Here's an exercise. Check out Cleveland's schedule. Find two games that you feel the Browns can win. Against the Colts in Indy? Indianapolis will have the better quarterback. Against the Redskins in December? The same argument favors Washington. A split with the rival Cincinnati Bengals? Stranger things have happened, I guess.