ORLANDO -- We haven't heard much from Browns coach Eric Mangini since Mike Holmgren took over as the team's president in late December, and we haven't heard much about him either. Of all the changes in the organization this offseason, the angst Mangini generated upon Holmgren's arrival and Mangini's absence from the spotlight after basically holding all power since his hire last offseason has to be the most notable.
QB Jake Delhomme
LB Scott Fujita
RB Peyton Hillis
QB Derek Anderson
G Hank Fraley
G Rex Hadnot
TE Steve Heiden
FS Brodney Pool
WR Donte' Stallworth
G Ryan Tucker
LB Jason Trusnik
Well, Mangini surfaced at the NFL Annual Meeting on Sunday and he didn't hide. Though the layering of power has shifted around him, Mangini told me that he seems far more at ease just being a football coach.
"It's been great," he said. "I'd be excited about having anybody who could come in with great ideas -- to have (Holmgren's) wisdom, the experience that he's had as a head coach and running a football team ... that's really helped me, and it's helped the organization. We also added (general manager) Tom Heckert. So the three of us, being able to sit in there and discuss ideas and get to the right solution, the Cleveland Browns did a really good thing."
People within the organization said Mangini has been far more at ease in his more focused role, which is good for the Browns because last season -- and offseason -- was a mess. With his dictator-like mentality, Mangini drew the ire of nearly everyone with whom he came in contact and had a lot of folks operating on eggshells.
Mangini had rookies bussed from Ohio to Connecticut to work at his football camp, prompting criticism from players and the NFLPA. His hand-picked general manager, George Kokinis, was surprisingly fired midseason. The stories about the way he treated people throughout the organization weren't good.
But as bad as things were, Cleveland (5-11) won its last four games. No matter the situation, if a team wins four straight to close out a season in the NFL, that's a sign of a proud nucleus of players who believe -- at least to a degree -- in the coach and his staff. Now that Mangini is nothing more than a football coach with input on personnel, he believes the new structure will favor a better product on the field.
"I really felt that we understood how we had to play at the end of the season," Mangini said. "The guys got it, and there's a sense of community, a sense of purpose. It's really satisfying as a head coach. I'm looking for that core group of guys to do the same thing next season with the addition of free agents and the rookie class that we'll have -- the way that we'll play, the style that we play, carrying that through to the start of the season."
Holmgren's bold moves
Team president Mike Holmgren has changed things drastically in Cleveland since his arrival, putting his credibility on the line instantly, writes Vic Carucci. More ...
The biggest offseason moves so far have been the jettisoning of quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn and adding their replacements, Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme. There doesn't appear to be a favorite at this point, and their might not be one for a while because Cleveland is still looking for another quarterback, be it through the draft -- which Holmgren hasn't ruled out -- or free agency.
Should things come down to Wallace, who was Matt Hasselbeck's backup in Seattle, or Delhomme, who was a hot mess before getting benched last season and then released by Carolina, the battle could be complicated. Different schemes would have to be used since Wallace is a smaller, out-of-the-pocket player with ties to Holmgren, while Delhomme is a more traditional drop-back passer.
"We're excited about both Seneca and Jake; there's a different package with each guy," Mangini said. "To get them when we did get and to make the changes that we did, I think it's been really positive. It's a situation we'll continue to look at, whether it's other players in free agency or the draft."
The Saints' 'time' or their 'moment'?
After Payton went through the gauntlet of NFL Films and NFL Network and other broadcast obligations Sunday, I was able to get a few minutes with him in a hallway and asked him about the common concern of coaches with their Super Bowl winning teams: How to prevent complacency.
The first thing he told me was that he's not going to drive his players into the ground early on to keep them on edge. These guys just won a Super Bowl, and he's grateful to them for that. So offseason conditioning was moved back four weeks from normal.
"You've got to get them some space," he said.
Payton works his team very hard in offseason workouts and in training camp, often keeping them in full pads and making them go all out with full tackling, unlike a lot of teams. Grinding them now might burn them out before the meaningful part of football is played.
"There's going to be a few steps here in something like this in regards to your Super Bowl rings; you've got a trip to the White House," Payton said. "At the right time there's got to be closure on the season and you look to 2010. In free agency and in the draft and a lot of business aspects, that's already begun."
The difference, he said, is while it was a glorious moment bringing the city its first NFL championship, this is the time for an extended run of success. This will be the Saints' time.
Payton said he's seen the moment, and as glorious as it was, it was also chillingly real. When he was on the bus with his players and coaches after the Super Bowl victory, he knew then that this was the last time this particular team would be together. Some players won't be back for another run, from linebacker Scott Fujita -- who signed a free-agent deal with Cleveland -- to a few special teams players to the other guys who could get beat out by rookies or free agents.
That was the moment.
On that note, the Saints are optimistic that free-agent safety Darren Sharper will re-sign with them in the next few weeks. Payton said he understands that Sharper, 34, wants to test the market for a big pay day. However, they hope to be the most competitive financially when all is said and done. Payton said he "loves" what Sharper does for the Saints and wants him back.
Sharper will be out for several weeks while recovering from a knee injury, but that doesn't have any bearing as to how the Saints feel about him.
As for running back Mike Bell, the Saints are deciding if they will match the $1.7 million offer sheet he signed with Philadelphia. While Bell was a nice piece to the backfield, I don't see them matching. New Orleans is shelling out more than $8 million to Reggie Bush, and Pierre Thomas is their starter. Having signed Bell late last offseason, I see New Orleans using the same approach, either drafting a running back from the mid rounds or later, or signing a free agent later in the process. They might not do anything either. They also have a pretty good player in Lynell Hamilton, who saw action in nine games last season.
Early start in Kansas City
The Chiefs' offseason program doesn't start for a few more weeks, but a team official said between 15 and 20 players have already been taking part in their own conditioning and weight-training sessions for at least a week at the team facility.