Why Cleveland “Brocks”

Vincent T. Conroy-Villarreal | @mrconroy2u | AAVSPORT

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Photo courtesy of Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

 

PHOENIX- The first day of the NFL free agency period is now done and dusted. If yesterday serves as an indictment of what is to come for the future of professional football, one would think money grew on trees after seeing just how much wealth was distributed by league executives and owners. At this rate, the NFL shield will no longer be recognized as the world’s most renowned leader in the entertainment business. If the whole money on trees metaphor indeed becomes a reality, the NFL will soon stand as a global leader in horticultural commerce.

As expected, the premier talents of the NFL frolicked to the endless riches of tax-free Florida. Desperate teams in dire need to spark regional interest, snagged headlines by overpaying for career backup quarterbacks in hopes of rejuvenating their fan bases. The selfsame rhetoric continued to control media outlets and television banner scrawls alike as sports writers continued to spill out the same jargon we have listened to for the last five years. The Jaguars’ objective is still going to be tailored on buying a championship despite an yet another organizational leadership change, Bill Belichick continues to be the smartest man in football and the Broncos are pursuing yet another veteran gunslinger to bring them back to glory. It was yet another atypical day in the NFL.

But in all the rumors, the signings and the predictable moves, there was a story that damn near almost broke the internet. Arizona State University product Brock Osweiler, went from Super Bowl 50 Champion, to a prized 72-million-dollar contract, to a quarterback nobody wants. What a year it has been for the man once seen as Peyton Manning’s prodigy. After seeing news of this trade break on Bleacher Report and Twitter, I assumed Kevin Costner was still calling the shots for the Cleveland Browns. At first glance, this trade was very much a “Browns move” and lacked any sort of institutional direction or logic. But after brewing on this for the last day and doing some extensive research of my own, the more it has become apparent to me that this trade by the Browns’ brass was a absolute stroke of genius. The Browns have challenged the traditional and conventional model of winning in the NFL. While every other NFL franchise is spending, the Browns are being uncharacteristically parsimonious.

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Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports

Without question, the Browns’ trade involving Brock Osweiler is perhaps one of the most fascinating deals in NFL history-and one that will prove to be next to impossible to replicate. Since Shashi Brown and Paul DePodesta took charge of assembling the team’s roster in 2016, Cleveland has became a rag-tag team of glorified card counters. They have low-balled offered contracts to free agents, let established players walk out the door, made questionable trades on Draft Day but on the contrary, have assembled draft picks hand over fist. The organizational philosophy the Browns’ are adopted since the duo took over, is the NFL version of Moneyball– the very same tactic that Billie Beane has been utilizing over the last decade with the Oakland Athletics. While it shocked many at first, it comes to no surprise that the Browns have adapted this sort of business model under DePodesta, whose background as a baseball executive is exclusively linked to Beane’s. Whether we will see if he can be just as transcendent as his boss remains to be murky, considering that he is employed by perhaps  the most impatient franchise in NFL history.

Have the Browns become the living embodiment of the Athletics? That remains to be seen since we haven’t seen any tangible results. Remember that the A’s  in the early 2000s were on the cusp of winning championships, where as Cleveland can hardly win a regular season football game. But it cannot be dismissed that the Browns have quietly been hoarding draft picks via the way of trades or free agency over the last two years. Against their fan bases’ well wishes, Brown and DePodesta happily let players like Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin and Tashuan Gipson walk out of Cleveland, knowing that compensatory picks would be awarded at the conclusion of the season. So far the move has paid off,  as the Browns have not only been awarded draft selections, but the most cap room any NFL franchise has had in the 24-year history of NFL free agency. A whopping 102-million-dollars is at the Browns’ dispense along and 11 picks in the first six rounds in the draft, including five of the first 65 picks.

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Photo courtesy of Terry Pluto/Plain Dealer

Let’s be clear, The Wizard of Oz is never going to part of the Browns plan. His acquisition was made simply to accrue more selections in the NFL Draft. If they can find a potential trade partner for his services, they could possibly collect even more draft picks. I hate playing hypotheticals here, but if Osweiler had been outright released by the Texans, he would drawn a substantial amount of interest around the league. His resume, while tarnished, is head and shoulders above what is currently available on the free agent market. Given this year’s weak quarterback class, I could have envisioned him receiving yet another top-dollar contract yet again . The Browns stood as one one of the few teams (if not the only team) that could absorb his contract. With that much money at their disposal, biting a part of a 16-million-dollar contract is a theoretical “drop in the bucket” for the Browns. By no means is Osweiler penciled in to be the team’s starting quarterback for the 2017 NFL regular season. But if by chance the Browns’ can’t find a trade suitor, he is one hell of an insurance policy.

In baseball, Moneyball is designed to discover value in an inadequate market. Top-dollar contracts given to unproven commodities can hinder a team’s overall development. Acquisitions like Albert Haynesworth for the Washington Redskins serve as tell tale warning that some things are never as advertised. Contracts like this can literally handcuff a team to salary-cap hell and leave team’s stuck with players they no longer want. After a fallout with the coaching staff in the later stages of 2016, Brock and the Texans were facing the same situation. The Browns closely monitored this strained relationship and took advantage of an inadequate of a desperate Texan party. Houston jettisoned their failure at quarterback and got 10 millions in pay roll. They Browns expedited the divorce process and landed Osweiler. As an reward for their services, they ended up getting a  second round pick out of the deal. While the Browns didn’t acquire their quarterback of the future, Brown and DePodesta added more assets they can someday package in order to get the one they are really sold on.

In all seriousness, the Osweiler trade while comical to a certain degree, gives a strong indication about where the Browns are heading. Are they contenders for an NFL title? No, not at all-but they are closer than most thing. Stock piling picks is smart considering that Belichick has been doing this for years in New England. You can build a strong foundation of players to build around while giving you the liberty to make considerable and logical trades on Draft Day. By either the virtue of another poor season or packaging a trade, the Browns’s are in contention to obtain the first overall selection in next year’s draft. Cleveland’s brass is telling the whole world they are in the business of acquiring the services of Sam Darnold, the rising quarterback from the University of Souther California.

While draft capital can’t throw a Hail Mary pass or make a shoe string tackle, the Browns’ are making the right decisions for the first time in a long time. Sure the Dog Pound hasn’t had much to cheer about in Charlie Frye was their starting quarterback, but Brown and DePodesta have the Browns “Brocking”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Trevor Siemian is the Savior

Vincent T. Conroy-Villarreal @mrconroy2u AAVSPORT

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Photo courtesy of Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports

 

PHOENIX- With the NFL Combine concluding in the upcoming days and free agency set to commence, the Denver Broncos, after being forced to sit from the sidelines in their championship defense, will look to reload this offseason with expectations being mile high.

Against popular conception, general manager John Elway has very few holes to address before training camp. His free agency shopping list should be relatively small, addressing only absolute needs at offensive guard and the defensive tackle positions during the free agency legal tampering period. Ideally, his focus should be concentrated on targeting depth across the entire offensive unit in the upcoming draft. Don’t be fooled, if Elway can reconstruct the offensive line, the Broncos’ Super Bowl window is still theoretically wide open. Even after Manning’s and Kubiak’s retirement along with Wade Phillip’s dismissal, the Broncos remain to be New England’s lone kryptonite in the American Football Conference.

Even with management’s decision to not pick up Russel Okung’s four-year option, the collective talent of the offensive line remains to be skeletal at best with no heir apparent in place at the left tackle position. Elway’s offseason moves will prove to be critical not only for the longevity of the Broncos title window with an elite defense aging, but for his drafting ability as well. Elway has gotten the benefit of the doubt at evaluating talent with his defensive selections, but picks like Monte Ball, Michael Scholfield and Cody Latimer have been lackluster and borderline bust worthy at best. While his 2017 offseason tasks prove to be predictable and sensible for the most part, Elway’s upcoming decision on the quarterback position proves to be just as unpredictable as the Colorado weather.

Even though the prognosis of the Broncos’ inability to make the playoffs lies on the shoulders of inadequate offensive line play and the inability to stop the run on defense, most Bronco faithful feel that an upgrade at the quarterback position is warranted after missing the postseason for the first time since 2011.  Spanning over the last five years, the Broncos have won 67 regular season games, which is tied for second-most in the NFL over that period. However, when anyone outside of Peyton Manning has been the signal caller for the Broncos, no quarterback has won more than nine games in a season over the last ten years. Jay Cutler (2006) and Trevor Siemian (2016) are the only quarterbacks to surpass the.500 mark since 2004, when Jake Plummer lead the Broncos all the way to the AFC Championship game.

According to Mile High Report, Tony Romo is still a top target for the Denver Broncos and speculation remains that Trevor Siemian will be traded to either the Buffalo Bills or the San Francisco 49ers. The 49er trade seems plausible with new head coach Kyle Shanahan implementing an offensive scheme similar too Gary Kubiak’s. Paired with Colin Kapernick opting out of his current contract, the 49ers are in desperate need of a veteran quarterback that has seen a substantial amount of playing time. While even though I agree that Romo is arguably a huge upgrade at the quarterback position in Denver, I strongly feel that Siemian is the best option for the Broncos moving forward.

While Tony Romo is a 37-year-old quarterback that is on the back side of his career, he has been unable to string together a clean bill of health over the last three seasons. While he is 16-5 in all competitions over the last four years, the four-time pro bowler’s best chance to win his first Super Bowl ring as a starting quarterback most likely resides with the Denver Broncos.  If Denver wants to capitalize on Romo’s diminishing abilities and go all in again on a championship run, he is perhaps the most viable upcoming option available on the free agent market.

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Photo courtesy of Pro Football Reference

However, Romo remains to be only a stop gap, short-term solution until the Broncos find a long-term answer to their revolving quarterback carousel. Over the last ten years, only two franchises have won a championship with free agent quarterback acquisitions. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning prove to be the outliers to this assessment. Another concern I have with the Broncos bringing in Romo is his health concerns. While Manning had looming, medical concerns coming into Denver, Romo has outright been unable to prove he can stay consistently healthy throughout his entire career.

Three back surgeries, ankle surgeries and a shattered collarbone has limited his physical abilities and as an elder statesman at the position, I question his durability behind Denver’s current offensive line. Manning will go down as one perhaps one of the best to quarterbacks to play in the NFL. It was a calculated decision as free agents of that capacity are usually never available outside of Reggie White, his acquisition will go down as one the best in NFL history. The same cannot be said for Romo impending free agency tour. These concerns should prompt the Broncos brass to seriously consider all of their options, including the ones they currently have on their roster.

Trevor Siemian, the seventh-round Northwestern product played exceptionally well in his first year of starting in the NFL. While he only finished 27th according to Pro Football Focus, he finished 21st in total QBR with an 84.6 mark, threw for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.  He performed well for a quarterback with low expectations set forth for him from management. When given a clean pocket, he showed the poise necessary to win games in the NFL. While Siemian is limited as a passer, Denver’s offensive unit regressed in Gary Kubiak’s second year at the helm of calling the plays. When CJ Anderson injured his knee against the Texans and was lost for the remainder of the season, the Broncos offense became dependent and predictable on the one-two punch abilities of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. With little to no tight end production since the departure of Juluis Thomas, Denver’s red zone efficiency has dwindled to one of the least productive units in the NFL. Compared to the 2015 and 2016 season, the offense without question took a step back. However, the quarterback play took a quantum leap forward from a statistical standpoint.

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Photo courtesy of Pro Football Reference 

His Pro Bowl alternate invitation and captaincy nod should speak volumes to how the locker room values the third-year player. Prior to his week four non-throwing shoulder injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (which hindered him for the rest of the regular season), Siemian shined in a road victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even with a reshuffled offensive line, Siemian made NFL history by winning in his first career road start in dramatic fashion. Completing 25-32 passes for four touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a near-perfect 132.1 quarterback rating, Siemian had the Broncos primed for what seemed like another postseason run.

Unfortunately, his grade-three shoulder injury proved to be more severe than what was expected when Siemian opted for surgery on Jan. 5. Whether the Bronco medical staff acknowledged the extent of Siemian’s injury at the time remains to be seen but regardless, Siemian started in 14 games for the Broncos and earned the respect of his teammates while playing injured throughout the entirety of the season. At the end of the season, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, discovered more damage than originally thought while executing the procedure on Jan. 5 in Los Angeles.

The extent of this injury without question will affect Siemian’s offseason. With a new coaching staff in place, his offseason immersion into the offense will more than likely be given to the incumbent backup and 2016 first-round selection, Paxton Lynch. Also, if Denver is likely trying to find a trade suitor for Siemian, his injury proposes an issue, considering he is now “damaged goods” that likely won’t be ready for full contact until the beginning of the season.

Outside of Siemian’s injury, his season from a statistical standpoint, his tangible upside and status in the locker room perhaps has validated his right to be the starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. His performance created a dilemma for Elway that he did not foresee. However, the elephant in the room that no one has assessed is the fact that Romo is still under contract with the Dallas Cowboys. Without question, Dallas and Jerry Jones, who has a strong personal connection with Romo, wants to get fair compensation for Romo’s services. Jones affection for his long time signal caller very well could hinder his likelihood of being released. If Jones wants value for the Eastern Illinois product, he likely would want fair trade value for Romo’s services. Dallas has all the leverage in this deal.

Furthermore, with a little over 40 million dollars available to spend towards the cap space, Denver would have to likely force Romo to take a substantial pay cut to accommodate the other needs this team has. Paying for a player of Romo’s qualities does not simply make sense. It is a luxury decision and the Broncos can invest that money in other areas. Right now, Romo is due to make 14 million dollars this year on his current contract with the Cowboys, with that number to increase as high as 20 million next year. Based on numbers provided by Over The Cap, Trevor Siemian makes more sense for the Broncos based on an economic stand point. Not only his he cheap, but his return value is invaluable.

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Photo courtesy of OTC

While Trevor Siemian is not the most glorious or sexiest option for the Broncos, he is the logical choice for the team for the foreseeable future until Paxton Lynch is prepared to take over the reins.  While the Mile-High City has always been recognized by its spectacular defense and electric quarterback play, the likes of Elway and Manning has spoiled. Siemian may not be the quarterback we want, but he is the quarterback Denver deserves. Trevor Siemian is the Savior.