Sunday, March 1, 2009

Curious Start to Mangini Era in Cleveland

The Cleveland Browns have only had winning records twice in the 10 seasons since the franchise's rebirth in 1999 and they have only made the playoffs once, as a 9-7 Wild Card in 2002. It is certainly understandable if newly hired Coach Eric Mangini looked at that track record and decided that the organization and the roster need to be completely overhauled. However, some of the early moves of the Mangini regime look puzzling on the surface.

The Browns have not exactly been stuffing the Pro Bowl roster in recent years, so one would think that retaining Pro Bowl quality players would be an organizational priority. Instead, during this offseason the Browns have already traded one Pro Bowler and may have irrevocably damaged their relationship with another Pro Bowler.

Tight end Kellen Winslow--a 2007 Pro Bowler after tying the franchise single season record with 89 receptions--has literally been injured for half of his pro career but no one can deny that he has great hands and that he always plays hard. The Browns shipped him to Tampa Bay for a second round pick this year and a fifth round pick in 2010. Maybe he has already seen his best days; maybe he will never be healthy for long enough stretches to be productive--but he is a 25 year old who was the sixth overall selection in the draft just five years ago: what if he plays 10 more years and makes the Pro Bowl several times? The Browns are unlikely to get players who are that productive with the two draft picks that they acquired. Mangini deserves the benefit of the doubt and must be given an opportunity to build a team the way that he thinks it must be constructed to be successful but watching the Browns the past few years I did not get the impression that Winslow was the big problem. Put it this way: without shaming anyone by naming names, there are more than a few other players I would have gotten rid of before shipping off Winslow. The Browns have a long history of giving up on players who become productive elsewhere, which reflects poorly not only on the people who are evaluating those players but also the people who are coaching them. Of course, Mangini is not responsible for those past failures but Browns fans have to hope that he has not added one more name to that list.

Whether or not this seems petty, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is convinced that Mangini snubbed him at a Cleveland awards banquet. Rogers is upset that Mangini has not reached out to contact him personally and that the Browns apparently have questioned his conditioning even though that was not a problem at all last season. Rogers has indicated that he no longer wants to play for the Browns, though his options in that regard are limited and the team is attempting to smooth things over with him. Rogers had a questionable reputation in Detroit but he seemed to completely turn his career around last year. He is the kind of player who you build a playoff team around. What kind of message does it send--to players on the team as well as players who the Browns might try to sign--when the new coach gets off to such a rocky start with arguably the team's most productive player? Maybe Rogers is overreacting, maybe he is simply posturing to try to get a bigger contract but a big part of being a leader is forming solid relationships and this situation does not reflect well on Mangini in that sense.

As a Browns fan, I have no problem whatsoever with Mangini cleaning house--but I expected him to start with the underperforming players on the roster, not the Pro Bowl tight end and the Pro Bowl defensive tackle.

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