New Quenton Nelson contract dwarfs Wyatt Teller, Joel Bitonio deals

Berrry got ahead of things by signing Bitonio and Teller whose deals are now dwarfed by the one signed by Nelson:

Near the middle of a struggling season in 2021, Cleveland Browns GM Andrew Berry extended both of his guards, Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio. The deals were done a day apart but represented a focus on paying players what they deserve especially at a very stable position.

Both Bitonio and Teller were named All-Pros last year and both were voted as part of the NFL’s top 100 players this offseason.

The longer-tenured Bitonio’s contract averages $16 million a year while Teller’s comes in a little over $14 million. Over $30 million tied up in guard play may seem like a lot but the two deserve it.

Now, before the start of the 2022 regular season for most teams, came a contract that dwarfs both of the ones signed in Cleveland less than a year ago. The Indianapolis Colts gave their left guard, Quenton Nelson, a four-year deal worth an average of $20 million a season.

Nelson’s deal falls just short of the overall value of Zack Martin’s at the position but Martin was signed for six seasons. Joe Thuney also has an $80 million contract but his is over five seasons.

The Colts gave Nelson $3.5 million more per season than the next highest-paid guard, Brandon Scherff, and $4 million more per year than Bitonio is making.

While the $30 million combined between Bitonio and Teller seems like a lot, the $20 million given to Nelson alone on a yearly basis puts it into perspective. As always, getting contracts done earlier rather than later pays off for Browns GM Andrew Berry.

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Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair denies Sage Rosenfels’ claim of playing video games in his office

Houston Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair clarified a Sage Rosenfels anecdote about catching him allegedly playing video games in his office.

One of the more bizarre stories about Cal McNair that emerged during the Hellscape that was the 2021 offseason was a claim from former quarterback Sage Rosenfels that McNair was playing video games in his office.

The claims were borderline believable given the Houston Texans hired Nick Caserio as general manager — despite the recommendations from their search committee — and settled on David Culley as coach, even though he had never been a coordinator in his previous 28 years in the NFL.

“I’ve got nothing really bad to say about Cal McNair,” Rosenfels said. “He always treated me really nice. I was open to conversations with him.”

One story Rosenfels shared came from the 2006 season when he first arrived to Houston with new coach Gary Kubiak.

“One time my first year there I was talking to David Carr about this, and David had just come from Cal’s office, I think, to discuss something,” said Rosenfels, who went 6-4 as a starter in Houston from 2006-08. “I’m not sure what it was. And I hadn’t really met Cal at this point.

“I was like, ‘What’s Cal like?’

“He’s like, ‘Well, I walk into his office and he’s sitting on the floor. There’s no desk or anything and there’s this huge TV on the wall, and he’s playing video games.’

“I was like, ‘What?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah.’

“And I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ And that was like my only really behind-the-curtain Cal McNair story other than he was a really nice guy and was kind of his dad’s right-hand guy sort of, and shake hands after the game.”

During a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) on Wednesday, McNair clarified what video games he was actually playing.

“Zelda…just kidding,” McNair wrote before clarifying what Rosenfels may have seen.

 

“I saw that story floating around the internet and I got a laugh out of it but it’s not true,” McNair wrote. “I’ve never played video games in my office before and it’s been an extremely long time since I played any video games. I’ve always had a little area with a TV, chair and remote in my office that allows me to watch film. I imagine that’s what they saw that day and they were just confused.”

Texans fans are hopeful McNair will be in his office next week rewinding the team’s highlights in a win over the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at 12:00 p.m. Central Time at NRG Stadium.

Detroit GM Brad Holmes’ actions and words say his Lions will never draft a LB early

Brad Holmes doesn’t see value in drafting LBs before Day 3, according to his own recent words, his actions and his background

One of the more candid tidbits from last week’s press conference featuring Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes and assistant GM Ray Agnew came with the very last question. Holmes provided an honest answer that confirms what his actions in two years of running the Lions have indicated:

Do not expect this team to draft a linebacker early. Not with Holmes in charge.

In two draft cycles, Holmes has made it clear he doesn’t see value in selecting an off-ball linebacker early in the draft. His Lions held tight until trading up to get Derrick Barnes from Purdue in the fourth round in 2021 and waited until the sixth round in 2022 to snag Oklahoma State’s Malcolm Rodriguez. Barnes and Rodriguez will have prominent roles in the Lions’ 4-2 defense in 2022, along with veteran Alex Anzalone and free agent signee, Chris Board.

Eschewing popular, highly-rated prospects at linebacker is not an accident for Holmes. He strongly believes the value in the position is late in the draft, not early.

“You can always look at past success at certain positions that you may be able to hit on in the later rounds,” Holmes said, speaking in response to a question about Rodriguez specifically. He cited safety as well,

“I was talking with Ray (Agnew) about when we were with the Rams, drafted (safety) Jordan Fuller in the sixth round, but had a pretty good idea that he’s a high-floor player that’s going to end up being a starter, so – but there’s certain positions that you can kind of look at and assess that you may be able to find gold in the later rounds, and inside linebackers, it’s a good volume of them throughout the draft.”

It’s something Holmes has learned from his long tenure in the Rams front office. The Rams almost never valued LB before Day 3. Holmes surrounded himself with people whose history tells the same story. Special assistant John Dorsey took one off-ball LB before Day 3 exactly once in six drafts. From the research into their draft tendencies when Holmes and the front office were brought in,

In the time Holmes was the director of collegiate scouting, they took exactly one non-EDGE linebacker in the first 120 picks. That was in the first draft of that era when the Rams tabbed Alec Ogletree at No. 30 overall. After that, the organization did not value the off-ball LB above taking Samson Ebukam (who is as much an EDGE as an off-ball guy) in the fourth round in 2017. Guys like Bryce Hager, Micah Kiser, Josh Forrest, all later Day 3 draft picks, are the manifestation of how the Holmes-era Rams valued the off-ball backer.

It is the same with Dorsey, who was the GM of the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns before joining the Lions,

Dorsey’s drafts showed a similar pattern. In his first draft in Kansas City, he picked Nico Johnson in the fourth round, No. 99 overall in 2013. He didn’t take another off-ball LB before the fourth round until his final draft in Cleveland in 2019, Sione Takitaki in the third.

Believe what Holmes and Agnew said about not valuing linebackers early in the draft. It’s the cloth from which they’re cut, and it’s the same cloth woven around head coach Dan Campbell from his Saints and Dolphins days. Do not expect them to change their core value seams.

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Browns defense setup to invite opponents to run the ball

They would never say it out loud but their actions seem to invite opponents to run the ball. Can it work?

With the focus of the entire NFL on the offensive side of the football, especially the passing game, it is not surprising offense has been the discussion around the Cleveland Browns this offseason. Fans and media have some concerns about QB Jacoby Brissett leading the way for 11 games while waiting for Deshaun Watson to return.

Even if Brissett plays well, WR Amari Cooper is the team’s lone known commodity that he will be throwing to outside of the running back group.

It is the other side of the ball that deserves some attention. While the passing defense should be elite again, with a great secondary, a fast group of linebackers and top-level pass rushers, the run defense could be suspect.

While there are concerns at wide receiver, the defensive tackle position could be the most suspect position on the team. There is no equivalent to Cooper there. The best player at the position might be when one of the defensive ends slides inside.

Taven Bryan was brought in on a one-year deal after failing as a first-round pick in Jacksonville. Jordan Elliott is expected to start next to Bryan but his first two seasons have shown minimal consistency.

As a rookie Tommy Togiai barely played and Perrion Winfrey fell to the fourth round and was overmatched in the preseason.

Behind that group is some fast linebackers that are a bit on the lighter side in Anthony Walker Jr., Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jacob Phillips and Tony Fields II. Only Sione Takitaki brings size among the linebackers who should see much time on defense.

It seems like the Browns front office and coaching staff are inviting opponents to try to run the football with how the interior of the defense is built. They would never say as much but their actions say it is true.

It makes some sense. There are limited resources to be spent and it is tough to find high-level defensive tackles and linebackers who are both thumpers and able to play against the pass.

Cleveland could also believe that they will always have the better rushing attack with their great offensive line and deep running back group.

The problem would come if an opponent gets the lead and then can use their run game to drain the clock while the Browns passing offense could struggle to put up points quickly.

Whether it is on purpose or not, Cleveland’s defense seems built to invite the run. Only time will tell whether that is a winning plan.

Backup QB plan ‘took a detour’ for Lions GM Brad Holmes

Detroit’s backup QB plan ‘took a detour’ for Lions GM Brad Holmes that led to Nate Sudfeld

One of the prime points of conversation in Lions land all summer was the backup QB position. The camp battle between David Blough and Tim Boyle was captivating–in part because neither has really done much to show they should have the job.

And it turns out, neither will. Boyle was cut after a brutal preseason finale. Blough made the initial 53-man roster but was released on Wednesday morning when the Lions opted to sign freshly cut 49ers backup Nate Sudfeld.

Lions GM Brad Holmes had brought back both Boyle and Blough as free agents this offseason. Holmes eschewed addressing the spot with a more proven veteran, a more promising youngster or a developmental draft pick.

In his press conference this week, Holmes was asked about the backup QB decisions he made.

“Yeah, I mean it’s never – it’s never totally ideal. Just like I was telling him, we had a plan in place for the backup quarterback position. It kind of took a detour that was unexpected, but you’ve got to be prepared for that,” Holmes stated. “And we just kind of made it work the best way we can, and we did what’s best for the organization at this time.”

Holmes acknowledged there were some different ways the Lions could have handled the backup QB situation. But he seems content with acquiring Nate Sudfeld and dumping both Blough and Boyle.

“I mean there’s a lot of different options you can go, but we did the best thing for the Detroit Lions and so, that’s how it goes. So, is there a little bit of risk? And is it foolproof? And absolutely no, well I have too much respect for the unknown to really not say that there’s a little bit of that. But I think we got the plan in place where Nate (Sudfeld) will get caught up to speed and we’ll be in good shape.”

Blough signed to the Vikings practice squad after being dumped by the Lions. Boyle remains a free agent and no interest from other teams has been reported anywhere.

Lions GM Brad Holmes downplays the 2nd-round injury risks he’s taken

Holmes said he evaluates pre-existing injuries “case-by-case” but he’s not shied from taking on those cases

Through two draft seasons as the general manager of the Detroit Lions, Brad Holmes has not shied away from taking chances on players carrying injury baggage. That’s especially true in the second round.

In 2021, Holmes and the Lions selected DL Levi Onwuzurike from Washington. This year it was Kentucky DE Josh Paschal. Both brought unclean bills of health from college through the draft process. Onwuzurike had an ongoing back problem while Paschal, who also missed most of a season conquering cancer on his foot, missed the end of his senior season and the Senior Bowl with a groin injury.

The injuries have lingered. Onwuzurike was ineffective as a rookie and has been able to practice exactly one day in pads in 2022 before reaggravating the injury. He’s on the 53-man roster but unlikely to play Week 1 with what head coach Dan Campbell termed a “snail’s pace” recovery.

Paschal is on the reserve/PUP list, missing his entire rookie training camp and preseason. His injury required core muscle surgery and his return to the field is unknown.

In his press conference on Thursday, Holmes was asked if the Lions held a flawed injury evaluation process with the second-rounders.

“I think everything is – especially when it comes to medical, it’s always case-by-case. And you’re going back with Levi (Onwuzurike), he was dealing with something that we were aware of and that we knew about,” Holmes said. “And so, he actually was able to do more than what he was going to able last year. And so, unfortunately, he’s had to still deal with it, but you just don’t have that crystal ball quite yet.”

Holmes then continued on Paschal,

“And then, with Josh (Paschal) it was something that we were aware of, that we knew that he had to deal with, while we have a timeline in place, and we don’t have any problem with it. So, it’s not – we’re not kicking ourselves, we’re not saying, ‘Oh, we overlooked this or that,’ it’s just things that we were prepared for.”

Of course, the second-rounders aren’t the only players with existing injuries that Holmes has drafted. He traded up in the first round to snag Alabama WR Jameson Williams, who will miss at least four weeks as he recovers from January knee surgery. Fifth-round TE James Mitchell still isn’t full speed from a knee injury that cost him most of his final college season at Virginia Tech, though he’s on track to play a role in Week 1.

It’s a question that Holmes will need to evaluate more conscientiously in the next draft cycle if Onwuzurike and Paschal are both washed out in 2022. Even though the Lions are still climbing up in the rebuild and generally not expected to contend for the postseason this year, getting nothing out of two top-45 picks because of preexisting injuries would be a very bad look for Holmes.

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Browns GM Andrew Berry has still not waived a player he’s drafted

Berry often drafts very young prospects that need development and patience. Keeping 22 draft picks (and 2 on IR) over the past 3 drafts is unique:

With the Cleveland Browns initial 53-man roster set, adding QB Kellen Mond a day later and filling most of their practice squad, the 2022 squad is all but complete. Of course there will be some changes as injuries, poor play and GM Andrew Berry’s desire to church the bottom of the roster happen but, for now, we have a good feel for the roster.

The 53-man roster is the youngest in the NFL and has just 33 of the 53 players who made the 2021 roster.

One of the biggest reasons for the young roster and a big portion of those 33 players are all the players Berry has selected in his first three drafts except Nick Harris and Dawson Deaton who are on injured reserve:

  • 2020 – Jed Wills, Grant Delpit, Jordan Elliott, Jacob Phillips, Harrison Bryant, Donovan Peoples-Jones
  • 2021 – Greg Newsome II, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Anthony Schwartz, James Hudson, Tommy Togiai, Tony Fields II, Richard LeCounte III, Demetric Felton
  • 2022 – Martin Emerson, Alex Wright, David Bell, Perrion Winfrey, Cade York, Jerome Ford, Michael Woods II, Isaiah Thomas

Browns fans aren’t used to a front office staying intact for three straight drafts but keeping all of your draft picks for three straight years is rare:

Of the initial 53-man roster, 22 have been drafted by Berry. If Harris had not gotten hurt that number would have been 23 but Deaton was on the roster bubble and could have ended the streak.

One variable is that Berry often drafts younger prospects which leads to hope for development and growth but also takes patience.

Until Cleveland wins consistently, Berry’s methods will be questioned. Is he being stubborn? Arrogant? Too patient? If the team wins consistently, his methods will be copied by others around the league.

It will be interesting if, somehow, this streak lasts throughout the 2022 season and into the next off-season.

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Browns placed claim on TE Trevon Wesco, Bears had higher priority

The waiver claim seems to indicate the type of tight end Berry and Stefanski might be interested in as third on the depth chart:

The Cleveland Browns claimed QB Kellen Mond on Wednesday (more on that here) as their only waiver acquisition. That doesn’t mean the team only placed one claim. It is possible GM Andrew Berry was quite aggressive in claiming players but lost out due to waiver wire priority.

With just the thirteenth priority, it is possible that the Browns missed out on a wide variety of players that were claimed ahead of them. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears alone claimed 11 players. Unfortunately, we will never know all of the players Berry tried to claim.

Late last night we did learn about one of them:

Based on claiming order, Cleveland would have won the claim on Wesco over Indianapolis and Cincinnati. The Bengals ended up claiming TE Devin Asiasi which means Berry did not place a claim on the former New England Patriot.

Wesco is considered a versatile player who can play fullback, h-back or tight end. A fourth-round selection of the New York Jets in 2019, Wesco is not much of a pass catcher, just six receptions in 40 career games, but has been a solid blocker.

Placing a claim on Wesco but not Asiasi, more of a pass catcher, would indicate that Berry is not focused on pass-catching talent if he adds a third tight end.

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Browns have the youngest 53-man roster, most cap space in NFL

Despite huge contracts given out all over the roster, the Browns have the most cap space this year (they’ll need it next year) and the youngest initial 53-man roster in the NFL:

Sometime Wednesday afternoon we will begin to get reports about more moves being made in the NFL. After teams submitted their initial 53-man rosters on Tuesday, hundreds of players hit free agency and the waiver wire.

Teams have until noon on Wednesday to place a waiver claim on young players who were let go on Tuesday. The Cleveland Browns are thirteenth on the waiver priority order which could limit who they get to claim but there are a few interesting names available.

There are also more experienced veterans that could be signed immediately in free agency such as TE O.J. Howard (who looks headed to Cincinnati) and S Anthony Harris.

For the Browns, claiming young players would be more fitting. According to a report, Cleveland has the youngest roster in the NFL:

The NFL’s youngest roster belongs to the Browns, who have an average age of 25.0. Cleveland has consistently sought a young roster (among the four youngest rosters in the league for five consecutive years) in an effort to build for the future, but when that future will finally arrive remains to be seen.

Outside the negative editorial comment at the end, the author accurately describes the team’s goal over the years. Younger players have higher upside, are cheaper and tend to get injured less.

“Cheaper” is a relative term as the Browns have large contracts all over their roster including quarterback, running back, two guards, wide receiver, tight end, two defensive ends, cornerback and safety. Despite those big contracts, GM Andrew Berry has been able to keep the most salary cap space in 2022 after initial roster decisions:

As noted, Berry has the lead by a wide margin.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, that cap space is needed starting next year when the team is already set to be over the cap by more than $20 million. Thankfully, if nothing else changes, the rollover cap will give Berry space to work with next offseason.

The Browns are young and, for one more year, relatively cheap against the salary cap. Now they have to prove on the field that they are actually good as well.

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Former Texans president Jamey Rootes passes away at age 56

Former Houston Texans president Jamey Rootes passed away at the age of 56.