National Football Authority

Training camps are important for every NFL team. They give squads a chance to incorporate new additions, groom rookies, get veterans into shape and, of course, fill empty roster spots. No franchise will say training camp is unimportant.

At the same time, each and every year, it is more pivotal for select teams. Next season, the Cleveland Browns will be among that group of squads.

Most of the core players are expected back, and the team doesn’t have to worry about holding a quarterback tryout. Baker Mayfield has underwhelmed under center, but not so much that his job is in jeopardy entering the third year of his career. Continuity at the league’s most important position is a valuable ingredient.

However, the Browns have a ton of other battles and questions that will be facing them. Above all, they have to worry about the health of star wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.

Both will be returning from offseason surgeries. Though neither one’s injury is considered particularly serious, they will each lose valuable time to train. Getting them in game shape could take longer than usual, and there’s always the chance one of them isn’t the same compared to seasons past. Cleveland might even want to think about spending big in free agency on another receiver or tight end to hedge its bets against potential regression from OBJ or Landry.

Equally important, the Browns will have a lot of new faces on the offensive line. They have holes both on the ends and the inside of the offensive line. They’ll no doubt draft a guard and tackle, and they’re expected to add at least one more in free agency.

And while the importance of offensive linemen is often overlooked, it really shouldn’t be. There’s a reason that quarterbacks and running backs buy gifts for their offensive linemen when they’re in the midst of a career season. They understand that run-blocking and pass protection is paramount.

Cleveland struggled mightily in both areas last year. That needs to be addressed immediately and in a big way if the team is going to clinch its first playoff bid since 2002. And no matter how many talented options they sign for the offensive line, they need Mayfield to get reps with the newest additions so that he can develop timing and chemistry on snap counts and every-down tendencies.

So yeah, the Browns are not unique in that they’ll have much to do during training camp this year. They will, however, have more riding on it than most others.

August 26th, 2012

Posted In: NFL

Leave a Comment

Tim Hightower had quite a bizarre NFL career.

The weirdness started before he even entered the league. He wasn’t invited to the Draft Combine and needed to stand out at a Pro Day to gain any sort of traction. He would up being selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2008 draft.

After a somewhat disappointing rookie season, Hightower came on strong during his second- and third-year campaigns. Through those two seasons, he totaled 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging a solid 4.5 yards per carry. He also developed a reputation as a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield, adding another 564 yards through the air.

In the 2011 offseason, however, the Cardinals opted to go in a different direction and traded Hightower to the Washington Redskins. The latter badly needed a punch on the ground, and Hightower projected as the perfect fit, as someone who could both burst off the line scrimmage to rattle off big gains and also add a pass-catching dynamic out of the backfield.

Unfortunately, his tenure in Washington didn’t unfold as planned. Not only did Hightower’s average run plummet behind the Redskins’ shaky offensive line, but he tore his ACL a mere five games into the season, leaving him out for the year.

Though Washington re-signed him on a one-year deal that summer, the team ended up cutting him before the start of the regular season, mostly because they wanted to create more volume for rookie running back Alfred Morris.

In retrospect, there was nothing too wrong with that decision. Hightower ended up missing the next three NFL seasons before making a return with the New Orleans Saints in 2015. It was there, however, that he pieced together a stellar showing as Mark Ingram’s backup. His average yards per run hovered around four, and he continued to make the more-than-occasional play as a receiver.

Really, the entire NFL gave up on Hightower too early. There’s no way he should have been out of the league for that long, even with his injury history. Washington specifically, though, seemed to miss an opportunity.

They never needed to cut Hightower to make room for Morris. Hightower had cut his teeth as a No. 2 and No. 3 running back. He could have fit easily into the rotation and would have added more of a pass-catching dynamic Morris never fully sported. Chalk this up to another example of hindsight being 20/20.

August 9th, 2012

Posted In: NFL

Leave a Comment

In recent years, under head coach and president Jon Gruden, the Las Vegas Raiders, formerly the Oakland Raiders, have failed from a personnel perspective.

They traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for future picks. They flipped Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys. And most notably, they traded for Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers, only to see his stock both on and off the field combust and release him without any sort of compensation.

This is not the way to run an NFL team—trading guys who fit your more gradual timeline for win-now players who suggest you’re further along in your rebuild than you really are.

It would have been fine if the Raiders dealt Mack and Cooper and then acted like a normal rebuilding franchise. They didn’t. The Brown acquisition proved as much. Worse still, they don’t seem to have changed their ways. They’ve been linked to signing soon-to-be 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady to replace Derek Carr under center.

This shouldn’t stand. It can’t stand. The Raiders are not ready to compete for a Super Bowl. They finished 7-9 last year, but they’re not on the precipice of anything special. To wit: They ranked 27th in Simple Rating System, a metric that grades teams by accounting for their point differential and strength of schedule. By this measure, the Raiders were, very comfortably, a bottom-seven team.

No one free-agency signing is going to change that. The Raiders have to recognize this. They have to get back to the more deliberate thinking that prevailed in 2012 free agency.

Indeed, that version of the Raiders wasn’t good either. But they had the opportunity to sign an aging Plaxico Burress, who despite not playing in 2009 or 2010, remained a Super Bowl champion and coveted free agent. They passed, and he ended up in Pittsburgh, where he appeared in just four games.

The Raiders, meanwhile, would go on to tally three straight seasons in which they won no more than four games. It was a tough stretch, but embracing that rebuild set them up for a more convincing 7-9 record in 2015 and then a 12-4 finish in 2016.

They need to recapture that kind of thinking now. It might be a long road back to the playoffs, but investing in players that don’t fit the bigger picture will only hamstring their ability to develop youngsters and build a lasting identity that carries them to something better than six or seven wins.

August 4th, 2012

Posted In: NFL

Leave a Comment