A former Cleveland Browns player was on the phone this week, advocating that he would not draft a quarterback if he were running the Browns.
Guys come out unprepared these days and teams give them too much money, he said, adding that the Browns should build the team and then place the quarterback. Sort of like how Ben Roethlisberger stepped into a winning situation in Pittsburgh way back when the Browns passed on him.
This figures to be an argument the Browns will ignore this offseason. They will draft a quarterback, and they will make every effort to sign a veteran, with AJ McCarron of the Cincinnati Bengals the most likely target. Those two players will join DeShone Kizer.
The Browns may not spend $30 million for Kirk Cousins, but they will do everything else they can to fortify and solidify the position.
That said, the Browns also have plenty of other needs that can’t be ignored. What are their top needs this offseason?
Quarterback: See above. It’s a given every year. The hope is that after this offseason it won’t be a given in 2019.
Receiver: One fact illustrates this glaring need: Last season Kenny Britt tied for the team lead among the wide receiver group in receiving touchdowns with two. Britt, Rashard Higgins and Corey Coleman all had two, which tied for 109th in the NFL. The Browns had seven TDs from wide receivers, tied with the Indianapolis Colts for second fewest. Nineteen individual receivers had more than seven touchdowns. The need at this position is Grand Canyonesque and will have the Browns closely watching to see whether Jarvis Landry (Miami Dolphins) and Allen Robinson (Jacksonville Jaguars) reach free agency or get the franchise tag.
Cornerback: The defense showed great improvement in several areas during a winless season, especially against the run. But the passing defense gave up 28 touchdown throws, fourth highest in the league, and had only seven interceptions, second fewest. That’s not a good combination. The Browns need a corner who can cover and force turnovers, which is why they were willing to host former Colts corner Vontae Davis.
Left tackle: Joe Thomas may or may not retire. If his elbow injury prompts Thomas to retire, the Browns will have to scramble to find a suitable replacement. Even if Thomas does play, it’s probably for just one more season. Regardless, the Browns need to be thinking about a future without him.
Safety: Jabrill Peppers played the (very) deep middle of the field because that is a part of Gregg Williams’ defense, plus Peppers was the best the Browns had. The team recognizes that Peppers may be better suited closer to the line so he can play the way he did in college, which means Cleveland must find a true free safety. Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama) is an excellent, highly regarded college player. The idea of pairing him with Peppers at safety and adding a corner to go with defensive ends Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah and linebackers Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert (Pro Bowl) and Chris Kirksey would seem to solidify the defense.
Running back: Assuming Isaiah Crowell leaves via free agency, the Browns will need a back to pair with Duke Johnson. As much as the Browns like Johnson, there is concern he may not hold up if he is the main back. Thus, they would like to form another tandem like the one they had with Crowell. The obvious answer would be Saquon Barkley in the draft (Pick 4 overall), but if the Browns decide Fitzpatrick is the better option at that pick, there still will be good backs available in the second round.
Minnesota Vikings add depth to wide receiver corps, sign veteran Dede Westbrook, agency says
EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings made an addition to their receiving corps three days ahead of the start of training camp.
Former Jacksonville receiver Dede Westbrook signed with the Vikings on Sunday, his agency Young Money APAA Sports announced. The length of Westbrook’s contract is for one year, a source told ESPN.
A former fourth-round selection by the Jaguars in 2017, Westbrook will reunite with Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell for a fifth consecutive season. McCardell coached wide outs in Jacksonville from 2017-20.
Westbrook was brought in to Minnesota for a workout on Saturday. The 27-year-old receiver was inactive for five of the first seven games in 2020 while recovering from injuries that limited him dating back to training camp and sustained a season-ending ACL tear in Week 7. He finished the 2020 season having appeared in two games (Weeks 5 and 7) and finished with one catch for four yards.
During the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Westbrook totaled 66 catches each year for at least 660 yards and three touchdowns.
Seeking depth behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, the Vikings will now have Westbrook compete for the No. 3 receiver role along with veterans Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson and a handful of rookie receivers signed this spring. Westbrook could also potentially be in the mix as a returner given his experience on punt return (42 returns for 398 yards and a touchdown in 2018-19) and limited experience on kickoff return in 2018 and 2020.
Pittsburgh offensive lineman Trai Turner ready for ‘new era’ on Steelers’ rebuilt offensive line
PITTSBURGH — Signed just a day after the Pittsburgh Steelers released longtime right guard David DeCastro, Pro Bowl lineman Trai Turner isn’t viewing himself as a direct replacement of DeCastro. Instead, he sees himself as one part of Pittsburgh’s rebuilt offensive line.
“I just look at it like it’s a new era, a different time, different place,” Turner said Sunday. “Everything has an expiration date at some point. DeCastro is a great player, and I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m replacing him, I’m just the new right guard.
“I’m going to be the best Trai Turner I can be. I’ve been that since I was born June 14, 1993. That’s never changed. I’m not trying to emulate or be somebody else. I’m not taking place of nobody else, I’m not replacing anything. I’m coming in, and I’m setting the tone for who I am and for what I do.”
Though he’s only been a Steeler for a month, Turner, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract in June, is the most veteran of the projected starting offensive linemen, with seven seasons under his belt. The four other projected starters on the line — Chukwuma Okorafor, Kendrick Green, Kevin Dotson and Zach Banner — have just 24 combined NFL starts. Only one of those starts was at the position where the player is projected to line up this season.
Even after observing just a handful of camp practices, offensive coordinator Matt Canada saw the immediate benefit of bringing in a veteran offensive lineman like Turner.
“He had a mistake today that I didn’t see on the side. As we worked he came up and knew what it was and said it right away,” Canada said Saturday. “Obviously a veteran like him who’s played as well as he has, I think we’re very fortunate to have him and really like where he’s at. And he’s worked very hard to not have those mistakes, and to be as efficient as he has been in three days is really a real positive for us and him. Big fan of him.”
In the four days of training camp, Turner’s linemates have shifted frequently. Both Okorafor and Dotson have only done individual work, while Banner is slowly working into the rotation as he continues recovering from torn ACL in last year’s season-opener.
Even Green missed a full day of practice, excused Saturday by coach Mike Tomlin for personal reasons. But Turner, who feels healthy after an injury-riddled 2020 season, sees the benefits in the constant turnover this early in camp.
“It’s camp so you’ve got to embrace it,” Turner said. “Not only do I have to get used to new guys, they have to get used to me. I think it’s more of a positive than a negative that more people are in than not because you don’t know who’s available at all times.
“Sometimes you just have to make sure you have continuity with everyone and I think that’s what we’re getting. Just embracing it and hope everyone gets healthy soon and be back to full strength.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Leonard Fournette says he will consider COVID-19 vaccine despite tweet to contrary
TAMPA, Fla. — In a tweet that was put out Thursday and later deleted, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette indicated he didn’t want to get vaccinated for COVID-19. But on Sunday he said his decision wasn’t set in stone and he is open to the idea.
“I just don’t know too much about it,” Fournette said after the team’s first training camp practice.
Coach Bruce Arians said that rather than bringing in a specialist to address the team’s concerns about the vaccine as a whole — which Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera did — the team would make doctors available to address individual players’ concerns. Fournette plans to take him up on that.
“I’m going to talk to them, and just see what’s the best decision, for myself and for the team,” Fournette said, adding that if he doesn’t get the vaccine, he’s prepared to undergo the far more restrictive COVID-19 unvaccinated player protocols that significantly impact team and social activities away from football.
“We went over the rules yesterday,” Fournette said. “I know what’s going on, I know what to do and what not to do.”
He said he does not believe that he will be impacted in any way from a football standpoint, despite restrictions like not being able to gather with teammates outside the facility, no access to the sauna or steam room and only cold tub usage when social distancing can be followed. Failure to abide by those rules can result in a fine of $14,650 for each infraction.
“I know a lot of people who got the shot and still got the corona,” Fournette. “Just taking it day-by-day, week-by-week, talking to the doctors, trying to figure out what’s best for myself and the team.”
Fournette said he has felt the support of teammates and coaches.
“Coach [Arians] respects our decision,” Fournette said. “We’re men. He said he’s 100% with us, whatever we want to do. Just don’t get the team sick. That’s about it.”
The Bucs were one of the few teams last year that did not see a significant COVID-19 outbreak, with Arians emphasizing throughout the season that they “needed to beat the virus” and not just their weekly opponents. The start of 2021 training camp had a similar feel, even as restrictions have loosened and fans have been welcomed back to practice.
“It’s always on your mind,” Arians said. “Florida’s a hot spot in the nation. Hillsborough [County] and Pinellas [County] were No. 1 for a while. … Guys still have to be smart. We talked a lot about the delta variant and what it means, what rules you are following if your wristband’s red and your wristband’s yellow.”
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