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As the scouting combine draws near, DeShone Kizer finds himself in a situation familiar to several recent Cleveland Browns quarterbacks.

It’s life in what has annually turned into “Browns Season” — that time of Browns excitement between the Super Bowl and training camp.

This is the time of year when the next great discovery dominates the discussion, when the players who will be on the team in the future are far more important than the players already on the team.

The best thing Kizer can do? Ignore it — every bit of it.

Because during Browns Season, talk of the draft and free agency dominates. Which means the quarterback who started 15 games last season is forgotten.

In some ways, it’s understandable. The Browns did finish last season winless. But it’s probably not wise to dismiss Kizer’s chances of keeping the starting job in 2018.

He earned that chance.

Kizer endured a miserable rookie season, and one of the things he said after the last game was that he would be remembered as the quarterback of an 0-16 team.

Technically, he was correct. But there were many contributors to the record.

Kizer experienced what many before him had endured: the Cleveland Browns quarterback meat grinder. No team grinds them up and spits them out faster.

Kizer had his issues, and to his credit he’ll admit to them. A completion percentage of 53.6 is not adequate for an NFL starting quarterback, and 22 interceptions is too many.

Kizer never hid from those statistics; he kept saying the right things and doing his best to improve. But his climb uphill was as steep as Mount Everest. The Browns were a team, according to their own coach, that needed to be perfect to win, and nobody could disagree with that take.

There was an overall lack of talent, a team teardown of great magnitude, no real threats at receiver. It added up to a season in which whatever could go wrong did go wrong. It was so bad that GM Sashi Brown was fired for doing everything he said he would do: tear down the team, go young, build with cap room and draft picks, and point to the 2018 and 2019 seasons as the turnaround.

Kizer had to survive a rookie season in the midst of this hurricane.

But as he starts to prepare for his second season, he has some advantages.

First, Kizer has played. He’s gone through the rookie struggles. Boy, has he ever. He knows now what he didn’t know when he walked into the building as an eager rookie. That is a benefit. It can’t get worse, can it?

Second, Kizer got better late in the season. There were mistakes, but in his last game, Kizer played his best game. He had the Browns on the doorstep of their first win but was done in by a dropped pass at the 10-yard line in the final minutes. The overall effort and heart were more than impressive and gave Kizer something to build on.

Third, Kizer still has the size, arm strength and skills that prompted the Browns to draft him in the second round. He was thrown to every wolf in North America, but he lasted the season. Had he not been benched a game for throwing interceptions, he’d have been the first quarterback since Tim Couch in 2001 to start all 16 games for the Browns in the post-expansion/post-1999 era. That’s an achievement.

Finally, Kizer’s attitude was excellent. He showed up early and stayed late. He never stopped working, never stopped trying to be better. He was accountable, didn’t complain and stayed true to the team. Talent eventually shows; attitude can’t be faked. Kizer has a good one.

He will have to deal with the reality of the Browns adding two quarterbacks, one via the draft and one via free agency. But Hue Jackson has been steadfast in saying the Browns will play the best guy. Kizer will be given the chance to show he is the best guy, and his chances should not be dismissed. Players often make great strides between their rookie year and second season.

Kizer has the chance to work on his game in the offseason, and he’ll start with the edge of a year’s experience with the team.

He deserves the chance to go out and win the job.

One of the oldest adages in sports is that competition either breaks or brings out the best in players. How Kizer comes out of this Browns Season is up to him.

If he betters himself and earns the starting spot for the 2018 opener, the Browns will be just fine.

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Texans coach David Culley tasked with changing culture, but will he have Deshaun Watson?

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HOUSTON — Before all of the trade talk, reports about his future and the hiring of new coach David Culley, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was asked what he was looking for in his next head coach.

“I mean, we just need a whole culture shift,” Watson said earlier in the month. “We just need new energy. We need discipline, we need structure, we need a leader so we can follow that leader as players. That’s what we need. We’ve got to have the love of not just the game of football, because that’s what we do, but the love for people and the people in this organization.”

“… We need someone that stands tall and [says] this is who we’re following and this is the way it goes … and we’re going to do it this way to win.”

Of course, Watson might not be with the Texans to play for Culley, as ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday that the quarterback is expected to still want out of Houston regardless of whom the team hires. Watson wasn’t the only one who felt there needed to be a culture change.

By hiring Culley, the Texans hope they’ve found that person to build the foundation that Watson asked for.

But, for most Texans fans, Culley’s name isn’t a familiar one. So who is he and why did Texans CEO Cal McNair and general manager Nick Caserio pick him to be the franchise’s next head coach?

Who is David Culley?

Culley, 65, has spent the past three seasons in Baltimore as the Ravens’ assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. He just finished his 27th season as an NFL coach after 16 seasons in various college coaching roles. He’ll be the oldest coach in NFL history at the time of his head-coaching debut.

Culley has never been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level, but he has been an assistant head coach before his stint in Baltimore, for the Kansas City Chiefs. The Ravens were a run-first offense in 2020, as they led the NFL in rushing yards and ranked last in passing yards.

What does he bring to Houston?

The Texans were serious about fixing the culture within the organization, and they believe Culley is that person.

After doing a second interview with the Texans — this time in person — the team was impressed by Culley’s energy and believe he has the NFL experience to deliver that cultural shift within the building, even if he hasn’t been a coordinator before.

“The thing I would emphasize about Coach Culley, more than anything, is what an amazing teacher and communicator he is,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in 2019. “He’s probably the best — I would say he’s the best straight-up teacher, communicator, that I’ve seen coaching football one-on-one, not just because he coaches it so well, but because he’s so relentless and he coaches the important things.”

“You can be relentless, but if you’re coaching things that don’t matter, then that’s just a lot of hot air. He’s coaching the things that matter, and you see the guys getting better every day within his position group.”

McNair knew he wanted whomever he hired as general manager to take the lead on the coaching search. That is Caserio, who said the characteristic he was looking for most in a head coach was an ability to “lead people.”

“Because in the end, football is a sport but it’s about people, right?” Caserio said. “You have to make an investment in people. You have to be able to lead people. … Those are some of the things that will be important relative to whether or not they’re a good playcaller on their respective side of the ball. But whoever it is will have some competency in some area.”

“… I would say in our situation, relative to Deshaun, trying to put something in place that’s sustainable for him that can allow him and the rest of the team and the organization to go out there and perform to their maximum capacity on a week-to-week basis. That’s the goal.”

What does this mean for Deshaun Watson?

This is perhaps the most important question that only Watson can answer. If Watson still wants out regardless of whom the Texans hired, as Mortensen reported, then hiring Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy instead wouldn’t have made a difference.

Now that the Texans have hired their new coach, the question is whether Watson will be here to see the culture shift he asked for in Houston. The quarterback hasn’t requested a trade, but he could decide to do so once the hire is officially announced.

While the Texans could agree to trade terms with another team before the start of the new league year on March 17, a trade cannot be executed until then. The key timeframe to pay attention to is before the NFL draft in April, because if the Texans were to trade Watson, they would want to make sure they’re getting 2021 draft capital, when the pick slots are locked in.

What’s next in Houston?

Watson put up the best numbers of his young career in 2020 and the team won only four games. Houston’s defense struggled all season, finishing 30th in Football Outsiders’ weighted DVOA. Of course, there are still a lot of holes on a defense that struggled primarily because it lacked young difference-makers, so whomever Culley hires as his defensive coordinator will have a tall task ahead.

Regardless of whether the Texans trade Watson or not, those holes on the roster will remain. The Texans’ first pick in this draft is No. 67, so they won’t be able to add impact talent at a team-friendly price, and they are currently $18 million over the projected 2021 salary cap (although that matters less than the cash they’ve already committed, which gives them some flexibility).

If Houston trades Watson, they will be able to plug in pieces on the defense and upgrade that side of the ball significantly, but then questions will remain at quarterback.

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Houston Texans hire Baltimore Ravens’ David Culley as head coach, sources say

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HOUSTON — The Houston Texans have hired Baltimore Ravens assistant David Culley to be their next head coach, sources told ESPN, confirming a report by the Houston Chronicle.

Culley, 65, who has spent the past three seasons in Baltimore, just completed his 27nd season as an NFL coach. Along with serving as the team’s assistant head coach, Culley was Baltimore’s passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. The Ravens finished the 2020 season ranked last in the NFL in passing.

“It’s a great opportunity there,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of the Texans’ opening in the week leading up to Baltimore’s divisional playoff game. “They have a heck of an organization. I do believe that David Culley would be a tremendous hire for any team; maybe, especially, the Texans with Deshaun Watson.”

Culley has never been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level. He was also an assistant head coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. When the Ravens hired Culley in 2019, Harbaugh said the coach was highly respected “as a teacher, game-planner and motivator.”

When the Texans fired head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien in October, Houston became the first team with an opening for either position. The Texans hired Nick Caserio as their new general manager earlier this month and gave him the reins to their head-coaching search.

Along with Culley, Houston interviewed Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell, Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and current Texans quarterback Josh McCown after Caserio took over. The Texans also interviewed Brandon Staley before he was hired by the Los Angeles Chargers.

Amid the Texans’ coaching search, sources told ESPN that Watson was not happy with the process the organization used to hire Caserio. And sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that regardless of whom the Texans hired as their next head coach, Watson’s desire to be traded was not expected to change.

The Texans are coming off a 4-12 season, one in which Watson played the best football of his NFL career. The fourth-year quarterback set career highs in touchdowns, passing yards and completion percentage. He also threw a career-low seven interceptions.

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Jason Witten retiring from NFL after 17 seasons, plans to do so with Dallas Cowboys

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FRISCO, Texas — After 17 seasons, Jason Witten is retiring from the NFL. He intends to sign a one-day contract and retire as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in March when his contract with the Las Vegas Raiders expires at the end of the league year.

Witten, 38, played 16 seasons with the Cowboys and spent 2020 with the Raiders. No tight end in NFL history has played more games than Witten’s 271, and only Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez has more receptions and yards at the position.

“A coach once told me, ‘The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example,'” Witten told ESPN. “As I hang it up, I walk away knowing that for 17 seasons I gave it my absolute all. I am proud of my accomplishments as a football player on the field and the example I tried to set off of it. Football is a great game that has taught me many valuable lessons, and I look forward to passing on that knowledge to the next generation.”

Witten first retired after the 2017 season and spent 2018 as an ESPN Monday Night Football analyst but opted to return to the Cowboys in 2019.

A third-round pick in 2003, Witten developed into one of the best tight ends in NFL history. He was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times, tied with Hall of Fame defensive lineman Bob Lilly for the most in Dallas history, and was considered a complete tight end because of his ability as a blocker in addition to his pass catching. In 2012, he was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year winner for the work he and his wife, Michelle, have done with their foundation.

Witten is the Cowboys’ all-time leader in receptions (1,215) and yards (12,977) and is second in touchdown catches (72). He had four 1,000-yard seasons, and in 2012 he set the record for catches in a season by a tight end (110) — a record that has since been broken (Zach Ertz, 116).

He played in a team-record 255 games, including a franchise-record 245 starts, missing just one game in his career because of a broken jaw as a rookie. He had 13 catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns for the Raiders but was lauded by coach Jon Gruden and fellow tight end Darren Waller for his mentorship.

Coaching has long been mentioned as a possibility for Witten’s next move. He has been linked to opportunities in the NFL and college levels immediately should he want to start down that path. Undoubtedly he will be inducted into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, and he will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2026.

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