Saturday, March 31, 2007

Quality Minutes

Nobody's going to talk much about Matt Terwilliger's performance tonight, but he's a big part of the reason that Ohio State will play for the National Championship on Monday night. Terwilliger only played 10 minutes, and his numbers (three boards, one steal and two points) weren't overwhelming, but he came up big when it mattered.

With Greg Oden in foul trouble almost before the game started, the Buckeyes could've very easily dug themselves the kind of hole that it took a near miracle to get them out of against Tennessee last week. Terwilliger was one of the reasons they didn't. No, he didn't do anything special, and Othello Hunter and Ivan Harris made much more of an impact in the box score, but Terwilliger was the guy that Matta went to first, and he answered the call.

After Oden's untimely exit, the Hoyas went to Roy Hibbert on six straight possessions, and ended up with only two points to show for it. It wasn't all Matt Terwilliger, but he definitely played a big part in containing Hibbert during that critical stretch. Terwilliger made Hibbert work for his scoring opportunities, hustled down the court, set screens, and made sure that he put a hand in the face of every shooter. His solid, fundamentally sound performance helped make sure that when Oden sat down in the first half, the Hoyas weren't able to translate their personnel advantage into an advantage on the scoreboard.

The media will focus on Mike Conley's offense and playmaking, and that's appropriate, because he was terrific. But the simple fact is that national championships aren't won without quality minutes from guys like Matt Terwilliger. Sometimes, it's not about being a superstar; it's just about doing your job when the chips are down. That's exactly what Terwilliger did in the first half tonight, and as Buckeye fans celebrate this win, they definitely ought to remember to lift a glass or two for him.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Who's the QB?

Yesterday, a report leaked, which Phil Savage confirmed, that he contacted the Chiefs about QB Trent Green.

At any time, that would be interesting news, especially because neither Charlie Frye nor Derrek Anderson has shown much under center. But, hearing that news 28 days before the draft elevates the quarterback debate. Most NFL GM's like to have a veteran tutor a young QB. So, if the Browns get Green it raises the question: Who's he supposed to tutor? Will it be Frye, Anderson or the Browns first round draft choice ?

Most of the people doing mock drafts have the Browns taking Brady Quinn with pick number 3. Then again, everyone in pro football knows that Savage has been bird-dogging JaMarcus Russell since he basically came out of the womb.

The Rhino and I recently had a discussion about the draft. My thought is that, even though a GM intellectually knows he has to rebuild the offensive line (i.e. drafting Joe Thomas or trading down for more picks), when he's on the clock, he starts to look at a highly touted QB like an addict looks at a pile of cocaine. He damns the intellectual consequences for the immediate high. In that case, the high is Sundays of Elway-esque perfomances and Lombardi trophies held aloft.

Twenty-eight days from now, Savage will be on the clock and the demons disguised as angels will be calling.

The Women's Final Snore

The Women's Final Four comes to Cleveland this weekend, with the semifinals on Sunday and the national championship game on Tuesday night. Rutgers plays LSU in the first semifinal game, while North Carolina takes on Tennessee in the second.

Want to know a dirty little secret? I can't even begin to pretend to care about any of this. As far as I'm concerned, women's basketball ranks almost as high on the unwatchability index as curling or a State of the Union address.

Before you sic Connie Schultz on me for being a women's sports troglodyte, let me defend myself by saying that I think many women's sports are much more fun to watch than the men's version of the same sport. I think that's definitely the case with soccer, at least in the United States. The women generally seem to play a much more attacking style and they even score on occasion. What about the men's game? I think the MLS version looks a lot like this. America's a great country, but when I want to watch men's soccer, Britannia rules the waves.

The same is true with tennis. We can stipulate that tennis blows, but women's tennis blows much less than men's tennis. Seriously, it isn't even close. Men's tennis usually involves two guys in short shorts and 1980s haircuts trading rocket serves that neither can do much with other than flail at and hope to put in play. On the other hand, women's tennis offers extended back and forth volleys requiring tremendous athleticism -- and that's before you even consider the fact that the athletes in question are often damn nice to look at.

I just don't feel the same way about basketball, at least beyond the high school level. Sorry ladies, but I think your game is a slower, below the rim (with rare exceptions) version of the men's game that just doesn't appeal to me. That's not a judgment I've reached after watching a game or two. I've actually seen a fair amount of women's basketball, on television and in person, starting more than 20 years ago. Come to think of it, maybe that doesn't say much for my expertise. After all, the way the NBA and ESPN have force fed the game to us in recent years, who hasn't watched a fair amount of women's basketball? Hell, the WNBA is pro sports answer to brussels sprouts. They know most of us don't like it, but they think it's good for us so they make us swallow it anyway.

If you like women's basketball, hey, more power to you. Enjoy the games. Personally, I'll be watching Barnaby Jones reruns.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Come the Revolution

While checking out the SportsFilter site the other day, I came across this critique of March Madness by former New York Times columnist Robert Lipsyte. While Lipsyte mostly rehashes criticisms of the NCAA tournament and big-time college sports in general that have become clich├ęs over the years, there's a bombshell in the last paragraph.

According to Lipsyte, he once mentioned to hoops godfather Sonny Vaccaro that his fantasy was that the two teams slated to play in the NCAA championship would tell officials right before the game that unless each player received $50,000, the teams would not play. Vaccaro responded that this came very close to happening a few years ago. In fact, according to him, one team had "t-shirts and statements" ready to go. They were apparently upset in the semifinal, so this never came off. Vaccaro didn't identify the team, saying that it was "their story to tell."

Now, I certainly can't vouch for Vaccaro's credibility, and a lot of basketball people think he's the devil incarnate. But I guess the credibility of his story doesn't matter to me--even if he was just blowing smoke up Lipsyte's ass, it's still one of the best ideas I've ever heard. I think it's criminal that everybody makes huge money off of big-time college sports except for the people who play them. If any team actually had the courage to do something like this, I think it would the kind of earth-shaking event that people would ultimately compare to Curt Flood's decision to fight the reserve clause.

Oh sure, the chattering classes would probably react to something like this as further evidence of the growing rot in college athletics, and wax nostalgic for a more innocent time that never really existed in the first place. But despite that likely reaction, I've got a feeling that once somebody stood up to the tyranny of the NCAA and the college sports establishment, the world of college sports would change pretty quickly, and for the better. Why? Because for the first time, we'd all be living in a reality based community when it comes to college athletics.

Acknowledging that college sports at their highest levels are big business and should be subject to the same rules as any other business is infinitely preferable to the current regime. At the very least, openly paying athletes for their services would put an end to the cynical expressions of "shock" from big time coaches and athletic departments who discover that their star players are receiving "improper benefits" from boosters. It would also end the injustice of meting out severe punishment to the athletes involved in these scandals, while allowing the schools and coaches to escape responsibility for them. Last but not least, paying players would allow us to retire the Orwellian doublespeak that plagues college sports, most notably the use of the the absurd term "student-athlete."

The problem is that the current system works well for everybody except the 18 year olds who make it run. Until they force change, there won't be any. Final Four players of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This Cannot Be Happening Again

Oh, who am I kidding--of course it can. Somebody please arrange Secret Service protection for LeBron.

The Fat Man and the Sea

Sorry I haven't posted in the last week or so. I spent the end of last week busily trying to clear my desk so I could spend a long weekend mooching off my in-laws in Florida, which is exactly what I ended up doing.

It sometimes seems that Florida is home to more Clevelanders than Northeast Ohio. Every time I'm in the Sunshine State, I find an abundance of Ohio plates, and a fair number of people dressed in Indians, Browns, and even Buckeyes apparel. I guess that wouldn't be surprising if I was in Winter Haven, but I was in South Florida, and I still saw a lot of Cleveland logos on display at the simply awful exhibition of baseball that I witnessed the Orioles and Dodgers put on in Fort Lauderdale last Saturday.

How bad was it? Well, despite a scorer whose charity would've humbled Mother Theresa, there were six errors in the first four innings, including two by Miguel Tejada. In the top of the 5th, they actually turned off the portion of the scoreboard that showed errors. After all, you don't want to see anyone suffer a season ending self-esteem injury during a meaningless Spring Training game.

The quality of the game wasn't real good, but it's still true that a bad day at the ballpark is better than a great day at the office, so I've got no complaints. Nevertheless, the ballgame wasn't the highlight of the trip. That honor goes to the next day's fishing trip. My sons and I went out on a fishing charter with my father-in-law. We took a fishing trip the last time we went to Florida about three years ago, but that was in January, when the fishing isn't particularly good. The only fish we caught that day were two Kingfish, which are fun to catch but have grey meat that tastes like an ashtray. By the way, if a fishing guide ever tells you to prepare your fish by first soaking it in milk for an hour, make sure to do that, and then instead of grilling or broiling the fish, I recommend that you throw it the hell away.

Sunday's expedition was much more productive. We caught one Kingfish, but we also caught four Dolphin. Okay, before you get your nose out of joint, let me assure you that we didn't kill Flipper, who was a mammal anyway and is, I'm sorry to say, already dead. Nope, we caught what you probably know as Mahi-Mahi, which is one of the most beautiful fish in the ocean and tastes awesome as well. My in-laws invited some friends over and we all pigged out on it that night, and still had more than enough to give a meal to the other two families in my in-laws condominium complex.

But, of course, it wouldn't be a fish story without the one that got away, and this time, the one that got away was a Sailfish, maybe the biggest prize that you can get off the Florida coast. Our captain found one, and he actually took a nibble on each of the four lines that we had in the water, but we couldn't get him to grab the hook. We felt him hit, and tried to set the hook, but he'd already backed off the bait each time we tried. What a shame. Catching a fish like that is an experience that has inspired not just countless fishing stories, but perhaps the Fishing Story, so it would've been something to tell you about, that's for sure.

I didn't catch my Sailfish, and I'm sure that Hemingway and Santiago would agree that nobody on our boat was worthy of the great DiMaggio, "who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel." Nevertheless, we still ended up with bellies full of Mahi-Mahi, and it's fair to say that we all came a hell of a lot closer to DiMaggio's standards last weekend than Miguel Tejada did.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"You Know It's True. Forget It, Jake. It's Cleveland."

The title of this post comes from Vinny's reply to an e-mail that I sent him yesterday. My original e-mail message included a link to Rich Swerbinsky's report about a rumor that Kellen Winslow may miss the 2007 season. Adam Schefter subsequently noted the rumor in his NFL.com column, but reassured Browns fans that "neither Winslow's doctors, trainers or the tight end himself believes that his 2007 season will be curtailed."

That would be nice if it turns out to be true, but until I see Winslow take the field myself, I think I'll go with Vinny and his Chinatown riff over Schefter's regurgitation of the optimistic party line in the online edition of NFL Pravda. If you've seen Chinatown, then you know that Vinny's paraphrasing of the film's famous last line sums up the Browns fan experience so well that we ought to replace the "our team, our name, our colors" plaque outside of Cleveland Browns Stadium with one that bears Vinny's alternative.

"Forget it, Jake. It's Cleveland." Truer words were never spoken.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bye-Bye Duke!

I could watch this for hours.

Here's a little quality Duke hatin' to celebrate the loss

Thursday, March 15, 2007

If You've Got Browns Tickets, March is the Cruelest Month

The poet T.S. Eliot once wrote that April is the cruelest month. He obviously wasn't a Browns season ticket holder, otherwise my guess is that he'd have given the nod to March. Why? Because that's when the bill for next year's season tickets arrives. Whatever their on-field shortcomings, when it comes to getting an invoice out promptly, the Browns are usually as reliable as death, taxes, and a six yard curl pattern on 3rd and seven. Sure enough, the bill for my season tickets arrived in Monday's mail.

The invoice arrives in what looks like a glossy new car brochure filled with action shots and earnest quotes from Phil Savage about the team's commitment to improvement. The brochure highlights all sorts of benefits that are available to season ticket holders who are willing to spend the money on them. Some of these, such as a $15 draft day party at the Stadium, sound like they actually might be kind of fun. Others have that "you've gotta be kidding me!" quality that reminds you that loge owners get the same brochure that you do. Events like the $5,000 per foursome golf outing fall into this latter category.

Anyway, despite the sugar coating, there's no getting around the fact that the bill's arrival means it's time for season ticket holders to once again "assume the position." One small silver lining is that the Browns decided not to raise ticket prices this year, despite pressure from the league to do so. I suppose you could argue that they deserve some grudging credit for holding the line on ticket prices, but on the other hand, how much credit do you give somebody for not being delusional?

Let's face it, things have reached the point where if they raised ticket prices, a lot of fans simply would not pay them. All the positive spin and glossy packaging in the world can't change the fact that season ticket holders annually spend a hell of a lot of coin on a team that continues to be godawful almost a decade after we first plunked down PSL money.

Now, you may think I'm leading up to some kind of rant about how I've had it and I'm about to turn in my tickets. Nope. I'm in again. That's not because I've enjoyed much of what I've seen on the field over the past several years. Far from it. No, it's because like a lot of you, I remember what it used to be like. So like I do every year, I'll talk myself into believing that this will be the year that the Browns I remember will be back, and I'll throw my check into the mail.

But those memories that keep long-time fans coming back are fading, and the Browns haven't given younger fans much in terms of memories at all. It's awful hard for young fans to warm up to a team that's been bad for as long as they can remember, and even those of us who can remember better days will acknowledge that we don't have the emotional investment in this team that we had in the old Browns. There's an Invasion of the Body Snatchers feel to this team--sure, they still wear brown and orange, but while our Browns were all about blue collar players and gritty football, these Browns have been all about slick packaging and shitty football.

I hope that the Browns understand this. Yeah, I'll pay up again and I'm betting that most other season ticket holders will do the same, but even the NFL's most loyal and long-suffering fans will eventually reach a point where they just don't give a damn anymore. I think that point may be nearer than the team might like to believe that it is. The Cleveland Browns need to improve, and they need to do it this year.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Roo

He's pissed, and he has every right to be. Getting snubbed by the NCAA is one thing, but for a team with 26 wins and an RPI of 66 to get blown off by the freakin' Not Invited Tournament is the kind of injustice that can provoke normally law abiding citizens to futile and senseless acts of desperation, like calling sports talk radio shows.

Zippy's team went 26-7, and lost its conference championship because of a referee's decision that was just barely less suspect than the infamous Matt Hasselbeck block below the waist call in Super Bowl XL. But Zippy knows that Billy Packer would be overwhelmed by the injustice of excluding one of the seven ACC teams who got bids in favor of another mid-major. After all, nobody wants to see a repeat of last year's unfortunate George Mason incident.

I don't think Zippy really expected an NCAA bid. But I think he and everybody else assumed the NIT was a foregone conclusion. It turns out that it wasn't, thanks to a decision to shrink the field from 40 to 32 teams, and the NIT's lame policy of extending an invitation to every team that won its conference, but didn't win its conference tournament. (This thing really is college basketball's answer to TV game show "parting gifts," isn't it?)

So, because the NIT wants all regular season conference winners to know that they're good enough, they're smart enough, and doggone it, people like them, Zippy sits on the sidelines. His team doesn't make the cut, but instead he gets to watch elite programs like East Tenn. State (22-9, RPI 123), Marist (24-8, RPI 103), Delaware State (20-12, RPI 125) and, last but not least, Mississippi Valley State (18-15, RPI 198), fight for the right to proclaim themselves the nation's 66th best college basketball team.

Take my advice--steer clear of Akron's ordinarily cheery marsupial this week. Otherwise, you'll end up like this lady, who must have reminded Zippy that MAC regular season champ Toledo (19-12, RPI of 95), is slotted to play Florida State in the NIT's first round.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

RPI Means RIP for the Zips

If you're a fan of the Akron Zips, you probably think that the only things missing from yesterday's MAC championship game were Alexander Belov and Soviet bloc officials. As disheartening as the loss to Miami was, the worst for Akron fans is yet to come. Despite winning 26 games this season, the Zips are likely to find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to this year's NCAA tournament.

Coach Keith Dambrot is lobbying hard for an at-large NCAA bid, and Terry Pluto agrees that the Zips deserve one. That probably isn't going to happen. Sure, the MAC sent Miami to the Sweet 16 in 1999 and Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002, and yeah, MAC teams have been a thorn in the side of higher-seeded opponents in almost every other tourney appearance in recent years (Kent's 2001 victory over Indiana, Central Michigan's 2003 defeat of sixth-seeded Creighton and Ohio's five point first round loss to fourth-seeded Florida in 2005 all come to mind), but give them more than one bid? You've got to be kidding. After all, what would Billy Packer say?

It's all in the numbers when it comes to an at-large berth for a team like Akron, but unfortunately, the numbers that count the most aren't wins and losses. What matters is RPI, and the Zips are lacking in that category. As of last week, Akron had an RPI of 68, and that is not likely to be enough to get them a bid. Good news though -- thanks to RPI and a big reputation, we'll get to see Duke play for a change. The Blue Satans, despite finishing 6th in the ACC with an 8-8 record and being bounced in the first round of the ACC tournament, had an RPI of 14 last week and are a lead pipe cinch to get a bid.

As much as I hate Duke, I'd be more upset if teams like Clemson or Florida State made the dance at the Zips' expense. If you check out the ACC standings, both of these teams have losing conference records. Clemson started 17-0, and just totally collapsed down the stretch, but it had an RPI last week of 42, while the Seminoles had an RPI of 51. Clemson's loss to Florida State means that they're probably out, but the Seminoles are likely to find themselves with an RPI in the mid-40s to go along with their 20-12 record. Teams that win 20 games and have an RPI in the 40s usually have a fighting chance for an at-large bid. If that holds up, and NC State upsets North Carolina today, then the ACC could send as many as eight teams to the tournament this season.

That's a ridiculous number of teams for a conference that shows a lot of signs of living off its reputation. Only one ACC team is ranked in the top 10 and the two or three others who cracked the top 20 all lost in the preliminary rounds of the conference tournament. The ACC pissed and moaned when "only" four of its teams made last year's tournament. If they get seven or eight places this year at the expense of a team like Akron (or, even worse, teams like Butler and Southern Illinois) then they ought to hang their heads in shame.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Memorable Cleveland Wins

I was doing a little surfing and stumbled across this list of Cleveland's greatest wins since 1980. It's a pretty good list, and reminds you why you bother with these damn teams. Cleveland teams are a lot like life--you know what happens at the end, but you can still have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.

I'm not sure I'd displace any of the games that are listed in this guy's top ten, but there are a few other candidates that I'd like to toss out for consideration:

Game 1, 1995 ALDS -- Cleveland 5, Boston 4. Tony Pena homers in the bottom of the 13th to give the Tribe their first post-season victory since 1948. Since this game took place on a Tuesday evening and Pena's ball left the yard around 12:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Indians fans woke up to their first taste of what were to be many groggy October mornings over the course of the next six years.

Game 3, 1997 ALCS -- Cleveland 2, Baltimore 1. You remember this one, right? Bottom of the 12th, one out, Vizquel's up. Omar squares to bunt and misses the ball (that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it). The ball gets by Lenny Webster, and Marquis Grissom comes racing in to score the winning run.

The Impossible Return -- On August 5, 2001, the Indians trailed the Seattle Mariners 14-2 after six innings. The Tribe went on to score 3 in the 7th, 4 in the 8th and 5 in the 9th to tie it, and won it in the 11th when Jolbert Cabrera singled to left to score Kenny Lofton. Click here to watch a great recap of the game.

Cleveland 37, Pittsburgh 31 -- This was one of the best Browns v. Steelers games ever played. On November 23, 1986, the Browns and Steelers were knotted up 31-31 at the end of regulation, thanks in no small part to a game saving tackle by Matt Bahr on a kickoff. On the second possession of OT, Bernie hit Webster Slaughter on a 36 yard touchdown strike. You can almost hear Nev Chandler now, can't you?

"Strock Around the Clock" -- Cleveland 28, Houston 23. On a snowy December day, Don Strock came off the bench to lead a 16 point comeback to beat Jerry Glanville's Oilers in the last game of the 1988 regular season and clinch a playoff spot for a battered Browns team.

The Marshmallow Game --Game 2 of 1992 NBA Eastern Conference finals. After the Cavs were beaten 103-89 by the Bulls in Game 1, the Chicago media decided that the Cavs were "marshmallows" and said so in print. These comments lit a fire under the Cavs, who went on to destroy the Bulls 107-81 in Game 2. Michael Jordan, who was held to 20 points, thanked the Chicago media after the game.

Anyway, the Tribe lost to the Braves in 1995, to the Marlins in 1997 and lost their divisional series to the Mariners in 2001. Bernie got to the Super Bowl, but not in a Browns uniform, and Strock's magic wasn't enough the following week, when they lost to Houston in a Christmas Eve playoff rematch. As for the Cavs, well, at least they had one good day against Michael Jordan.

Like I said, no happy endings, but lots of fun along the way.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bye Bye Rueben

The Adrian Peterson plot thickens. The Browns just traded Reuben Droughns to the Giants for WR Tim Carter. If you don't know his name that's because the Browns made the deal to save some dough---$1.75 Million, and were less concerned with what they were getting back.

The Browns also cut Daylon McCutcheon. He was a warrior for the Browns, but he's pretty busted up now.

Phil, I'm Begging You, Draft Some Linemen

I didn't think that the Browns could possibly have signed a banged up ex-convict like Jamal Lewis with the expectation that he'd lead the charge for them offensively. In fact, I thought his signing practically guaranteed that Adrian Peterson would be their first pick. Based on how much they've agreed to pay Lewis, it's starting to look like I might be wrong about his role with the team.

That wouldn't disappoint me too much, since I've been a proponent of finding a way to trade down in order to take maximize the yield of what appears to a pretty deep crop of offensive linemen in this year's draft. Despite the signing of Steinbach, I'd still like to see them spend two first day picks on linemen. Trading down and adding a first day pick or two is the scenario that's most conducive to that result.

Unfortunately for those of us who advocate trying to trade down, columns like the one Steve Doerschuk wrote in this morning's Canton Repository suggest that the Browns may well be becoming smitten with Brady Quinn.

That's depressing.

I've watched almost every college game Brady Quinn's ever played--and no, unlike your stereotype of a Notre Dame fan, I didn't turn off the games if things weren't going their way. There's nobody who wanted Quinn to live up to his cover boy hype more than I did, but he didn't. His numbers were inflated by what turned out to be a weak schedule, and while he wasn't terrible in any game (even, in fairness, the Michigan debacle), he clearly wasn't the kind of player who could elevate the play of those around him.

Brady Quinn's stats are eye-popping, but in addition to considering the quality of his opponents, you also need to remember that over the past two seasons, Quinn was surrounded by some of the best receivers in Notre Dame history. Two of those guys (Maurice Stovall and Anthony Fasano) are already in the NFL. Rhema McKnight may well join them, and Jeff Samardzija would've been a first round pick had he not opted for a pro baseball career. Another receiver, TE John Carlson, has another year of eligibility but could find himself in the NFL too.

Some of the "biggest fraud in the draft" stuff that's been written about Quinn is way over the top, but I think there's very little chance that he's going to develop into a top-tier NFL QB wearing a Browns uniform. Charlie Weis's bloviations to the contrary notwithstanding, Brady Quinn has a lot to learn if he's going to become an elite QB at the pro level.

That's why, if Phil Savage does decide to roll the dice on Quinn, it's even more important that the Browns spend first day draft picks on offensive linemen. Running for his life behind a makeshift offensive line isn't conducive to a young QB's education process. Just ask Charlie Frye or Tim Couch.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jamal Lewis

As Corso would say to Herbstreit, "not so fast, my friend! " I disagree with Vinny when he says that this move means the Browns aren't going to draft Adrian Peterson. In fact, I think this move makes it even more likely that they will draft Peterson.

Jamal Lewis has had some amazing seasons, but he's also got a lot of mileage on him for a guy who is only 27 years old. He's had an injury history that goes back to his college days at Tennessee and includes blown ACLs in both knees, and his productivity has been off for the last two seasons. Reuben Droughns outperformed him by quite a bit in 2005 and averaged 3.4 yards per carry to Lewis's 3.6 yards per carry last season.

There are some off the field issues with Lewis. If they do get rid of Droughns, the Browns will be swapping a guy whose troubles with the law consist of a relatively boring DUI arrest and weak domestic violence charges for a guy with a much sexier rap sheet. Don't forget that Lewis also has failed two drug tests, which puts him on the short list to join Ricky Williams in the Cannabis Football League next season.

So, with his injuries, declining performance and off the field issues, I can't see the Browns looking solely to Lewis to carry the load for them next season. All that being said, I think Droughns is a goner. A healthy Jamal Lewis is an upgrade over Droughns. Even last season, the number crunchers over at Football Outsiders ranked Lewis 40th among NFL backs, while Droughns came in at53rd, which placed him dead last among rushers with more than 75 carries. Also, as Rich Swerbinsky pointed out, if the Browns want to keep Droughns, they'll need to pay him a $1.75 million roster bonus next week. I can't see them paying that kind of money to Droughns with Lewis in hand and Adrian Peterson on the board.

We'll see how things unfold over the course of the next several weeks, but I think this signing practically guarantees that they will draft Adrian Peterson.

Whoa nellie!!!!

I guess the Browns are not drafting Adrian Peterson.

I just heard a news report that they've signed Jamal friggin' Lewis. Yeah. He's the same guy who's rushed for about a half a million yards against the Browns. They've only signed him to a one-year contract. So, I'm not sure exactly what they're thinking, other than that they could get him on the cheap and try to win a few games this year.

This move may portend ill for the Brady haters out there.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Badly Timed Bandwagon Jump

Kevin Brewer writes about the NBA for The Washington Times. Today, he wrote a column in which he jumps on the "LeBron's had too much, too soon" bandwagon that Bill Simmons started during All-Star Weekend. He trots out many of the same generalizations that Simmons used against James in his own mean spirited hatchet piece.

I'm no hoops guru, but you don't have to be one to see that LeBron has struggled at times this season. If you want an assessment of those struggles by somebody who thinks for himself, you should check out the post that Ben Cox wrote in response to Simmons's temper tantrum. If you want warmed over Bill Simmons, then go ahead and read Kevin Brewer.

The timing of Brewer's piece strikes me as really strange. After all, last night was just the latest in a series of stellar performances by James that have not only made the "what's wrong with LeBron?" story line start to look pretty lame, but have catapulted him into the mix of potential MVP candidates. James has been on an offensive tear since the All-Star break. Last night's game was his fourth 30 point performance in a row, and he preceded that streak with three straight 29 point performances. His assist numbers have also risen markedly over that same period.

I suppose there's a chance that Kevin Brewer's ill-timed jump onto this particular bandwagon represents a thoughtful reassessment of his earlier position on LeBron James, but I've got my doubts. Call me a cynic, but it seems to me that the more likely scenario is that he simply regurgitated what he assumed was still the conventional wisdom, because checking out LeBron's performance over the past several weeks would have required a little too much effort.

I think this is a pretty common practice among sportswriters, particularly when they are writing about players who don't play for the teams they cover. Letting other people do your thinking for you and then running with the herd involves a lot less work than formulating your own opinions. I guess we should be thankful that most sportswriters at least come up with their own words, because some of them apparently can't even be bothered with doing that.

Steroid Stupidity

According to an article that appeared in last Friday's New York Times, Rep. Henry Waxman is ready to have Congress pounce on Baseball's steroid scandal, and will do so if George Mitchell indicates that baseball isn't taking his investigation seriously or that he's otherwise being stonewalled.

For Congress to attempt a legislative fix to this mess under any circumstances would be stupid, even for them. Last time I checked, taking illegal drugs was, well, illegal. So if Mitchell's investigation indicates widespread violations of federal law, then don't pass laws outlawing something that's already illegal. Instead, just go ahead and prosecute those responsible.

But if you do prosecute, show a little integrity for a change, will ya? Don't selectively target people for prosecution because they're unlikeable or because there's political hay to be made out of charging them. If you are serious about enforcing these laws, then let the chips fall where they may. Oh, and be sure to take a very hard look at the front offices of the MLB clubs. Like Deep Throat said, "follow the money." That will lead you to club owners and team management who looked the other way while players juiced up because it made business sense for them to do so.

Hey, if you can go after Ken Lay for averting his gaze while his subordinates pillaged Enron, you shouldn't hesitate to go after owners and GMs who went out of their way not to notice the musclebound guys with yellow eyes and lantern jaws strolling around their clubhouses. Don't have the stomach for that? Then just shut up and go away.

The politicians should stay the hell out of the steroid scandal and concentrate their efforts on other things--like, for example, last month's absurd piece of political theater over Iraq. You know, the one where Congress had a make believe debate over a pretend resolution that didn't really count and that they still couldn't pass? As ridiculous as that little exercise was, I'd prefer to see those nitwits engage in meaningless gestures like that than have them pass silly laws outlawing conduct that's already illegal. Sarbanes-Blacksox is something we can live without.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Eric Steinbach

Well, I've been pretty critical of Phil Savage lately, but I've got to hand it to the guy--he's a closer. Looks like Mr. Steinbach never got out of town. The numbers involved look staggering. The $49 million contract Steinbach supposedly received is the same amount that Steve Hutchinson signed for last year, but $17 million in guaranteed money is $1 million more than Hutchinson got from the Vikings. I recommend that the Browns put Steinbach in bubble wrap until the regular season starts.

I did not think they would get this one done.

Gentlemen, Open Your Checkbooks!

The NFL's free agent signing period began at midnight last night. The Browns didn't make a big splash out of the gate, but they did re-sign center Hank Fraley, which was a pretty smart move. It's not that Fraley's an All-Pro, but he's serviceable and replacing him through free agency would likely be outrageously expensive. The market for centers is going to be off the charts this year in terms of cost, as reflected by the Cowboys' decision to sign Andre Gurode to a six-year, $30 million deal last month in order to keep him off the market.

It looks like isn't just centers who are going to make out like bandits this year. The Browns have $30 million in cap room, but with the increase in the salary cap under the new collective bargaining agreement, a lot of other teams are pretty flush as well. That means that a lot of money is going to be chasing what looks to be a fairly mediocre crop of free agents. Given that the Browns don't have the best track record when it comes to free agent signings, the thought of them throwing money around like Pacman Jones in a strip joint is a little unsettling.

A lot of fans are hoping to see the Browns make a big splash in the free agent market, and the team's apparently targeted two of this year's bigger fish, Bengals guard Eric Steinbach and Bills cornerback Nate Clements. (Steinbach has apparently decided to make Cleveland his first stop today, so at least the Browns are on his radar screen.) If they sign either of those guys, that's swell, but don't expect to see me jumping for joy. If we learned nothing else from last year's experience with the free agent market, it should be that not every big name, big money free agent has an on-field impact commensurate with his sticker price.

At this time in 2006, we were celebrating the signings of LeCharles Bentley, Bob Hallen, Kevin Shaffer, Ted Washington, Joe Jurevicius, and Dave Zastudil. Zastudil was great, and Jurevicius was solid if underused. I think it's fair to say that Shaffer was a disappointment and Mt. Washington was a waste of a roster spot. We all know about Bentley, and as for Hallen, I believe he was recently spotted playing golf with Keith Foulke.

I expect that the Browns are going to have a harder sell with players than they did last year. First, they aren't close to being a contender, which is going to disqualify them as far as certain players are concerned right off the bat. That's a familiar problem, but adding to it this season is the perception that Romeo Crennel is a lame duck. I think we saw that concern reflected in the less than stellar names added to the Browns' coaching staff earlier this off-season, and I expect we'll see it reflected in a less enthusiastic response among free agents then we saw last year.

That may not bode well for efforts to sign a hot commodity like Nate Clements. Sure, there's the fact that he's a home town guy, but that only goes so far. I mean, you don't see folks who grew up in Chernobyl scurrying to return there, do you? Still, maybe that's not such a bad thing. The team's proven that it can't rely on free agency to build a contender, and it wouldn't break my heart if some of the big fish got away. It would be fine with me if the Browns were just able to add some depth at key positions through the free agent market, and then look to build the team through the draft and through what everyone is saying is going to be the most robust trading market that's been seen in years. Under the circumstances, saving some cap room for players that might be on the trading block may not be such a bad idea.