Browns watching Tannehill and Richardson closely
Last Thursday (March 29), Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Alabama running back Trent Richardson were involved in their school's Pro Day at virtually the same moment.
Coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert attended the Alabama workout, which also featured linebacker Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron. Richardson knocked down Browns running backs coach Gary Brown during a blocking drill.
The fact Heckert and Shurmur together chose to watch Richardson has led some to speculate the Browns plan to take Richardson with the fourth overall pick. Don't read a lot into that, though. Tannehill is scheduled to work out for the Browns privately. Plus, Tannehill is visiting the Browns at their training facility this week.
Richardson made his visit Monday. The Browns have also scheduled a private workout with him. Potential draftees cannot work out when they visit an NFL team. The visits are for interviews and thorough medical exams.
Conventional wisdom says not to take a running back in the top five because their careers don't last as long as some positions. Plus, they can be interchangeable and theoretically good backs can be drafted later and more cheaply. But Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, speaking to reporters at the workout in Tuscaloosa, said the rookie wage scale in the new CBA changes that thinking.
"I know there are some people who have some concerns about taking a running back high," Saban said. "But with the salary-cap changes and the rookie pool, you're not investing as much in a guy as you used to. So you better take somebody who you know is going to be a good player on your team and a good fit for you.
"(Richardson) is probably the best running back in the draft this year and probably one of the best players in the draft. That's based on his performance and his production and the consistency that he's played with and the personal characteristics that he has."
The Browns were well-represented for Tannehill's workout, too. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress and quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple saw Tannehill complete 65 of 68 passes in the scripted workout inside the A&M practice facility. Reportedly two of the incomplete passes were dropped.
All four players working out were recovering from injuries and did not work out at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Tannehill was recovering from foot surgery and Richardson from arthroscopic knee surgery.
"I felt good and my foot felt great moving around and moving in the pocket and escaping," Tannehill said. "The ball was coming out good and the guys were making plays for me. It was a good day."
Tannehill also is expected to go in the top 10. Most analysts believe the Dolphins will take him eighth if they don't move up higher to take him. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock is now predicting the Browns will take Tannehill with the fourth pick.
Earlier in March, Heckert was among the Browns' contingent at the Oklahoma State Pro Day. There he watched and was impressed by quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
Several draft-eligible quarterbacks visiting Cleveland
--The Browns are committed to Colt McCoy as their quarterback for 2012, but they must be serious when they say they want to provide competition for him. At least three of the potential draftees invited to team headquarters for visits are quarterbacks - Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Kirk Cousins.
--The Browns have taken a rap for missing out on players in their own backyard, i.e. linebacker James Harrison with the Steelers and tight end Antonio Gates of the Chargers. Both players went to Kent State and both gained stardom despite not being drafted. Both were missed by former regimes - not by Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert.
Heckert is determined not to make the same mistake with Illinois defensive end/linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Mercilus is a lock to go in the first round and could be available when the Browns pick 22nd. He led the nation with 13.5 sacks in 2011, and though the Browns spent a second-round pick last year on Jabaal Sheard, who led the Browns with 8.5 sacks, a team can never have too many pass rushers.
The local connection for Mercilus: He is a native of nearby Akron.
--Heckert still holds out the possibility the Browns could use the fourth draft pick on LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Heckert said he knew of the wrist surgery Claiborne was to have before the top-ranked cornerback had it last month. Heckert is not concerned about it, but the Browns did schedule Claiborne for a visit.
--The Browns wore white jerseys at home last year and are contemplating wearing brown jerseys for home games this season. The only difference between the new jerseys designed by Nike and the former jerseys designed by Reebok is the new jerseys fit more snugly at the sleeves.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They have a tough decision to make. That's not a news flash. I think the whole draft swings at No. 4." - ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who says the Browns should use the fourth pick on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Strategy And Personnel
Each year, general manager Tom Heckert says the Browns will not "go crazy" in free agency. Maybe when he says it next year people will believe him.
The Browns signed defensive end Frostee Rucker as a starter and defensive end Juqua Parker as a backup. That's it.
Heckert said any other free-agent signings won't occur until after the draft. Last year he stopped at two - running back Brandon Jackson and safety Usama Young - and then signed defensive back Dimitri Patterson in training camp.
1. Right tackle: The tendon surgery performed on Tony Pashos last week was likely to keep him sidelined all of 2012 even before he was released. The two players who started for Pashos in the three games he missed were Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks. Cousins re-signed, while Hicks signed with Miami. Ideally the Browns will find a young veteran in free agency such as they did in 2007 when they signed Eric Steinbach to play left guard. Steinbach was entering his fifth season at the time.
2. Running back: Peyton Hillis left the Browns and signed a one-year contract with the Chiefs for $2.6 million. Now there is a hole in the backfield that probably means finding a starter in the draft. The three backs on the roster - Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya and Brandon Jacobs -- are reliable as backups but not carrying 280 times a season.
3. Wide receiver: Greg Little should improve in his second season and Jordan Norwood shows promise as a third receiver. But the Browns haven't had an impact receiver since Braylon Edwards and it is time to change that.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: K Phil Dawson (tendered at $3.81 million); signed tender March 19.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--P Brad Maynard did an excellent job filling in after the Browns lost two punters with injuries, but he won't be back because Reggie Hodges has recovered from an Achilles injury that wiped out his season in training camp.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Titus Brown (not tendered as ERFA) is a solid special teams player and capable backup, but he is coming off a knee injury. Re-signing him is not a high priority.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--WR Jordan Norwood came on strong at the end of the season. He definitely will be re-signed. General manager Tom Heckert really likes Norwood.
--OT Oniel Cousins: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--K Phil Dawson: Franchise FA; $3.81M/1 yr.
--OG John Greco: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--LB D'Qwell Jackson: Potential UFA; $42.5M/5 yrs, $7M SB/$1.3M RB/$3.4M base guarantee '12/$3.6M base guarantee injury '13.
--CB Dimitri Patterson: UFA; $16M/3 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--DL Brian Schaefering: ERFA; $615,000/1 yr.
--TE Alex Smith: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Juqua Parker: UFA Eagles; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Frostee Rucker: UFA Bengals; $21M/5 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--S Mike Adams: UFA Broncos; $4M/2 yrs.
--T/G Artis Hicks: UFA Dolphins; $2M/1 yr.
--RB Peyton Hillis: UFA Chiefs: $2.6M/1 yr.
--P Richmond McGee (released).
--DE Jayme Mitchell (released).
--OT Tony Pashos (released/failed physical).
--OG Eric Steinbach (released).
--C/G Steve Vallos: UFA Eagles; 1 yr, terms unknown.