When team president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert arrived in Cleveland last year, they gave Eric Mangini the opportunity to coach the Browns for at least one more season. He would have his players, his schemes, his coaches, and his way of running the team. For as much improvement as we saw in Mangini last year, ultimately, the team failed to improve upon their win total in 2009 and Mangini was given the boot.
What has been interesting since Mangini's departure is the sheer amount of roster turnover their has been. There was a group of players who I felt were clearly "Mangini's players." They were brought in under his watch, and most of them had previous affiliations with Mangini. They were also put in position to contribute regularly. Take a look at this list:
- QB Brett Ratliff - Signed by the Tennessee Titans. Although he was waived in November last year, there was no desire to bring him back after being with the club off-and-on for two years.
- FB Lawrence Vickers - Signed by the Houston Texans. He's really the only non-Mangini-Mangini (intentional double name there) player to be on this list. He was with the team before him, but he is also one of the players who really stuck up for Mangini the past two seasons because the coach grew on him. He was repaid by the new front office by watching the team draft a fullback and show no interest in retaining him.
- WR Chansi Stuckey - Signed by the Arizona Cardinals. No interest was shown in keeping one of the team's leading receivers last year (not saying much). Was the team's slot receiver.
- OG Floyd Womack - Signed by the Arizona Cardinals. May not have been so much a "Mangini" guy, but he was here for two years under him. Was the team's starting right guard.
- OT John St. Clair - Currently a free agent. Hard to sign a guy who gives up sacks regularly, but he was basically our starting right tackle the past two years.
- DE Kenyon Coleman - Signed by the Dallas Cowboys. Was regularly one of the team's starting 3-4 defensive ends.
- ILB Eric Barton - Currently a free agent. Contributed regularly last year with 66 tackles.
- ILB David Bowens - Currently a free agent. Reduced to a backup role last year, but still had some big plays against New Orleans.
- OLB Matt Roth - Currently a free agent, but teams are interested in him. Another guy who wouldn't have benefited from our scheme change, and probably Mangini's best pickup.
- OLB Jason Trusnik - Signed by the Miami Dolphins. Despite being a regular special teams contributor, no thought of bringing him back, apparently.
- OLB Blake Costanzo - Signed by the San Francisco 49ers. He played a little for Mangini with the Jets, and then was with Dick Jauron in Buffalo. His Jauron affiliation made me surprised he wasn't retained, but hey, he let him go once, why not again?
- SS Abram Elam - Signed by the Dallas Cowboys. The Browns had to fill a void at safety, and they chose to go with players with minimal experience.
Those were the roster casualties who really seemed to characterize Mangini. A few of his players did survive, at least to this year's training camp:
- TE Evan Moore - Even though he didn't play much the past two years, he's still young and happens to be an ideal fit for the new West Coast Offense.
- OG Billy Yates - Signed during the Mangini era, he was one of the few free agents the new regime decided to bring back. Steinbach being hurt probably helped that decision.
- LB Marcus Benard - With the team's lack of depth at defensive end and Benard's youth, this was a no-brainer to keep him. He needs to do a lot of work to undergo a change in position though.
- S Ray Ventrone - He was already under contract, but at least he wasn't one of the players cut pre-lockout. Still, he's nothing more than a special teams guy.
- P Reggie Hodges - A no-brainer to keep after last season, but ouch.
A few players go unmentioned, such as cornerback Coye Francies, defensive end Brian Schaefering, and tight end Robert Royal. I'm not so sure they were strongly affiliated with Mangini, and two of the three are back. Young draft picks, such as Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, weren't listed either because they weren't free agents, and it'd be foolish to throw away those investments so soon. Also, players like Peyton Hillis and Ben Watson, among others, are not mentioned because I don't know if it is fair to give credit for those moves to Mangini, the new regime, or both.
With that many players taken away, they needed to be replaced. Not including the draft, the new coaching staff and regime have used some of their past affiliations to recruit talent:
- QB Seneca Wallace - When he retires, he'll be known as the backup quarterback who always followed Mike Holmgren.
- RB Brandon Jackson - If there's one thing Mangini seemed to fail to do, it was acquire a young running back they he really liked for depth. Jackson isn't necessarily a spring chicken, but the new front office made sure everyone on their depth chart can fit the West Coast Offense.
- OG John Greco - He was reportedly a solid backup offensive lineman with versatility in St. Louis under Pat Shurmur. With Womack elsewhere, Greco fills his void and is much younger.
- OG Shawn Lauvao - I broke my rule of not putting recent draft picks on this list, but I think it applies here. Lauvao, despite having very little NFL experience, is being given the confidence by the front office of being our starting right guard. Remember, he was a third-round pick...under Heckert.
- DE Jayme Mitchell - If there is one player who signifies the major difference in opinion between Mangini and Holmgren/Heckert, it is Mitchell. Mitchell did not sniff the field after Heckert acquired him, but Heckert insists that he's the team's best pass rusher and will probably start.
- LB Scott Fujita - Brought in last season to be the stabilizing force in the group of linebackers. He's a tad younger, but much better than Barton and Bowers were at this point in their careers.
- LB Chris Gocong - There are mixed reviews about how good Gocong is, but Heckert is really high on him after bringing him over in a trade with Philly last season.
- S Usama Young - He might not be directly tied to our coaching staff, but I believe the team deferred to Fujita when asking about this prospect. This sounds like another "Abe Elam" experiment -- an unknown coming in to start -- so hopefully he pays off with better results.
- CB Sheldon Brown - The other part of Heckert's trade with Philadelphia, Brown is going to start at cornerback again this year and hold the position down until another youngster can be paired with Haden.
There's no doubt that new staffs will want to bring in players that epitomize their style. Mangini wanted to bring in two types of players: past-their-prime veterans, and backup players who weren't terrible but didn't make a big impact. Heckert and Holmgren have taken a slightly different approach.
For the veterans who were brought (Brown, Gocong, Fujita, and to an extent, Watson), those are the type of players who can make a significant difference for a couple of years instead of just being labeled as serviceable. The front office has also made more of a commitment at the same time to get younger players into the lineup. At safety, they declined to sign a veteran and are probably going with Young. On the offensive line, Lauvao and Greco will have opportunities to contribute. Mitchell is going to see a lot of playing time. The team's top two draft picks are being thrown into the starting defensive tackle and defensive end positions. Buster Skrine could be a third- or fourth-cornerback since the team didn't sign a proven free agent cornerback. Others like Nick Sorensen and Robaire Smith, who were good at what they did, probably weren't re-signed because of their age.
It might have been frustrating to see Holmgren and Heckert be so quiet in free agency this year, but remember the splash they made last year and the amount of faith they have in their young talent. Maybe it will blow up in their face, who knows. When it comes down to it though, I'd rather take that risk/opportunity and see which of these young players can shine in starting roles. "Mangini's players" did the best they could, but for the most part, they weren't good enough. Let's hope this year's staff and front office are taking the right approach to ensure this team can get back into contention.