Ever since Jason La Canfora's attacks on the Cleveland Browns organization in February, it has been a rather "dull" offseason for the team in terms of off-the-field drama. After being hit with Kyle Shanahan's departure, Johnny Manziel being in rehab, Alec Scheiner being too involved in football stuff, Josh Gordon's year-long ban, and Ray Farmer's texting situation all at once, the past few months have pretty much involved watching a tumbleweed roll by...until today. (cue dramatic music)
When the Browns first hired Jamil Northcutt as the Director of Player Engagement in 2014, it probably went unnoticed to the majority of fans. Similarly, the news of his coming-soon departure from a couple of days ago wasn't met with a lot of feedback from fans. This morning, he's at the center of attention, though, thanks to a report by Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.
Northcutt's position was supposed to involve assisting players, particularly rookies, in their transition to the NFL and how they can transition to a career outside the NFL when the time comes. In Grossi's report, he describes how Northcutt reportedly ended up becoming one of the intermediary sources of tension between GM Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine and the rest of the coaching staff. Northcutt would have been in Farmer's back pocket, as the two had a relationship extending back to their time with the Kansas City Chiefs. Here are a few of the gems from Grossi's report:
- Grossi had two sources with different stories on Northcutt having an active role on the sidelines last season. One source told Grossi that Northcutt "was a recipient of Farmer’s in-game texting, and that he relayed messages from Farmer to the coaches." Another source told Grossi that this "was absolutely false."
- Last year, the Browns couldn't stop the Texans' running backs, even with Arian Foster out of the lineup. Cleveland's defense gave up 210 yards to backup running backs Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes. Grossi says that a confrontation took place between Northcutt and defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. If that really happened and I was O'Neil, I'd certainly be thinking, "excuse me, who the hell are you?"
- Grossi also says that Northcutt asked offensive line coach Andy Moeller why backup offensive lineman Vinston Painter wasn't being considered as a replacement center for Alex Mack.
You can certainly see how the coaching staff would be frustrated by a person who is supposed to assist with off-the-field stuff and character development, yet suddenly starts questioning their decision-making with players on gameday, knowing that he may be influenced by Farmer.
The million dollar question now is whether any of these reports have any merit, or is Northcutt's departure just...a plain-old departure? The reports seem to fit a lot of the context about the rifts that existed last season between Farmer and the coaching staff. I see it as something that helps connect the dots, in hindsight. I don't think it has a significant impact moving forward, though, and that stems from my viewpoint on this situation the entire time: no organization is perfect, and the Browns are far from broken. They've tried to patch things up, so I'm moving on. Who is ready to get back to football in two weeks?